Deep in the countryside, a man named Okina works as a bamboo cutter in a forest, chopping away at the hollow plants day after day. One day, he discovers a small baby inside a glowing shoot. He immediately takes her home, convinced that she is a princess sent to Earth as a divine blessing from heaven. Okina and his wife Ouna take it upon themselves to raise the infant as their own, watching over her as she quickly grows into an energetic young girl. Given the name Kaguya, she fits right in with the village she has come to call home, going on adventures with the other children and enjoying what youth has to offer.
But when Okina finds a large fortune of gold and treasure in the forest, Kaguya's life is completely changed. Believing this to be yet another gift from heaven, he takes it upon himself to turn his daughter into a real princess using the wealth he has just obtained, relocating the family to a mansion in the capital. As she leaves her friends behind to enter into an unwanted life of royalty, Kaguya's origins and purpose slowly come to light.
Kaguya-hime no Monogatari is based on the 10th century Japanese folk tale of the same name. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 87th Academy Awards, the first such nomination for Takahata. The film received over 20 nominations worldwide from critics associations, film festivals, and academies, winning seven times.
Studio Ghibli have always been at the very forefront in the anime film industry. Their creations have been able to reach out to any and all demographics with great success for decades, and have numerous masterpieces under their belt by now. Most of these are creations of the one and only Miyazaki Hayao, however Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies) released back in 1988, one of the most critically acclaimed Ghibli films was written and directed by the studio's co-founder Takahata Isao. But this was something that was known as a one-hit wonder, as his other works never got anywhere near the same level
of praise and attention as his first one did. This changes now however. 25 years after Grave of the Fireflies was released, Takahata's new work titled Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) hit the cinemas, and this time he once again got it right, because this movie is sincerely a true work of art.
Kaguya-hime (I'll refer to it as such henceforth) is based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a famous story from Japanese folklore. In this rendition, an elderly bamboo cutter finds a tiny human-like baby within the folds of a bamboo shoot one day, and takes it as a sign from the heavens that it is his duty to raise the mysterious child. However he and his wife quickly discover that the child is far from a normal human, as she grows at an insane speed. She goes from crawling to walking in a split second, she learns to talk in no time at all, and within months she's as big as the older children who used to play around with her. Meanwhile, the bamboo cutter finds even more miraculous gifts within the bamboo shoots in the forest such as gold, gemstones and expensive clothing. He comes to the conclusion that the task the heavens has provided him is not just about raising the child, but about turning her into an actual princess of the land.
The majority of the story then takes place in the capital and follows Kaguya's blistering journey through her youth as her foster parents are doing everything within their power to try to turn her into a real princess, although Kaguya herself is mildly enthusiastic about this idea. Now the idea of having a wild tomboy being forced to become a "proper" woman is nothing new, but I still think this story showcased one of the best renditions of that concept that I've seen in a while. Kaguya's character herself is superbly written and her reactions to everything going on around her feel very realistic and enjoyable to witness. She shows in full that she is very talented and fully capable of carrying out all the modest and appropriate ways of behaving for a noble woman, but at the same time very clearly gets the message across that despite all that she only really wants to live her life freely and play around. She's a very relatable character as a whole, and her enthusiastic spirit is perhaps the biggest reason as to why the film is so captivating throughout.
The supporting cast primarily consists of Kaguya's foster parents, her mentor, her childhood friends as well as all kinds of rich nobles that are interested in her. None of them feel needless in any way, but it's pretty clear that this story is about Kaguya herself and no one else, as the focus is always on her alone. In a way this can be considered a bad thing since the rest of the characters don't get very much in the way of depth and back story, but I personally didn't ever feel particularly bothered by that. Kaguya is really the only one that truly matters in this movie, and as far as that goal goes the movie executes it brilliantly.
What is definitely worth mentioning about this story though is the ending of it. While I obviously won't spoil any details, let's just say that the conclusion of this story is... unexpected. It is very unusual, spontaneous and just plain strange in a lot of ways. Was it bad then? Honestly I'm not entirely sure if I liked it or not, but it was definitely not what I ever thought I'd see in a Ghibli film at least. Personally though, I always appreciate when stories diverge from the norm and decide to go a little bit crazy, so regardless of which I respect it for what it did on principle. However I know from experience that whenever a movie comes along which takes a sudden unexpected turn close to its ending, there will always be heavily split opinions on it. Therefore I can guarantee that there will be a lot of people who will really dislike the climax. Just a warning.
As far as the production value goes, the soundtrack is for the most part rather ambient but it is very on-point for the atmosphere of the story. Some of the instrumental tracks in it however were very catchy and pleasing to listen to. In addition Kaguya also plays a little music on her own within the movie itself so it was quite diverse in that department. The voice acting is typical Ghibli in terms of feel and quality, which is of course always a great thing. I'd praise it more, but honestly I'm more or less expecting it from a Ghibli film at this point.
The animation however is where Kaguya-hime really goes way off what you'd ever expect to see in an anime movie released as late as 2013. The art style takes a very old school, classical approach which makes it feel hand-drawn most of the time. Sketch lines are intentionally left in, and at first it looks like the movie wasn't actually finished in its current state since common sense says it requires quite a lot more polishing. But this is the style the movie utilizes throughout on purpose. At first it takes a while to get used to, but once you do it's actually really captivating to witness. It makes the movie seem so much more atmospheric somehow, and helps beautify it as the icing on the cake. Where the animation really shines though is during the sequences of the movie which has a lot of rapid movement. When Kaguya runs throughout the mansion or the forests, or when the camera simply "flies" throughout the landscape, it looks absolutely mesmerizing. I'm not even sure how to explain it since it was so unorthodox; it's something you really have to see in person and experience for yourself.
As a whole, this is probably my 2nd favorite Ghibli film to date (after Spirited Away), so yes I honestly liked this more than Takahata's former "masterpiece". It's a bit hard to put into words exactly what it is that makes Kaguya-hime so loveable though, but I think it's a combination of the setting, Kaguya's character and the creative artwork. Case in point however is that I truly loved this movie from start to finish, despite its lengthiness. As with most (all?) Ghibli films, this one is most definitely watchable by all audiences, but in particular if you're a fan of beautiful landscapes and coming-of-age stories, then you better add Kaguya-hime to your repertoire as soon as possible. Not doing so would be seriously missing out.
This is a film that I feel would have trouble watching again. That's part of why I like it.
I was interested in seeing this mostly for its departure from the usual Studio Ghibli style. It's based on a folk tale, a really old one, literally a thousand years old. How do you retell something so old in a way that people can relate to? It's a lot of slippery slopes. A straight retelling of an ancient story could easily be dull, but changing the story risks altering its meaning. Kaguya does neither.
Isao Takahata breathed new intensity into this old story. Kaguya does not hold
back. It does not pull punches. It is emotionally frank. At points, it was hard to watch. There is a point in the story where Kaguya runs away from home in a rage, and as anger and grief overtake her, the animation becomes rougher until she is a sketchy blur dashing across the frame. I was watching this with a group of chatty friends, and at this point, the room went completely silent. We were so entranced.
This film takes an ancient story and makes it palatable, even adds to it, without ruining what was already there. It treats its source material with respect, but gives it new life. It is breathtaking and I feel privileged to have seen it.
As soon as I heard that Studio Ghibli were putting production together for a story as famous as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, I knew I had to see it. Growing up on the quirky and relatable characters in Kiki's Delivery Service, to the fantastic visuals of Castle in The Sky, Studio Ghibli never fails to disappoint with their use of musical score, lighting, themes of adolescence, love of nature and companionship. Needless to say, this film did not disappoint.
True to the folktale, the plot centers on a bamboo cutter, who comes across a bamboo shoot filled with glowing light. Within that bamboo
stalk is a tiny girl the size of his palm which he and his wife come to care for. This girl, aptly named takenoko "little bamboo" becomes the center character as the plot revolves around her growth and experiences with the bamboo cutter, his wife and all manner of colorful characters throughout the film.
The plot is, simply put, solid. Easy to understand in its presentation, yet intriguing enough to keep us expecting more. The ending in particular was one of intrigue as it expands on kaguya's origins.
Simple yet touching as far as folk tales are concerned, the characters in Tale of Princess Kaguya are instantly charming. Kaguya herself is particularly well done as we view her change from outgoing tomboy to poised princess, and her struggle to commit to either role. The bamboo cutter exhibits all the traits of a loving father, wanting what is best for his daughter and ultimately being overbearing but with the best of intentions. Secondary characters add additional flavor and humorous elements to the story that ultimately, by the stories end, leave you with a greater appreciation of the every day simplicities they presented.
Who Is This For?
I would say if you love folk tales adapted into film, you will enjoy this. Its adherence to the source material and it's overall presentation is very timeless. If you are a lover of Isao Takahata directed works or Ghibli, you may also want to check this out.
Did You Enjoy It?
I very much loved it. It took me on an adventure that chronicled a young girls life. You went through her insecurities, her laughter, her sadness and her love. It was fun becoming engrossed in what was a simpler time in japanese history.
Sweet of it:
Musical Score is perfection when matched with accompanying scenes
Art conveys the simple yet timelessness of the folklore Taketori Monogatari
Bitter of it:
No folklore can have a complete happy ending.
"Kaguya-hime no Monogatari" was such a beautiful movie made by Studio Ghibli and directed by Isao Takahata (of "Grave of the Fireflies" fame) based upon the famous Japanese folktale "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter". This is a movie that should truly be considered a "work of art". The classical Japanese art style, which left in sketch lines and seemed to be painted on, took a little getting used to but ended up being spectacular especially with the concluding moon parade sequence. Along with the music and singing, these elements were incredibly immersive and really helped to transport me back to 10th century Japan. The
portrayal of all the characters' emotions really stood out to me from the combination of the superb voice acting/singing and vibrant and dynamic art (definitely go with the original Japanese VAs). I could really feel all the pain, suffering and emotions that Kaguya was experiencing throughout the movie. It was just all around top notch work.
The story itself was heart-wrenching (for me at least) and fueled by the emotions of Kaguya. Takahata definitely went with a more somber and emotionally distraught interpretation of this famous tale. As the viewer, you could really feel the love between Kaguya and her parents, but empathize with how they struggled to understand each other at times. At times, I felt so frustrated by Kaguya's father that I just wanted to slap the shit out of him even though he meant the best. I'm also a sucker for happy endings and I definitely got hit by the feels train at the end. That beautifully animated flying sequence when Kaguya and Sutemaru were finally reunited really had me going but then BOOM. And then came "the ending" (I don't want to spoil any of it so you'll just have to watch). I did feel that the story was a little hard to follow and unclear towards the end but this was when we were entering "artistic license" and "rampant symbolism" territory. It was pretty clear that Takahata wanted to leave some things open to the audience's own interpretation.
All in all, an excellent watch and definitely Takahata's best work since Grave of the Fireflies. I recommend watching this with the original Japanese voice actors but the English dub didn't do a bad job either. I hope that Ghibli will continue to take on more eccentric projects like this in the future. I would have definitely loved this movie even more if it had ended on a happier note, but this is how "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" goes. You don't mess with a 1000+ year old classic. Anyway, get out and watch this because you don't come across a piece of "art" like this too often.
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