Anime / Animation, Drama, Films, Japan, Reviews, Sci Fi / Fantasy

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

A bag of feelings delivered masterfully to the audience; you’ll be glad to have experienced all of it…

The Tale of Princess Kaguya was also reviewed by Roxy Simons.

TAKAHATA Isao (高畑 勲) is the other big name of Studio Ghibli: he has explored the devastation of post-WWII Japan in Grave of the Fireflies; the challenges growing up during the urbanisation and industrialisation of the ’70s in Only Yesterday; environmentalism, integration and assimilation in Pom Poko; daily familial life in My Neighbors the Yamadas. For his latest work, he brings to the screen the tale of the bamboo cutter, believed to be the oldest Japanese folk tale, dating from the 10th century.

As befit the age of the story, Kaguya is drawn in a style reminiscent of Japan’s traditional watercolours, with charcoal contours and very soft tints. The result looks more like a beautiful series of moving paintings, than just an animated movie.

The story is simple enough: an old bamboo cutter finds a thumb-sized baby girl inside a bamboo stalk, and brings her home to his wife; the couple adopts the little girl as their own, calling her Princess. She grows rapidly, and befriends the other children in the area. The cutter finds in other bamboo stalks gold and fine silks, and interprets this as a divine sign that his girl must be brought to the city and treated like a proper princess. She’d much rather stay in the little village with her friends, but her wishes are not considered.

She sort-of settles in the life of a city noble, with private tutors and maids, but she keeps a little garden in the back of the house that reminds her of the countryside she grew up in. She’s given the name of Kaguya, and tales of her great beauty start to spread. Five princes come to ask her hand in marriage, but Kaguya requires of the impossible tasks before she’ll marry any of them, and none succeeds. She even refuses the Emperor’s own proposal, always thinking back to her happy childhood in the woods.

Finally, she remembers her story: she came from the Moon, to live among humans for a while, but now she must go back. Guards and fortifications are prepared to defend against the heavenly beings who’ll come to take her back, but in vain: her fate is with the people of the Moon.

The story, and especially this adaptation, explores themes of love and family and friendship, the dynamics of power and riches, the dignity of work and the dissolution of nobles. As with Takahata’s other works, Kaguya is less a story than it is a bag of feelings delivered masterfully to the audience: you will feel happy, sad, nostalgic, exhilarated, dejected, together with the characters. And even without any kind of happy ending, you’ll still be glad to have experienced all of it.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya on UK DVD, Blu-ray + DVD and Collector’s Edition Blu-ray + DVD today by StudioCanal UK.

About the author

Brought up on Japanese animation in Italy in the 80s, now an anime and manga enthusiast who prefers good stories and characters to "endless battles and characters that just grow ever more powerful!" dakkar works as a software developer in London... More » Creative Commons License
This review by Gianni Ceccarelli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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