**This “review" is SPOILER-HEAVY and is recommended for those who have already seen the film**
**This “review” is also FAR from complete and I will be continually updating it in the future as I better collect more of my thoughts.**
This analysis may be somewhat messily written or seem to lack any sort of overarching structure. It is merely my personal thoughts and things I’ve realized while watching the film.
As one of the more recent additions, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” may not be the first title to come up with when you think of Studio Ghibli, yet I’m convinced
that it is among said studio’s greatest works becoming my personal favorite in such a short amount of time. First off, it goes to say that the film is a mostly faithful adaptation of the legendary piece of Japanese literature, “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” dating back to 1592. The story has had innumerable adaptations over the years, but I think Studio Ghibli helps breathe life into the tale. Supposedly, Takahata longed to work on such a project for over 50 years, and anyhow ended up churning out an amazing piece of work. I found it to be far more than just a simple coming of age story touching upon subjects such as life’s duality, materialism, genuineness and enlightenment.
The film depicts Kaguya from her birth from the bamboo on Earth and solid amount of corresponding development throughout the years. I honestly think that she may be anime’s greatest female protagonist since Kemono no Souja Erin, fleshed out in far more detail than most of the protagonists of other Ghibli films, with few exceptions of course that could come close. Once born, she is found by an old woodcutter who takes her in to raise into a princess and from there on, Kaguya grows extremely fast, from the size of a thumb to the size of a normal newborn child, quickly learning to crawl and walk at a pace far faster than a baby generally should. The phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” comes to mind in regards to her rapid growth as Kaguya seemed rather happy during this period, roaming free, discovering new things and hanging out with the other children. With this, it can also play into how children grow up so fast and how the perception of time seems to fly for her parents. Parents in the real world watch their children grow up at what seems to be an unbelievable rate. Kaguya is naïve as can be and is convinced that her life would remain this way. It is here where she begins to enjoy the daily toils of life, in one case learning to steal and in another learning to hunt. This demonstrates that even despite being princess, she is unafraid to dirty her own hands and this plays a major role in her characterization rejecting customs imposed upon her later. “A meal tastes better after working for it.” This is one core motif that runs throughout the film.
It can be important to take note that Kaguya was sent to Earth initially as a form of punishment. The gold and robes that the old woodcutter receives can play into making her life miserable and could very well be a plan on part of the celestials, the woodcutter convinced in his heart that making her a true princess would bring her ultimate happiness. In the context of punishment, it could also be said that her rapid growth and moving away could also very well play into her misery. In this case, it’s similar to giving candy to a child and then immediately taking it away, Kaguya gets a taste of what a happy childhood can be before it shatters all too easily. Out in the wilderness, she is free to express how she feels running wild, but when she awakens in the palace, the first thing that she does is prance around and explore, and this serves to demonstrate her current emotional capacity before it is suppressed. The people around her attempt to shape her into a regal princess, at Kaguya’s dismay and she rejects these customs because they inhibit her emotional expression. As a princess, she is not allowed to laugh, she is not allowed to cry. She cannot run and to ever move or pick anything up, she must do it gracefully. She must always be polite and act nobly. Kaguya rejects these customs in many instances, commonly running off in the middle of lessons and giving her instructor much difficulty. It is not that she is incapable of acting "proper," as in one scenario, she demonstrates how she can perfectly play the song she was trying to learn, but rather she purposefully decides to act the way she wants. She disguises her true nature from her “father” to some degree, yet occasionally it slips out, such as when she crawls around on her knees and tries to play with a cat, something that a princess would not be approved of doing in such a context.
As time passes, Kaguya begins to recognize that she is simply given everything. She does not have to work and she does not have to struggle. The robes that she was once happy to have as well as magnificent palace she is allowed to live within, lose their value and become worthless to her. She later speaks less frequently to others and brushes aside the gifts and letters she receives. It is here that she recognizes that much more lies beyond material wealth. Inside, she wants to truly express how she feels uninhibited, yet sacrifices said expression to please her “father” and others around her. Her “mother” in this case serves to be much more understanding and notices that Kaguya is unhappy with her life as a princess, towards the end to a much greater degree. She is allowed to use a piece of the garden to plant and tend to whatever she wants and to some degree, she ends up recreating the bamboo grove where she grew up, signifying how she still misses her childhood days. A scene where she once again encounters Sutemaru also serves to support such, tearing up as she remains powerless, unable to express her want to save him. At one point, she undertakes a celebration in which she receives the name “Kaguya,” as prior she was simply referred to as “the Princess,” yet at this celebration, she begins to start growing more jaded. She simply sits completely behind a small curtain while everyone else enjoys the celebration. In this state, she is unable to engage with mostly anyone as the princess is not supposed to be seen by others during the ceremony. She questions whether she even needed to be there and this highlights her anxiety surrounding her place in the world. It is precisely this moment where Kaguya takes on another change, in that she finally realizes that she is sick of it all.
It is perhaps this scene that completely sold the film to me. About 50-minutes in, there is a running sequence in one of Kaguya’s dreams, in which the animation grows frantic and messy, perfectly encapsulating her emotional state as she withdraws. In a frenzy, she returns to the lands where she grew up. Here she witnesses conditions that greatly contrast from those in the palace. She wanders a barren landscape and here, we can see a complete difference in treatment. Out of pity, a woman leaves out a piece of bread for her and a man talks with her casually, not so formally for once. In the palace, she is honored and carefully safeguarded, yet here, she is not treated so nobly with upmost respect as a princess, and is rather humanized, being treated as a regular person. She comes to discover that the people she knew had moved on and by this point, she believes that her happiness is dead, never to return and symbolized by the decline of the landscape. However, the man reassures her to some degree, about how the forest will revive after some time, and this gives her hope that she could still potentially enjoy what’s to come.
Conflict strikes again when suitors take interest in her, all from noble backgrounds, yet Kaguya does not want to marry. She is already torn by all her restrictions, yet her interactions with these five accelerate her skepticism. The men brashly fight over her, yet soon we discover that they don’t exactly value “her,” but rather the image of her that they have created. They all compare her to legendary, supposedly even nonexistent treasures, and Kaguya cleverly has them attempt to receive such treasures to demonstrate their resolve, yet most of the men falter. In the two cases, the suitors attempt to dupe her with fake items and this merely adds to Kaguya’s understanding of her objectification. She is viewed as a prize to be one, regarded for her beauty and skill at playing music, not exactly for the individual she is. In another case, one suitor actually embarks on an expedition to obtain the Dragon’s Jewel, but his resolve proves to be weak after he is intimidated by hallucinations. Another occasion, Kaguya almost falls for another suitor’s proposal, but acknowledges his shallowness after he witnesses what he supposes is her, and turns her away. Considering the dedication some of the suitors have undergone to deceive her, she would expect them to still love her regardless of her appearance. The one that truly changes her however, is the final suitor who dies in an attempt to grasp a Cowry Shell. It is here that Kaguya recognizes the implications of her actions. Her attempt to turn away her suitors and act as a princess serves to take a life, and in this she becomes aware of what she is doing, merely being a fake. Simultaneously though, she is disgusted by how all she knows is fake, herself as an actor on the stage, and everyone else in valuing her for such shallow reasoning. Her father believes that he is bringing her happiness while the opposite could not be any truer. Here could lie the conflict of interest, in the case a parent and child have different visions of which is best for the child. The parent may think that one thing may be best for their offspring and would push them to become happy that way, yet the child may feel towards something else, yet is inexperienced with the world and sometimes goes along with their parents as the guiding route, even if it does not lead to their true happiness. Kaguya is heading in the wrong direction regarding her own vision of happiness, a princess, yet why should a princess be treated so differently from everyone else? She is unable to exhibit her full emotional capacity, and is not permitted to live as a commoner and survive on her own. In a rage she wrecks the Eden she had created. Another scene is also important in which she leaves the palace to see the cherry blossoms, but immediately turns back to the palace once a child reminds me of her fonder days, herself realizing that she cannot ever fully return to them. By this point she has become cynical and it may be here where she finally hits rock bottom in calling out to the Moon. Only after the Emperor later departs though, does she recognize this.
Another important moment that stresses Kaguya’s character is her encounter with the Japanese Emperor. This scene truly makes note of how strong of a female lead she has become, rejecting said Emperor without hesitation and shuttering and vanishing at his embrace, which the Emperor every woman thus far has loved. Dismissing the Emperor himself valiant as most wouldn’t dare try it, he wielding unbelievable power and authority, yet Kaguya now doesn’t care, committed to her own beliefs of expressing her emotional capacity. However, now she has yet another issue to address, in the Celestials are returning. Her calling out to the Moon previously serves to symbolize the want to commit suicide, but even now regretting it, it is no longer reversible. Towards the end of the film, her hesitation to return to the Moon reminded me of the anxiety people feel when they know they are going to pass away, like a patient with a fatal disease waiting to pass away and in such a case, one has to simple cherish the time they have left. With said limited time, with what is later made out to appear as a dream to Sutemaru, she reunites with him and enjoys a few final hours in living out her childhood days once again. Here, she is able to express how she feels without the restrains the palace grants her. The scene with Sutemaru goes to represent an alternate possible path that Kaguya could have taken in living as an ordinary person rather than a Princess. Though too late, as Sutemaru has already married and moved on, Kaguya enjoys a few moments which later vanish like a dream. However, she now fully registers that she would have been happier living out her life the way she initially had, daily endeavors of being poor, and stealing just to survive. Her fascination of the commoner’s life lies with her having to “work” and “try” to gain anything, the invested effort itself making something more valuable. Here draws the dualistic connection between pain and pleasure, in which the contrast magnifies each. Suffering in itself, is its own aspect of life, to not completely discarded and turned away from. It allows an individual to change and makes the more pleasurable moments of life all the more worthwhile. This contrast is later shown with the celestial’s descent.
Kaguya’s return to the Moon is honestly now probably one of my favorite scenes in the entire medium. The celestials descend in a grand procession to retrieve Kaguya. The defenses installed by humanity prove futile against the power of the Moon, and her return is inevitable. With this grand procession however, lies something especially important, the soundtrack dissonance. Upbeat, joyful music is played throughout what is supposed to be a rather depressing, sorrowful scene, in turn, creating a varied emotional reaction and here once again, lies a major point and underlying motif of the film in its entirety. As summarized perfectly by someone in a Youtube comments section, “It’s all the juxtaposition of emotions. After all, that’s what makes Kaguya’s vision of Earth compelling: she sees the beauty in earthly life, even with its trials and tribulations. The celestial beings only have eternal bliss, and no valleys to make the peaks meaningful.” The celestials view emotions as baggage and are hence refrained from expressing them, as to why Kaguya desired to descend to the Earth to begin with, captivated by the ability to express a wide range of feelings. As previously mentioned, the celestials know only bliss and play a tune completely inappropriate for the context, representing just how distant and ignorant they are to earthly endeavors. Not only that, but said tune goes on and on and on, as if to represent the "eternal" and "everlasting" aspects of celestial existence. Human pleasure is transient, not everlasting, which runs contrary to that of those of the Moon. The difference here is that the other celestials choose to live ABOVE the suffering, in contrast to Kaguya who chooses to live WITH it. Kaguya is constantly haunted on Earth by the same struggles as the ones on the Moon, restriction regarding the capacity to feel. She wishes to live a commoner's life, embracing what life has to offer, rather than in an ascended, enlightened state, wholly divorced from suffering.
Kaguya's return to the Moon metaphorically reminded me of death in how her wearing the cloak would erase her memory like death and Moon itself being a place where one cannot express or "feel," (the celestials seem to be "above" the pain and suffering) once again, a null state like death. Life begins as an escape from nothingness, pre-conciousness, much like Kaguya’s journey, and then becomes what we know as "life," in experiencing daily struggles and pleasures, memories and adventures, then ends with a return back to the state of nothingness in death, much like the aforementioned procession. As Nausicaä says, "all things are born from the darkness and all things return to darkness." Reinforcing such an idea, I quote yet another individual, "This whole movie is about the human condition. Princess Kaguya arrived from nowhere in a flower, like conscience born from the nothingness that preceded it, suddenly produced by a brain, or a result of the soul. It is welcomed and raised and ponders on life, on happiness, on others, on human relations. But it finds nothing to answer itself. It echoes in nothingness again. When Kaguya destroys the garden, she realizes all happiness around her is "fake". Nothing is persistent. All is destroyed. Such a mindset finally makes her emit a desperate death wish when the Emperor attempts to assault her. Calling the moon is drinking a slow poison. Calling for oblivion. Calling for an eternal death. This is why the people of the Moon have no feeling, no worries; but this is also what the movie meant before. Contrasting life and death. Making people see how short life is. How unavoidable death is. When Kaguya finally talks about Earth and the Moon, she tries to convince people that living is worth it. But when the Feathered Dress falls upon her, it's over; she has fallen into Eternal Oblivion. Dead and is returning to bliss." Her return is even subtly foreshadowed to some degree in the beginning of the film in the instance that she imitated frogs leaping. “Frog” in Japanese can be pronounced as “kaeru,” which “returning” unsurprisingly just so happens to share such pronunciation. I think Kaguya is about life in itself, in unveiling it as a journey, as well as discovering the duality of pleasure and pain (much like Nausicaä’s struggle of purity and corruption) as seen with her speech in which, while she is cut off from finishing it, she seems to come to some conclusion about it. The final scene of the film, though her memory is wiped and capacity to feel seemingly lost, she still manages to look back towards the Earth one final time, signifying that perhaps, deep down, internally, her soul still remembers. She IS Kaguya after all.
I appreciated how Ghibli didn't take on a completely jovial, Hollywood-esque ending in which everyone was satisfied and was ambitious enough to leave the tale as something still something rather tragic. This truly film resurrected my hope in modern anime as I wouldn’t have expected something like this to still be produced in 2013. I’m glad to have found another work worthy enough to be inducted into my favorites.
The title of the film is not, "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter," as the myth is commonly referred to, but rather, "The Tale of Princess Kaguya." It truly is HER story.
--- This review spoils the entirety of Kaguya Hime no Monogatari, and is advised to be read after completion of this film ---
"It is like a circle, when one ends, the other one begins. So you can always count on it to keep on moving."
If there ever was a quote to perfectly describe the surreal and metaphorical journey that is Kaguya Hime no Monogatari, then this quote would be it. Kaguya-hime no Monogatari, or The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, is a Studio Ghibli film that was created and directed by none other than the legendary Isao Takahata, and was released during the year of
2013. You would expect that with Takahata being behind this movie, that it would deliver as always, and you are certainly right in that regard. Please do note that this is a movie that is slow, long, and it takes it's time to tell a story, so if you are expecting some kind of action or tension to come out of it, then this movie does not contain any of those things. With that being said, the topic of this movie is about life as a whole, from it's beauty to the struggles and hardships that come with it, to the growth of it's individuals from young adolescents to responsible adults. This movie shows us life's many cycles, from the growth of the little princess Kaguya, to the daily chores of the workers, the struggles of the elderly, the antics of the children, and the habits of the animals. It shows us everything life has to offer in a two hour long magnificent story, coupled with some beautiful visuals and an engaging soundtrack. Since this movie tells the story of life, I like to divide it into several phases, which are: The birth phase, the growth phase, the loss phase, the self-hate phase, and the death phase.
- The Birth of the Princess Kaguya -
The movie starts off with a very unique premise, a young princess comes out of a random bamboo stick in the woods, and is picked up by an old farmer and taken care of by him and his wife. This concept is already distinctive and interesting in of itself, and grabs the viewer in from the very start of the movie. Not only is said concept great, but also the movie's execution of said concept is brilliant. Takahata is an expert when it comes to crafting a scene and he does not fail in doing so here in this film. Everything in this movie is symbolic, meaning that a scene that contains flowers blooming can symbolize the growth of the little princess Kaguya for example. Every little scene in the beginning of the movie makes sense metaphorically, from a flower blooming to a butterfly hatching out of it's cocoon, they all symbolize the concept of life, and they are all used as metaphors for Princess Kaguya's growth, both physically and mentally. The movie also shows us how the little baby Kaguya is growing up, by making her imitate the jumping movement of frogs, as this scene serves to show us that Kaguya is a fast learner and is growing faster than other children, foreshadowing her as something special, something that is not human.
- Growth and Self-realization -
The little princess starts to become more and more mature as the movie progresses. She starts to become more like the old man who took care of her as a child. The movie tells us that by showing her taking care of another baby, which serves to symbolize the growth of the princess from an immature child to a mature and young adult. We see her start to become more and more responsible in her own actions, even though she still does make some mistakes from time to time. As she becomes more and more like the adult version of herself and less like the younger, more naive version, she finally comes to the realization that she was the princess that sprung out of the bamboo stick all along, and not a normal child. This phase is supposed to symbolize our coming into terms with the reality of who we are. This phase also sets us up for the third phase of the movie, which is the loss phase.
- Losing Your Way In Life -
Due to the old man's unconditional love for his daughter, he decides that she should become a princess instead of staying up in the mountains, and that is because she was sent down from the sky. This part of the story deals with the concept of loss, the loss of the friends she made, the loss of the memories she cherished for so long, and the loss of some other stuff she experienced during her life. The contrast between her previous fun life and her current royal life is seen when she is restricted from the enjoyable activities she used to do as a child, like swimming in the water, which is forbidden for a royal princess like her. We see how now, she has to suffer to be able to come to terms with her new self and this life that was imposed upon her. Unable to escape, and not wanting to disappoint her parents, she has to live her life according to these new set of rules. Is this scenario reminding you of someone? This movie is metaphorical at the end of the day, and it could as well be a reflection of us as human beings who are watching this film, since a lot of us tend to live our lives this way. We lose our way in life when a crisis occurs during maturity and are confused as to what to do. Naturally, this leads up to the self-hate phase, and that is due to Kaguya's set of rules being imposed on her.
- An Emotional Crisis -
After days of training being imposed on the princess, she starts to become more and more experienced in what she does, from playing the instruments to becoming more "lady-like", she truly can call herself a princess now. Although her future looks bright in the kingdom, she still misses her old life in the mountains, alongside her friends and the other villagers. She is trapped, and that leads to a cycle of self hate. She tries to run away, but she cannot live on her own, and after her unconscious body is then captured and returned back to the kingdom, she then finally accepts her fate and gets her face redone to become a true lady. After all is said and done, her father brings her a gift, which is a bird that is trapped inside of a cage. The movie here shows us it's symbolic brilliance, as here we see how there is no difference between the bird and the princess herself, as both are trapped and are unable to escape their fate no matter how hard they tried. When the princess does something she loves to fill in the hole of depression, we see birds and butterflies flying freely in the air, which symbolizes her love for life and the freedom she feels when doing something she actually loves. Due to her unable to accept her fate no matter how hard she tried, she becomes tired and decides to give up on the wealthy life and return to her origins.
- The Finale: The Death of a Fake Image -
After all the emotional crisis is experienced by Kaguya, we finally come to the death phase. Due to the fake love the princess is receiving from the royal princes and the counselors, she decides that her life is no longer valuable, and decides to return to her original home on the moon. This phase symbolizes the fake love that some people may feel and their inability to feel content with their own lives. When the moon people finally arrive, the story ends with Kaguya forgetting her memories and returning back to her home. With that, the movie concludes it's story about life, which started off from birth and ended at death. The movie tells the tale of peoples' lives in a very beautiful way. It gives us a generic story, but mixes it in some beautiful imagery, amazing metaphors and powerful execution, to give us an unforgettable experience overall.
Other than the great story, the movie's visuals and cinematography were beautiful to look at. The art style is certainly a unique one, unlike anything I have ever seen, and is very pleasing to the eyes. The soundtrack is certainly immersing and sounds great overall, with no track being out of place or sounding bad. One gripe I had with the movie was that it was too long for it's good, meaning that this movie should have been an hour and a half at most instead of two hours. A little padding might have been cut off for an overall better experience, and the pacing could have used some work as well.
Aside from a few gripes that bugged me, this movie contains some of the best uses of metaphor, and should be seen by anybody who loves imaginative and surreal works that have a sense of realism grounded into them.
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 Studio Ghibli motion picture is relatively well-acclaimed outside the anime world. As of now it boasts 100% rating on rotten tomatoes and it was nominated for 87th Academy Awards. Unfortunately, for all of its praise it's a surprisingly mediocre work.
The movie has some merits - it has delightful watercolor-like visual style. It's very pleasant to watch, one can simply sit and enjoy the flow of images. Animation is vivid and the art style captures the mood of the period and atmosphere of the folk tale very well. What this movie fails to capture however, is the very point it's trying to make.
movie is adaptation of the 10th century Japanese novel (sort of novel, at least) I initially believed it's the ancient text which is to blame for anime shortcomings. I was really shocked to find out that numerous versions of the original narrative tend to have a better story than this anime offers.
The writers of the anime failed because they took their own set of what I will loosely describe as 'Ghibli values', injected it into the old narrative, clashed it with Heian period customs, played this conflict for over an hour and instead of resolving it they turned back to the slightly changed climax from the original story, completely ignoring the fact that with the liberties they took the original ending doesn't work as intended - some characters are straight-up unlikeable, when they really shouldn't be, some characters don't serve any purposeful role and main character is spineless and passive. And any potential moral is subdued by the story's inconsistencies.
The creators tried to amend the situation by explicitly telling the audience how and what it should feel and accompanied the ending with an emotional soundtrack (which is by the way not particularly memorable). These tricks don't work perfectly - for the most part the movie feels more like a series of disjointed segments (Ghibli-esque beginning -> modern social commentary -> traditional folk tale -> melodrama), in each segment aiming at a different thing, connected only by the characters and art style. And additionally all of it feels dragged out and, honestly speaking, a little boring.
This really is not a good sign for a Japanese movie when a Western viewer relates more to the millennium old original story than to its modernized retelling. Visuals, faint mood of melancholy and oriental feel are not enough to consider The Tale of the Princess Kaguya a good film - it's at most an average one.
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.
Tale of Princess Kaguya - This was a decent adaptation of Tale of The Bamboo Cutter. The watercolor style in particular portrays 10th Century Japan really well I feel.
I did appreciate how they were trying to do their own thing, so to speak, by characterizing Kaguya as a tomboy kind of girl who doesn't want to be bound by old traditions. However, the addition of a pointless love interest IMO feels not only old-fashioned and out of touch, it adds nothing to Kaguya's character. If anything, it weakens her character by turning her into a girl who lives only for her love interest. This turns
what could be a strong independent female character into a vapid person.
Other characters were portrayed alright I suppose. Kaguya's parents in particular were fairly well written.
And the ending was so strangely done. I get that Ghibli was trying to do a sad ending, but the presentation was all over the place, and I believe the only reaction I could provide at the moment was a boisterous laugh. Moonwalking zombie Kaguya needs to be a thing.
I was also displeased at how the Elixir of Immortality bit from the original story wasn't adapted.
Overall, a fairly weak film that mostly plays it safe while providing very little in return. Ghibli is steadily losing its touch.
As if a nod to the 1988 double-release of My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, 2013 saw in quick succession the releases of the bittersweet anime swansongs of the legendary directors and co-founders of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Interestingly, Takahata, historically the one with a greater penchant for telling tales rooted in reality (as opposed to the fantastical lens through which most Miyazaki films are portrayed), chose to breathe life into a wistful fantasy with his opus magnum, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.
Based on an old Japanese narrative, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya tells a beautiful
coming-of-age story rife with social commentary. One day, an elderly bamboo cutter discovers a tiny girl clothed in regal garments inside a glowing bamboo stalk. After taking the girl home, he witnesses her sudden and curious transformation into a baby girl before his very eyes. The bamboo cutter and his wife take it upon themselves to nurture and raise her in the mountain village. The girl grows at an astonishing rate, earning the nickname Takenoko (“Little Bamboo”) from the village kids. Though Takenoko grows to love the idyllic landscapes and lifestyle of the countryside, the bamboo cutter feels she deserves more, after happening upon a pile of gold and expensive silks that emerge from another magical bamboo stalk. Taking it as a divine gesture that the girl is meant to live amongst nobility in the capital, the bamboo cutter uses the gold to build a luxurious estate in the city, to which the family moves. There, the girl is named “Kaguya” for her heavenly beauty, and she receives formal instruction on how to behave and carry herself with the air and grace befitting a princess. As she becomes entangled in the twines of social etiquette and must deal with mounting pressure from society and her overbearing though well-meaning father, Kaguya desperately wishes to return to the rustic lifestyle of her early childhood in which she was free of all these burdens.
Clocking in at just over two hours, the film is, for the most part, an uneventful, slow-burning drama. Those seeking an exciting, light-hearted or action-packed fantasy feature should look elsewhere. Those that enjoy more subtle and introspective films will find plenty to chew on here in the well-crafted metaphors and the thematic exploration, which includes the folly of materialism and the finding of joy in the simple things in life. The character interactions, which range from amusing to heart-wrenching, are also very organic and well handled. That is not to say the film lacks action altogether however, especially given the monumental final act in which Kaguya’s mysterious origins are ultimately explained.
Since the film was eight years in the making, as one would expect, there is painstaking attention to detail in Takahata’s directing and cinematography. To capture the essence of an old Japanese folktale, a combination of charcoal and watercolours is used to evoke a very earthy and impressionistic tone in which much is left to the imagination. While watching the film, one would feel as if they are viewing a Monet painting in motion, or, perhaps more accurately, a tenth-century Japanese picture scroll unfurling. It is nothing short of breathtaking. Studio Ghibli’s recurrent appreciation of nature is ever-present with the gorgeous splashes of colour in the landscapes and the portrayal of life in all its forms, imparting magic to the mundane in a fashion similar to Makoto Shinkai (without the photorealism). The art style is as diverse as it is beautiful—one particularly visceral sequence involves Kaguya storming out of a banquet with layers upon layers of royal robes flying off, in which her rage is reflected in the use of increasingly violent and crude pencil strokes as the rushing scenery devolves into mere scratches of charcoal. The stunning use of movement as seen here and in other places throughout the film (such as in the flowing of Kaguya’s hair as she waltzes under a cherry tree), both of the camera and the characters, elevates the artwork even further.
With Joe Hisaishi behind the soundtrack, it is hardly a surprise that the musical score is sublime. The exquisite soundtrack, whether in its often-oriental instrumentation or frequent usage of pentatonic scales, paints a vivid picture of life in ancient Japan. Ranging from lush orchestral pieces to contemplative piano or koto tracks, there is a wonderful composition for every mood and occasion. These atmospheric compositions match their scenes perfectly and always augment them in some way, with pastoral motives and woodwinds emulating birdcalls to elicit the joys of spring, evocative sweeping melodies to reinforce a painful sense of yearning, and, at the very end, an ethereal dance tune to accompany the celestial sequence (perhaps much to the chagrin of the viewer). The voice acting in the film is also fantastic, with highly convincing performances all around. Aki Asakura in particular makes for a brilliant Kaguya with her charming melodious voice, at times brimming with the wonder and youthful energy one would expect in a young child experiencing the world for the first time, and plagued by sorrow and regret in other scenes. I would recommend watching the film in its original language first, not because the English dub is bad by any means, but rather to be fully immersed in the mesmerizing cultural experience.
All in all, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is one of the best films ever produced by Studio Ghibli. Never mind the box office flop; it is a work of art and a cinematic masterpiece in every respect. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are a fan of anime or even film in general, you owe it to yourself to see it.
I don't quite understand people's distaste for this movie. While the art maybe off putting to some and the ending will leave people mad, this movie is truly beautiful in my eyes.
Story: 10/10 - I'm unfamiliar with the folk tale this is based off, with that being said, I'm not sure how far off or close the movie was with it. Either way, I enjoyed the movie for its entirety. Kaguya hime no Monogatari is not a typical princess movie based back on a very historical time period. A time where princesses married noble men as the same of an arranged marriage. Not knowing the
person well, but getting hitched for the sole purpose of 'happiness.'
But Princess Kaguya is not seeking that type of happiness. She's a wild flower that blows in all different directions of the wind. Later in the movie, she begins to live in a palace her father had built for her. Just as soon as she's there, it's apparent she's unhappy. She loves to run and be free spirited.
Alas, not such happiness can be obtained, can it?
The ending is in a way controversial among Ghibli fans. At first, I was like 'that can't be it ??' But as I sat there, sitting at my computer screen, watching the credits scroll down, I realized something. This movie is unique and truly a work of art. The ending is not something you see coming, and it may leave you crying or angry. But if you just sit there like I did, and listen to the beautiful ost, you'll see the true beauty in this movie.
Art: 10/10 - At first I was hesitant and thought 'uhh, the art looks weird.' Wow was I anymore wrong. The animation is very odd to what we're used to, but nonetheless, it suits the movie very well. I can't imagine it any differently! They're very beautiful parts than just give you goosebumps. The scenery of the plants, flowers, and the sky look just like watercolor. It's very refreshing and just so admirable.
Sound: 10/10 - Another great aspect of the this movie. The osts are placed perfectly in each scene. Especially in the end. The very last 7 minutes of the movie, "Inochi no Kioku" is played. It makes you feel all the feels in the very last moments of this Studio Ghibli masterpiece.
Character: 9/10 - Throughout the entire movie, you witness Princess Kaguya's wittiness and true personality. She's a young women who's not meant for palace life. She loves to run through meadows and laugh loudly.
As for her adopted parents. Her mother remains genially humble overall. She's a gentle women. Her character is perfect. Her father on the other hand is a little dramatic at times and really wants his daughter to be happy. But he's always trying to force that happiness down her throat. I wasn't a fan of him up until the end where he mentions first holding her in his hands while crying. I couldn't help but tear up.
Enjoyment: 10/10 - From beginning to end, I loved this movie. The stunning notions of this Ghibli film is brilliant. This is not the average movie, not in the industry and not in general, but that's not a bad thing. Not by any means.
I was so excited to have seen this finally was on Kissanime! I almost immediately watched it :)
Overall: 10/10 - This is truly a hit or a miss for fans. Some will see the very beauty I see and others will only see it one way. Either way, I hope you give this a shot!
Kaguya was an enlightening experience, but not in the conventional sense. It elucidated the reason why Takahata's magnum opus Omoide Poroporo is such a transcendental masterpiece by demonstrating how easy it is to do the exact opposite. That is not to say the movie doesn't have its share of promptly noticeable qualities. You won't see a bigger tribute to Japanese painting in animation given the staff carefully poured all their passion into this visual spectacle. I'm not quick to give it the title of best looking Takahata, it's not like there is no competition. Nonetheless, it does encapsulate his progressive side which ironically never quite
strays away from the land of the rising sun. Also, I appreciate that he gave Kaguya more depth than she possesses in the original story. The fact remains, however, that the movie is a massive waste of potential. It wouldn't be a problem coming from most directors who never even aimed for the stars, but from such auteur, what a letdown. It's his last movie after all, so you'd expect him to leave some kind of mark. When adapting the manga from Poroporo, Takahata took the liberty to build his own environment and explore nostalgia in ways untouched by any other anime, period. It was infinitely ahead of its source material in the sense it became a product of his own, something he would be known for and a glaring representative of his talent. Kaguya is... the best adaptation of a simple tale that remains so faithful it throws away all possibilities of watching a true masterpiece. What is there to take away? As much as he tried to twist the message for modern audiences, profoundness is nowhere to be found. It can cause a plethora of emotions on the viewers, instill thoughts, etc, but essentially so could the original tale. That is why it was created, because of the universal appeal it carries within. But it's far from actually insightful or fresh even, given that it's so old and its core lessons have been widened to no end throughout history. The only way it could work out would be by recontextualizing the original story, perhaps through actually exploring the themes of empowerment, the importance of our origins, the conscious mortality as opposed to eternal numbness, which is probably the most interesting idea, or maybe through presenting characters who resemble human beings more than caricatures. Sadly both themes and characters are just there, signaling their own existence but lacking in actual substance. Basically, Takahata risked very little by relying on such broad likability and as a result, despite garnering approval of so many people, it feels like a shallow and conventional biopic based Oscar bait. There, I said it.
While I enjoyed the early scenes, as it progressed passed the 20 minute mark where the family moves from the mountain the horrible pacing shows it's face and ruins, for me, what could have been a really great movie and becomes one of the worst additions to Ghibli's filmography.
One of the more aggravating issues is that scenes hang on for too long in areas that they don't need to like when Kaguya is seeing the noblemen, and end abruptly when they really shouldn't like with the scenes toward the end with Kaguya and the boy and the actual ending itself. I
don't understand why at some parts this movie feels like a daytime television show trying to fit all it's drama into the 30 minute time-slot, and at other parts it lets loose some uninteresting dialogue go for much longer than I could possibly care for.
In addition, I felt like genuinely interesting or upsetting scenes were written so carelessly it was difficult to maintain any genuine interest in whatever the hell was going on. The Prince's awkward and unsettling advances on Kaguya later in the second half progressed the plot to where it needed to go, but served no other purpose and had no other lasting effects. It was just forgotten about as soon as the scene ended and his character ceases to with it, despite initially being introduced as if he was of some importance.
Which is actually quite interesting as this seems like a recurring theme in this movie as Kaguya herself has an interesting story of being born from a bamboo plant, yet does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING this entire movie. Nothing at all. After her weirdly paced training montage, she just sits around and waits for people to talk to her. She's the most uninteresting princess I've seen and I don't know how someone could write a story about someone who does so little...
I don't want to rag much more on the film as it deserves some respect for it's interesting visual style, but I was a little let down that the style used when Kaguya first runs from her mansion back home to the mountain wasn't utilized later, nor was the style played with in any other ways that it could have been. It seemed like a missed opportunity for some more interesting visuals that could have broken up the film from it's constant white palette that got a little hard on the eyes at times.
The animation itself is great as per usual from this studio, but I'd think that usually goes without saying
Maybe I'm just giving this movie a hard time, but I really fail to see the praise this gets. The story itself is pretty unremarkable. All the characters aren't fun to listen to, and act so typically it's actually incredibly boring to watch the more character focused segments of this movie.
If you have to miss one Ghibli film make it this one. You're not missing much and there's certainly not a whole lot to talk about.
Isao Takahata has always fascinated me as a director, particularly as a veteran of Studio Ghibli, because his style is so vastly different than that of Hayao Miyazaki that it makes such an interesting contrast when examining their work side by side. Whereas Miyazaki is a master of whimsy and warmth, Takahata favors harsher, more tactile, more unmistakably grounded tales. Whereas Miyazaki finds answers through the art of storytelling, Takahata asks questions that aren’t so easily parsed. One need only look at the different ways the directors explore environmentalism, through Naussicaa and Pom Poko as examples, to see just how different their approaches are. And
while I’ve always had a certain amount of trouble parsing Takahata’s work because of that- I much more favor Miyazaki’s emotionally driven storytelling over Takahata’s subtler, less obvious ruminative style- I still respect the hell out of him for what he’s been able to accomplish following that ethos.
So I was particularly interested to see how he closed his career out with The Tale of Princess Kaguya. I knew it was based on an old Japanese folk legend that I knew the basics of, but that template only told me so much about the way Takahata would bring that legend to life. What kind of story would this master tell to put a final exclamation point on a life full of question marks? I came in expecting both nothing and everything, both certain I wasn’t prepared for what this movie had in store and certain it would fascinate me every step of the way. In that sense, I was right on both counts.
But in another sense, I wasn’t prepared at all.
I wasn’t prepared for The Tale of Princess Kaguya to become my new favorite Studio Ghibli film of all time.
Believe me, I am just as shocked as you are. Had you told me prior to starting this movie that I would end up ranking it above Spirited Away, Ponyo, and Miyazaki’s own swan song with The Wind Rises, not to mention Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Naussicaa, and Princess Mononoke, I would have considered getting you professional help. There’s no way that’s possible, I would’ve told you. Takahata, of all people, overtake Miyazaki’s pedigree, when the latter speaks to my love of storytelling so directly and the former often barely grazes it? When even the best of Takahata’s past works always felt like they held me at a certain distance I just couldn’t cross? When pigs fly, my friend. And yet, here we are, so expect to be shooting some fresh-caught bacon down from the skies before much longer.
Because The Tale of Princess Kaguya didn’t just sweep me away, it caught my heart in its tender hands and sent it soaring into the light of the full moon, blinding me in a brilliance so subtle that I barely even noticed it until it was fully illuminating my vision. It struck chords in me I didn’t even know existed to be struck, hit me with feelings I wasn’t prepared to feel, and overwhelmed me in ways I’m still trying to process as I write these words. I was spellbound, awestruck, enchanted, moved, transported, elevated, healed, torn apart, sewn together, and left with the sensation that I had just witnessed a miracle in action. I almost don’t even want to write about it. Putting these feelings into words feels like I’m stripping away the magic of the unexplainable, like I’m intellectualizing something that can’t be intellectualized. The Tale of Princess Kaguya defies any easy attempt to categorize or define it, to pin it down to a single definition or sensation. Ask me on a million different days and I could give you a million different ways I fell in love with this fairy tale. But for now, I only have this one day, and I only have this one post. So let’s do the best we can at putting a definition on the undefinable and doing justice to a story I could never do justice to.
Based on the traditional Japanese folk tale of the old bamboo cutter, the story follows a husband and wife in ancient Japan, simple farmers and bamboo cutters, who make a miraculous discovery one day: a little baby girl inside a bamboo stalk. Considering it a blessing from heaven, they take the baby in as their own, and she starts growing at an exceedingly rapid rate. Before they know it, she’s a free-spirited little girl tumbling about the forest and getting into all sots of mischief. And the blessings keep coming, with the husband finding even more treasures inside the bamboo stalks he cuts, gold nuggets and fine clothes. Eventually, he decides that Heaven must be telling him to make this girl a princess, to give her a status befitting of her miraculous circumstances. So the family sets off for the capital to establish her among the noble class and make her a proper princess, to give her the life they think she deserves. But as you might expect, the life they think their daughter deserves ends up diverging spectacularly from the one she actually wants.
Obviously, this is a story you’ve seen told many times before. Takahata is not breaking new narrative ground with the archetypes and plot devices he’s exploring here. The headstrong girl who doesn’t want to be a proper lady, the disapproving parents, the stuffy traditionalism of the “adult” world, these are well-worn beats I’ve seen explored in countless different ways before. If I’m being perfectly honest, they’re normally story beats I’m not that fond of; I find they tend to make the narrative far too easy. The only real trials to overcome are external pressures that are Obviously Wrong and Bad™, so there’s very little drama in watching our hero struggle to overcome them. And yet, with just a subtle tweak of the sincerity gague, Takahata makes them sing. He understands instinctively why these tropes became so popular in the first place, the reasons they can make for a good story if used correctly. The parents don’t ever act out of malice, and with only a few choice exceptions for impact, the world is never outright cruel. They all genuinely want what’s best for Kaguya, even as they can’t see how deeply those desires are suffocating her. Takahata puts these ideas front and center not because they’re a cheap shortcut to easy conflict, but because these are the best ideas with which he can tell this story.
Because Princess Kaguya is far more than a simple movie about a girl bucking against her parent’s wishes to become her own woman. It’s a movie that explores the agony of restraint, of feeling closed off from the things you want to do, from the feelings you want to feel, from the life you want to live. It’s a movie about pressure and weight, of feeling constricted from every side of you, even from within, as you struggle to figure out how to forge your own path through a world where everyone has their own plans for you. But it’s also a movie about freedom, the joy of running through the grass with the wind at your heels, the almost catatonic giddiness that fills your soul when you finally feel the bonds on you loosen. It’s a tale of yearning against what boxes you in, reaching for the open air, breaking free and rushing along the whirling river of life, only to be yanked back in and have the door slammed shut on your face. That push and pull is at the heart of every conflict across the film; Kaguya’s desire to be free, desperately bracing against a world that unknowingly muffles her voice and constricts her breath, a stifling presence that even comes from within her, asking her whether she truly deserves to be free.
The result of this push and pull is, no joke, one of the most breathtaking exercises in tension and release I’ve ever experienced. It’s a film that builds on itself, with every ounce of freedom Kaguya earns met with an equal tightening of the bonds around her, so each new step on the journey is just a little bit more joyful, then a little bit more painful, then a lot more joyful, then a lot more painful, then stunningly joyful, then stunningly painful, until the tears finally start flowing and they do. Not. Stop. Ever. Once the dam breaks, it never gets shorn back up; I can’t remember the last time I film gave me such raw, wrenching emotional whiplash on a near constant basis. One moment you’re sobbing with joy as Kaguya spins in a field of cherry blossoms, awhirl in giddiness and light, and the next moment you’re wailing with fury as she crumples before an old friend, too scared to face him again in the light of who she thinks she’s become. Feelings circle back and redouble, growing stronger and stronger with each passing moment, until whatever grip you might have had completely loosens and the tide sweeps you away. There were so many times over the course of this film where I legitimately felt helpless, like I was a puppet with all my strings cut being tossed on the ocean of heartache. It’s the kind of experience that leaves you shaking, unable to fully process what’s happening until it’s already over.
And the stunning animation, drawn from traditional minimalist Japanese art, emphasizes every single break and burst. The pale watercolors and white space can feel constrictive, limiting, old and stuffy and outdated like the world that crushes Kaguya down. But they can also feel joyous, expressive, flowing and sketchy and unchained by boundary and form, erupting with Kaguya’s emotional outbursts, positive or negative, into a flurry of dazzling color and light that gives the impression of an unbound force of feeling tearing through the formality of the old and ripping it to shreds. My Neighbor the Yamadas also made strong use of this watercolor style, but the way Takahata pushes it to its limit here regularly left me breathless. There is so much humanity in every single movement, every single frame, every single splash of color. It doesn’t just feel like a stuffy old folk tale, it feels like a folk tale brought to life, ripped straight from the old page it was written on and let loose to dance in the atmosphere. This movie tells a very, very old story, but it makes every second feel as fresh and vibrant as when the ink was still wet on the page.
Still, while all that explains what makes this movie great, it doesn’t quite explain what makes this movie my favorite. It doesn’t explain the stranglehold The Tale of Princess Kaguya has over my emotions, how utterly it overwhelmed and subsumed me into its essence. In truth, I don’t know if I can manage one true answer as to why this movie hit me so hard in comparison to all of Ghibli’s work up until this point. Like all good fairy tales, there’s a certain intangible essence about this movie, a feeling that you can’t quite place, that exists in the netherworld between understanding and sensation. It’s the classic Isao Takahata question, the essence of his work that leaves you with unresolved tension as to how deeply you let it affect you. But whereas Takahata’s questions in the past have at best fascinated me and at worst bored me, the spiritual ambiguity at the core of Princess Kaguya electrifies me like few films or shows have been able to approach. It hits me so raw and powerfully that I feel like I lose control of myself experiencing it, like I have no choice but to accept the power it leaves me with. I cannot ignore this film. I cannot turn away from the sensations it left me with. And I never want to.
Perhaps it’s by virtue of this being Takahata’s final film that he was able to reach so deeply into it like never before. While it lacks the obvious life-imitates-art narrative arc of The Wind Rises, it still carries a powerful sense of melancholy that imbues every hard choice with an air of aching finality. And the further you get into the film, the more it starts to feel like a farewell letter, one last goodbye from a man who never thought he’d get the chance to say goodbye on his own terms. It’s the kind of film where it grows increasingly difficult to let go the closer it gets to its conclusion, where the bond it forges with you is so tender and intimate that the inevitable farewell grows increasingly more painful to think about. And perhaps recognizing that fact, without spoiling anything, the narrative itself becomes about goodbyes, about the complicated, uncertain, painful feelings of coming to the end of a connection and suddenly realizing that all you ever found there is all you’ll ever find.
And it’s that feeling, above all else, that sticks with me long after I’ve actually finished the film. Kaguya struggles for so long and goes through so much pain and joy over the course of her simple, remarkable life, but what is left to be said when it’s all over? How can she- or I- make sense of it all when all it ever was is all it’s ever going to be? Nothing in life lasts forever, after all; seasons change and life is replaced by life, the old is always fading way for the new. In the end, was I free enough? Did I love enough, laugh enough, run enough, fight enough, cheer enough, cry enough, feel enough to say it was worth it? Or were the pains and aches and bondage and heartbreak and sorrow and self-hatred all that remains in the end? Or more likely, is it somewhere in the middle, perhaps skewed to one side? I don’t know, and I don’t know if I’ll ever truly know. I doubt Takahata knew when he was writing this film; every fiber of it aches with the pain of not knowing, of facing the end of a long journey and wishing you could make better sense of it, wishing you could say for sure that you did everything you ever could, that you made the most of what was offered you. It yearns for closure, but it’s not certain if it’s able to find it in the end, and the ache of that not knowing makes every single emotional thread over the course of the film resonate at a fever pitch. It asks you to grasp on tightly to every moment of joy, every moment of sorrow, to hold onto to the crazy, frustrating, painful, exhilarating, momentous life you’ve been given, because only then can you say it was worth it in the end, if it’s even possible for anyone to say that for sure.
And I do hold on. I hold onto every shard of radiant laughter, every splotch of gut-wrenching teardrops, every happiness and sadness and fury and wonder and chaos and order and shame and awe of Kaguya’s ordinary, extraordinary journey. I hold onto the tapestry of her life, written in white and black, because I want to believe it was all worth it. I want to believe this extraordinary girl found her meaning in the end, even if I can’t be sure. Because Kaguya herself is, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable heroines I’ve ever encountered, bursting with life and passion and wonder and determination rendered so palpably by the animation that I feel it almost as viscerally as my own. I feel the joy in her wild, inhibited spinning and tumbling. I feel the anguish in her clenched teeth and shaking fists as the world closes down around her. I feel the deep ache in the slow loss of everything she tries so desperately to hold onto, and I feel the majesty in her finding it again. I feel the soul of her bright, piercing, joyous laughter bubbling up within myself every time she opens her mouth in happiness, and I feel the brightness of her smile in my own, brighter and purer than perhaps any other smile I’ve encountered over the course of watching anime. Yes, really, the exuberance this girl carries within her is that fucking powerful. And it makes me hold onto every last scrap of it, hoping against all hope that I can carry her voice over the treetops and into the distance, as far and wide as I can possibly travel.
Because I refuse to let her tale be in vain. I refuse to think it was all for nothing, even as I know I can’t be certain that it wasn’t. I refuse to give up on living the life I want to live, on carrying her spirit in how mightily she fought against everything that tried to tear her down, even when her strength was on the verge of giving out from within her. Other Ghibli films have inspired me, elevated me, stunned me, awed me. But no other Ghibli film- hell, possibly no other film, period- made me lay my soul this bare. No other Ghibli film sent me home feeling so raw, so awake, so in touch with myself and everything I wanted to be. It took us a lifetime to get it, but it was absolutely worth the wait. Isao Takahata’s final film, the end of an era for one of the greatest animation studios on the face of the planet, a deeply personal expression of universal anguish and empathy, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a masterpiece unlike any other. I know most of you probably haven’t seen it yet, so believe me when I say, you have to fix that now. Don’t let this one fly under your radar; it deserves to be celebrated for the crowning achievement it is.
_The Tale of the Princess Kaguya_ is the best known Japanese fairy tale: a beautiful child is found inside a bamboo plant; she is raised into a princess, attracting the attention of noble suitors, who fail the tasks she sets them, eventually the emperor himself takes an interest in her; finally, she returns to the Moon from whence she came, having either been exiled for a crime or hidden on Earth during a lunar war for her safety. What can Isao Takahata bring to it, his last film, one which took so many years to create, experiencing the most protracted development-hell of any Ghibli movie?
Much, and it is worth rewatching. (I do not know if _The Tale of the Princess Kaguya_, likely Takahata's last, is the best Ghibli film ever, but it is far superior to Miyazaki's last film, _The Wind Rises_.)
First, the animation is stunning. It is in a sort of hand-crafted moving watercolor. I am reminded of my reactions to watching _Redline_: every scene leaves me rapt, feeling that nothing like this may ever be created again. The labors that went into this movie show in every frame: no studio has as much money or prestige as Studio Ghibli (which is gradually ceasing animation), the animation industry conversion to computerized processes is long over, and it may never be possible to pay enough Japanese animators poorly enough to afford such luxuries in the future.
What did Takahata mean by it? Takahata himself is one of the enigmas of Ghibli: a Marxist while young, infinitely respected by his junior Miyazaki (who he also towers over physically, we see in _The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness_), but more obscure. We know _The Grave of Fireflies_ for its searing sorrow; _Pompoko_ is considered a comedy despite the disturbing undercurrents of group suicide and the near-extinction of the tanuki; but why the tale of Princess Kaguya, written by the Heian nobility about themselves, which hardly seems like a promising topic for Studio Ghibli, much less Takahata?
A close watch makes clear a cyclical pattern: built into the original story's parody/criticism of the nobility, Takahata extends it into a deeper critique of the aristocracy and social striving and the nihilism of Buddhism. Her father takes the heaven-sent gold and kimonos, and, well-intentioned, becomes convinced that Kaguya's life must be uprooted and destroyed because Heaven demands she become a princess, slowly forgetting his original goal and focusing on social advancement; Kaguya delights in the beautiful kimonos and wardrobes she is given but they become a burden as she is forbidden to play or act like a child (or human) or have pets; she is taught to write and be educated, but forbidden from drawing or cartooning; she is forced to engage in eyebrow plucking and teeth blackening (the latter famously invented to hide an empress's decayed teeth and then became tradition) to meet arbitrary social standards; her popularity renders her unable to go out to see cherry blossoms; a party supposedly in her honor turns out to merely be an occasion for drunkenness and insults; all of this is merely to feed the greed of the nobility for women they have hardly seen, and her ultimate reward for satisfying her father's ambitions is to become subject the emperor's assumption he can rape any women he pleases (in one particularly ugly incident related in Keene's _Seeds in the Heart_, the emperor complains to a father that raping his daughter wasn't as enjoyable as he hoped because she didn't resist enough).
Moving to the capital, despite granting her access to high culture and beautiful clothes and gardens and parties, renders her miserable by coming with the distortions of rank and hierarchy and inbred court customs.
At the party scene, in one of the most striking sequences, Kaguya flees in a rage through the monochrome night back to her old home which she pines for; the mountain and forest are dead, but a charcoal maker, who tells her that life will return; vanishing, the ragged Kaguya appears to collapse in the snow, alone, waking up back at the party. At the end, she meets her childhood friend, now a grown adult, and confesses her love to him, saying it's too late for them to live happily together; together, they jump off a cliff and fly across the countryside, invisible, until Kaguya is pilled to the Moon by an inexorable force, but again she is back at the capital. What do these sequences imply? As so often in Takahata's movies (_Grave of the Fireflies_, _Pom-poko_), suicide makes an appearance: these are two possible rejection reactions, disappearing and dying as a penniless beggar, and a love-suicide - both possible futures are, however, futile. In the first, leaving her role in human society renders her an outcast without any position, to die alone of exposure; and in the second, a death pact solves nothing, merely killing her friend/would-be lover and returning her to the Moon quicker. Finally, she resolves to commit suicide if she must become the Emperor's woman.
"People will have their miracles, their stories, their heroes and heroines and saints and martyrs and divinities to exercise their gifts of affection, admiration, wonder, and worship, and their Judases and devils to enable them to be angry and yet feel that they do well to be angry. Every one of these legends is the common heritage of the human race; and there is only one inexorable condition attached to their healthy enjoyment, which is that no one shall believe them literally. The reading of stories and delighting in them made Don Quixote a gentleman: the believing them literally made him a madman who slew lambs instead of feeding them."
Beautiful clothes should be something to rejoice in; parties should be occasions for fun and festivity; young children should be able to play freely and have pets; one should choose freely one's husband; one should live a long life before dying; all of these things should be blessings, and not curses.
In the end, Kaguya rejects her mortal life, and the Moon's Buddha (in full Indian regalia & retinue, to make it impossible to miss the point) inexorably returns to take her back to the Moon; only then does she remember her life in the Moon and yearning after mortal life's joys and sorrows amidst the peace of the grave of the Moon. She could remain on Earth only so long as she desired to. Too late does she accept her life as a whole, too late does she yearn to remain. ("You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.")
"That the pleasure arising to man / from contact with sensible objects, / is to be relinquished because accompanied by pain— / such is the reasoning of fools. / The kernels of the paddy, rich with finest white grains, / What man, seeking his own true interest, / would fling them away / because of a covering of husk and dust?"
The feeling one is left with is Fujiwara no Teika's _yugen_: a mysterious feeling of depth. Kaguya arrives in mystery, walks in beauty, and departs in mystery. Was it a war, or poetic punishment? Takahata avoids ever explicitly choosing, leaving the viewer in doubt and uncertainty. In the end, there is only silence; in the end, there is only the sublime; in the end, there is only life throughout spring, summer, fall, winter, with birds, bugs, beasts, grass, trees, flowers...
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is phenomenal — yet sweet. It is mind blowing — but nostalgically familiar. It is a deep pool with beautiful, glistening ripples on the poignant surface. I giggled with childish delight, then with youthful humor. A bittersweet tear followed on the trail of a tear of longing hope. Myth and fairy tale dance hand-in-hand with the most down-to-earth reality. The animation is a masterpiece, the music haunting. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya will leave you breathless — and utterly human.
The story is based on the fairy tale, The Bamboo-cutter and the Moon-child. All of the main elements
of the original tale are there, but they have been expanded upon in a subtly dramatic and effortless composition.
This is animation at its finest. There are sequences that forego form and structure altogether in favor of style and tone. It is like a moving, breathing painting, that is sometimes a beautiful pastoral landscape and sometimes strikingly abstract. In the world of illustration we see a vast variety of unique styles, but animation (at least feature-length) tends to fall under a few categories of similar looks. This film is one of the exceptions. I only hope that animation will come to be like illustration in its individuality of style and artistry, in the way Isao Takahata has done here.
Joe Hisaishi composed a very minimalist, atmospheric musical score, with clear inspiration drawn from traditional music to reflect the setting of the fairy tale. It is, as a stand alone body of music, enchanting and exquisite. But it is also a very profound compliment to the tone, pacing, and style of the film itself.
I'm not sure whether to put the voice acting under sound or character, so let's stick it in-between. It's perfection. Chii Takeo, the wood-cutter in the Japanese cast, in particular, is masterful.
The princess herself, affectionately called Lil' Bamboo by her group of childhood playmates, has been given a very spunky yet sensitive personality that breathes life into the old tale. The way she grows older at an unnatural rate is executed with a flawless flow that adds to the quiet, fateful spiral of the story's arc.
The other characters also have a more grounded depth to them without losing the surreal yet authentic element of caricature peculiar to all fairy tales.
I definitely enjoyed this film. In fact, it's become my all time favorite. Overall, I'd say: watch it.
The Tale of Kaguya Hime pulls you into the story with the normal Studio Ghibli magic. The art style is unique from what I've seen, as the characters are like a moving work of art drawn in charcoal. The voice acting is top notch and even the sound effects, like the sounds of Kaguya running on wooden floors around the house, caught my attention as sounding like I heard a person 10 feet away running on those floors. While the story is a slow one, it kept my attention the whole time and feed me with the emotions that I believe the director and team
members wanted to convey. Overall, I give it a 9.7+. I rated 10, and though I wouldn't rate it at a perfect 10, calling it great (a 9) is an understatement. This is one of the movies that I hope to keep for a long time and possibly share with my kids one day.
Movies have been the main driving force in bringing entertainment to the world, ever since its infancy in the very late 1800s. Movies have evolved since its beginnings, and have now become a daily part of our life, but as a result of there being so many, there are now so few that truly stand out among the rest unless someone looks really hard. But there are people out there who still consider both movies and animation to be art forms in their own right, and combine them together to make a truly magnificent and ambitious viewing experience for a viewer. Studio Ghibli is one
such example. They've been making movies since the 80s and are universally loved and praised by all who know them because they love and care for the art form and make movies that everyone of every country can enjoy, that are without equal. But in 2013, Isao Takahata, the director of the critically acclaimed Grave of the Fireflies, set out to make a very ambitious movie based on one of the oldest stories in the world, The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
The story is about an old man who finds a very tiny girl growing from a magical bamboo stalk. In awe of her beauty, convinced that she is a blessing sent from Heaven, he takes her home to his wife. She then morphs into a baby, and the old couple decide to raise the girl as their own. But the girl the neighborhood kids call Little Bamboo is no ordinary girl. She is growing faster than any normal child. She is beautiful unlike any other girl in the world. Wanting to give their new daughter a happy life, the old man and woman go to the capital to live among the nobility, but Kaguya grows dissatisfied with her new rich life, as it's not like the free life she lived with her friends in the country. It doesn't help that men from all over want to marry her, seeing her as only a rare jewel or a prize to be won.
The original story has been around for a millennium and is considered one of the oldest Japanese stories in the entire world, probably one of the oldest stories in the entire world in general. It's been constantly referenced, homaged, adapted into media, etc., ever since its original conception. No one knows who made it, but I must say, whoever made it will be very pleased with Isao Takahata's film version. There's no denying it: the animation is absolutely luscious. It's intentionally made to look like a watercolor painting in every single scene, which in itself is a homage to how traditional Japanese scrolls looked back in those times. One would think something like this would be made in the 70s or 80s, but it's easy to miss the fact that it only came out two years ago. Every single character is animated in a fluid, life-like way, and their movements are definitely true to life, from their changing facial expressions to the swinging movements their arms make. It's just so full of life and heart!
The soundtrack is equally as beautiful. Every piece of music sets the atmosphere, mood, and tension of a scene absolutely perfectly, even the background music near the end that seemingly feels out of place but actually doesn't. I won't spoil anything because it's important to the story, but the music is a perfect blend of sadness and happiness for that scene, and it needs to be heard to be believed. In fact, my dad loved the music for that scene so much that the first thing he did upon returning home from the theater was listen to the OST on YouTube! He even bought a synthethizer so he could try and play a cover of the BGM for himself! You know a soundtrack is good if it makes people want to replicate it.
The characters are all amazing in their own way. None of them feel incomplete, have subtle backgrounds, and they're all reasonably developed characters with their own well-defined roles. Even the side characters have a lot of personality, brought to life by the beautiful animation, and work so incredibly well with the main characters. Now, I have heard some complaints about Kaguya's behavior. Some even go as far as to call her a heartless jerk, or even evil, but that's not true. She's just simply a hormone addled teenager growing up in a harsh, strict, even misogynistic time period, deprived of the freedom she had when she was little. Haven't we all experienced the feelings she did at some point in our lives? Where we feel like the world and people on it are either against us or want to use us against our will for their own conveniences that we protest against but can't do anything about? Kaguya is a wonderfully flawed, realistic character whom I'm pretty sure many people can relate to. The story itself is relatively simple, and that works in the movie's benefit since with simpler stories you can flesh out the characters all the more, and the animators really did an amazing job with that.
Now as of this writing, I've seen both the English and Japanese versions of the movie, and there's a French version I haven't seen yet. While I do love both versions in their own right, I do have some minor problems with Kaguya's English voice actress, Chloe Grace Moretz. This is the first work I've heard her in, and for the most part she's a reasonably good actress. However, during the dramatic scenes where she needs to raise her voice and be sad, crushed, and heartbroken, she...unfortunately really misses the mark, especially during the final third of the movie. When she cries, she sounds more like she's singing in a very subdued manner rather than screaming her guts out and letting herself be consumed by her sadness, and considering she makes absolutely no attempt to raise her voice or put any emotion in her acting during that last third, it pretty much makes the scene fall flat on its face. Which is a shame, because she nails everything else. The Japanese actress definitely handled it better, and I'm curious if the French version did the same.
The story itself is very simple, and I read a copy of the story in college, so it's very short and sweet, so anyone can adapt it in any way they please. While this is the only version I've seen, I definitely feel its the best adaptation, and for me, nothing can top it. I'm not too familiar with Takahata's work, and I did see a majority of Grave of the Fireflies, but I never finished it, because it was too grim and sad. Many people consider Grave of the Fireflies to be his masterpiece, but I honestly feel Kaguya has not only a better story, but better animation, characters, and a stronger narrative that takes its time to develop itself and make its characters come to life. Seriously, Kaguya deserves so much more recognition than it gets, and it didn't exactly do so well in the box office, both in the US and Japan. Even so, it's a wonderful film on every level, and it deserves more recognition.
If you want a genuinely good story that'll take you away from reality, check out Kaguya. In my opinion, its one of the best movies ever made.
“The tale of the princess kaguya” is an anime that really needs more attention, though I have to say that it’s not a movie for everybody, especially not for the average anime fan. It’s a movie drama that presents what a noble woman (girl) has to go through in the mediaeval times of japan in order to be socially accepted and be called beautiful. It goes even a bit father and touches the controversy of the mediaeval believe that woman only need to be beautiful and to get a noble husband to be happy. But don’t expect a deep psychological approach on this aspect, since
it only barely goings into this topic. However, what you do see is the story of a little girl that tries to refuses these norms and that tries to be her old self which doesn’t succeed and she becomes more and more that, what she didn’t want to be. In the progress of getting more and more depressive the further it gets, showing the previous mentioned controversy of the common believe of happiness in those days.
The story is about a girl that magically comes into life and grows up on the countryside of japan with her father being a bamboos cutter, who then later realized he wants her daughter to grow up in the capital learning “the ways of a noble princess”. This decision was made way too late leading to the girls unhappiness, since she had already seen the opposite world of joy and laughter on the countryside, which obviously is the one little kids will like more, but she still tries to, since she wants to make her father happy, who desperately believes her happiness lies in becomming a “noble princess”. Now getting taught how to act as a noble woman and how to dress, she more and more wants to get back to her old home. The story is maybe similar presented as the masterpiece “Memorie of a Geisha” with only the main protagonist NOT wanting to become a beauty.
The story itself starts off very slowly, especially with her being a baby. The childhood feels uninteresting at first but is later appreciated because of the built up to her emotions and the part with her being in the capital was made in a fitting pacing to keep you interested.
The main protagonist, the little girl who slowly grows up over the duration of the movie is by far the most interesting character of the film (kinda understandable since she is the focus). You see her laughing, crying, getting angry, getting depressed and even as an emotionless doll. You see her developing from a country kid to a well taught adult who sees no happiness in how the world wants her to be. Her father and her mother are the 2 second most important character, on the one hand, the mother giving her confidence and supporting what she wants and on the other hand the father who wants her to become a princess not seeing what really makes her happy. In my opinion was the father-figure too little portrayed, but at least they had a few conflicts between her and her father in the movie.
Sound / Artstyle
The sound and artstyle are probably the reasons why this movie gets so emotional. What especially impressed me that the, already unique arstyle changes with the tone of the show, making emotional outbreaks even more gripping. It has a very nice soundtrack attached to it with a main theme played on the koto (so in the style of the mediaeval japan), which was very fitting to the drama parts. The sound changes as well perfectly with the tone of the movie. The animation is very fluid and shows great effort (it’s a movie after all) ,the arstyle is hold simple, like in previous Ghibli works such as “My neighbors the yamadas”.
If you want to see great battles with tones of action and a story of friendship, you should NOT watch this movie. This is a drama movie with the intention to show you a sad story about a girl and her conflicts with society in the mediaeval japan. It got a very interesting way of storytelling and a perfectly fitting arstyle and soundtrack to get you emotionally connected to what is happening. And if you enjoy those kind of thing, then I highly recommend watching this movie.
This film is perfect. Calling it a masterpiece is an understatement. I have never seen any animated work of any sort that attains what "Kaguya-hime no Monogatari" achieves. Not a single frame is wasted, and its style is painterly yet not so abstract as to detract from one's utter and complete immersion in what is a transformative and utterly moving event.
Not only is this the absolute best animated film ever made, it also ranks with works by Herzog, Eisenstein, Scorsese, Renoir, Ozu, and other masters of cinema.
"Kaguya-hime no Monogatari" is sui generis. It is possible that, in the future, another animated film may attain similar
heights of brilliant artistry and extraordinary compassion for humanity, but nothing will ever take this film's place. I would compare it to Renoir's "Grand Illusion" as one of the greatest artistic works in the entire history of cinema.
Preamble: english language is not my native, sorry for possible mistakes. Review can include minor spoilers.
So, after I watched this film, has wrote my thoughts, I decided to check out different reviews of other people on this film. As I expected they all are quite positive, and I think I just need to write my own, because the main thing of reviews is constructive criticism, not babbling about how it's "wonderful and nice". And this film can easily be critisized. It has a lot of flaws and weak points.
As Isao Takahata is one of my favourite anime directors and I value him even more than
Miyazaki, I must say this is one of his weakest works. Isao Takahata, Studio Ghibli, Joe Hisaishi... An adaptation of the Japanese folk tale "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" (10th-century Japanese folktale). What to say, I had huge expectations on this film. My all time favourite creators made film on one of favourite japanese tales. Maybe that's a problem of too big expectation? No, it's not. Realization was really quite bad.
Again, the film is based on the Japanese folk tale - "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter". So this is nothing more than an adaptation of the eponymous fairy tale recorded in the X century and is considered one of the oldest of the surviving Japanese stories, and even one of the earliest precursors of science fiction overall.
This time it wasn't great direction, smart work and production. However it is interesting, dramatic, even melodramatic film, which squeezes tears from you. Or at least tries to. Atypical panache and animation, something reminding me of some Soviet old animation and multiplication of 70s and 80s.
Taketori, old man, collector of bamboo and craftsman, finds a little girl in bamboo shoots. And, considering it as a message from heaven, he brings up the girl with his wife as his own. Considering her a princess, he wanted to give her a life of luxury. Little later Taketori finds gold and expensive beautiful things and clothes in the bamboo for the 'Babmoo girl', as the village boys christen her. She will be given Kaguya name much later. But let's call her Kaguya from here. So, Kaguya is very playful girl and she is growing extremely fast. She has outstanding beauty as well.
Girl loves nature and her friends from village, she is doing good, walks and rejoices. Especially she made friends with one guy... But finally the parents arrange and carry her into the city, to the castle. Now she is a princess, the highness. Princess Kaguya. But she was not happy in the castle. Even aristocracy wanted to marry her, but she doesn't want it, she wants to be with that village boy. Briefly it's like that. Sad, but true. Nothing can replace that true nature for her, the freedom and bustle on the nature with friends. Nevertheless, she wants her parents and Taketori to be happy. So she acts as noble princess. Again, many notable people sought her hand, even king himself. Kings forced a connection with her, and something mystical happens again. Now we know that she is from the Moon. Well, well, well... So, in fact, the work is full of theatricality. And of course I don't like that. Also there are many absurd and moments of frustration that appears, there were a lot of silly moments and scenes. On the other hand, it is the vital thing, the problem of fathers and children, just built in the absolute. Good intentions leads to poor circumstances. In the end, it turns out, as always. Eh... Pretty mediocre film, to say frankly. Very uneven film, I can say even rough. I've read the story itself, of course the problem in it itself, however overall production wasn't that great, again. Pretty weak. Don't get me wrong, it still was nice experience, however much more in disappointment way. Eternal road. And even memory of this film will fade, while I have quite phenomenon memory, because it's not that brilliant. Sorry for not indexing quite clear arguments this time, it's just hard to do in this film. It's not logical problems, it's more like exaggeration and overstatement of human feelings. Those love stories are full of bullshit, we have seen tons of them. Many people living unhappy lives with unloved works and even companions. And they don't put it as huge tragedy. The film is doing just it - like it's a huge tragedy. While the truth is there are far more tragic things in life.
Music of Joe Hisaishi is good as usual, but this time not something outstanding as well.
This kinda reminded me of "The Emperor's New Clothes". Interesting, what people would say, if it was not Ghibli movie and not Takahata's work. Probably, not as they say in their reviews. Most of them. I guess so. Majority just get accustomed to high level of Ghibli and don't want to admit that they have no critical thinking or bad taste. Illusions are far sweeter.
It's a pity for me, because Isao Takahata is really one of my favourites. However it's ok, you can't do only Masterpieces. But I want to think maybe I was expected too much from this film, however I'm just maximum 'subjective objective' as I can, being logical and rational. It's really not that great film in comparing even to other Ghibli works. One of their worst films so far, unfortunately. One of the rare cases when I can say about Ghibli movie - pretty mediocre. 5/10.
I am constantly in awe when reflecting upon how downright ravishingly beautiful of an artistic achievement this film is. Isao Takahata made his ultimate masterpiece with this film. In every sense of the word. As much as his death in April of 2018 pained my soul (especially upon discovering he was planned to direct a short film in Studio Ponoc's recent Modest Heroes anthology), there could not have been a more perfect film to go out on. Very rarely has any movie made me visibly emotional, but Kaguya accomplished the task like it was child's play. At moments I was laughing, then in a later
scene I was immediately reduced to a sobbing mess. Movies have made me tear up before, but never full on cry. Except, of course, for Grave of the Fireflies (another film oh-so conveniently directed by Takahata). Takahata has a great understanding of human emotions not often seen by other directors. Emotions almost literally spill off the screen in his films, and Princess Kaguya is no exception. The film itself is a lovely metaphor for life itself. In that it makes you feel every emotion in the book.
You go on a journey with this strong women who constantly refuses to form into the mold that society dictates she must fit into. Kaguya is a very interesting protagonist, and you never want to take your eyes off the screen. The ways she thwarts her "enemies" are more emotional than physical, she's smart like that. The story starts out with a charming air of enthusiasm as little Kaguya explores this beautiful world, but be warned. While it offers many themes of life to ponder over, this is not what I would describe as a happy tale. As Kaguya matures, so too does the tone of the film. It gets increasingly dark in its subject matter, and Kaguya's life doesn't exactly get more uplifting. But she grows as a person, and it reminded me of my own struggles in life. When you're young, you are much more oblivious to the dark and sometimes evil world out there. And throughout the film Kaguya realizes that life without true happiness isn't really living at all. There are many lovable characters you meet throughout the film, and like any Ghibli film worth its salt, this film doesn't have any clearly defined villain either. There are definitely some less than desirable characters in there (the emperor definitely comes to mind, he was an ass), but none are outright evil. There are a lot of assholes in the real world too. Kaguya's adoptive mother and father are caring and gentle, and only want what they personally think is best for her. Even if her views of happiness don't match up with theirs. Oh, and Kaguya's handmaiden was absolutely aces (whom I eventually found was voiced in the dub by the wonderful Hynden Walch, the voice of Princess Bubblegum, which makes it even better).
Art and Animation
The artwork is of course a very high selling point for the film, and one of its greatest strengths. Inspired by traditional watercolor paintings and charcoal sketches from ancient Japanese scrolls and envisioned by the criminally unknown but massively influential artist Yoshiyuki Momose (who partnered with Takahata on many of his films to bring the director's ideas to visual fruition), the film's emotions at many times come through in the art itself. During one particularly notable scene in the film when Kaguya escapes from the castle in an enraged fury, the animation follows suit by evolving into an erratic and wild explosion of rough charcoal lines and tones of black and grey, with a striking and ominous moon looming in the background (a symbol that is foreshadowed many times throughout the film). Another sequence involving a nobleman hunting down a dragon of legends is so fluidly drawn yet rough at the same time. It was absolutely entrancing. In fact, now that I think about it, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is probably the only animated film that truly takes advantage of the capabilities of the animated medium. It employs its unique visual style to actually enhance the mood the film is attempting to get across, making it all the more powerful.
The soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi is possibly equally as wonderful. It only enhances the film's impact, with beautiful tracks that have stayed imprinted in my head ever since. It just feels so right. The main theme that repeats throughout the film represents the beauty of life, perfectly accommodating the film's own themes. And it doesn't hurt that it's also extremely catchy, as well as the upbeat Celestial Being music that plays during a not-so-upbeat moment during the climax of the film. There's also one more recurring track initially played at the beginning of the film that is a very simple but haunting melody that stuck with me until the end. Hearing it now having seen the film tends to bring a tear to my eye. I do believe it is some of Hisaishi's best work. We were spoiled the year of this film's release with not one but two of his soundtracks, the other for The Wind Rises. And while that film's soundtrack was great as well, I feel as though this one edges it out simply by being so perfect for the film it's accompanying. Everything is just so wonderfully timed.
Some lovely Japanese tracks are played on the koto as well, so while Ghibli's English dub (which is included in the Japanese release) is just as high quality as we've come to expect (It has James Caan!), I'd personally recommend that you watch it in its original Japanese first so you can experience the lovely singing. It's always difficult to re-dub those scenes in foreign films anyway, but Ghibli did a good job with it nonetheless.
In closing, should you see this film? Yes. As soon as it is humanly possible for you to do so. It's stuck with me long after I've seen it, just like all great films do. And hopefully it will stick with you as well. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry. It will make you feel human. And I respect any work of art that can make me feel that way. To describe the plot in any more detail would be to rob you from experiencing it for yourselves. The best recommendation I can give you is to go in blind, and if you haven't read the original story yet that'd be even better. This way you'll get the full, unspoiled experience.This is indeed Isao Takahata's magnum opus, and Ghibli's penultimate achievement. Definitely check this one out. Just make sure you have a box of tissues handy. Or two.