Movie Review: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Producer: Isao Takahata
Writer: Isao Takahata and others.
Cast (Japanese dub)Aki Asakura (Princess Kaguya), Kengo Kora (Sutemaru), Takeo Chii (Bamboo Cutter), Nobuko Miyamoto (Bamboo Cutter’s Wife), Atsuko Takahata (Lady Sagami)
Cast (English dub)Chloë Grace Moretz (Princess Kaguya), Caitlyn Leone (young Kaguya), Darren Criss (Sutemaru), James Caan(Bamboo Cutter), Mary Steenburgen (The Bamboo Cutter’s Wife), Lucy Liu (Lady Sagami)

Plot:  An old bamboo cutter finds a glowing bamboo when he opens it finds a perfectly formed miniature girl inside.  Believing her to be a divine being he takes her to his home to take care of her.  As he shows her to his wife the tiny girl changes into a baby.  Happy that they have a baby in their old age the couple gives her the name of “Princess”.  While caring for her the bamboo cutter and his wife notice that the baby, Princess seems to grow noticeably larger learning how to walk and speak quicker than normal children.  This prompts the other children of the area to call her “Lil Bamboo” because she grows so quickly like bamboo.  One of the children, Sutemaru, Princess becomes especially fond of and follows him and his friends wherever they go getting into all kinds of scrapes.

The bamboo cutter returns to the grove and as he chops down bamboo he finds inside of the plant fine clothing and gold.  This convinces him further that Princess must be raised as a princess and not as a peasant.  Because of this he makes plans with his wife using the gold that appears in the bamboo he buys a house and servants in the capital and then one day he abruptly takes princess from her happy life in the country into the capital city.  There he hires Lady Sagami to tame the wildness out of her and make her into a lady.  Princess resists until Lady Sagami reminds her that she is to obey her father’s orders.  Finally the day comes when she is formally given the title Princess Kaguya at the party Princess Kaguya hears the other nobles making sport of her father saying how absurd it was to try to turn a peasant girl into a princess.  Despair gripping her she runs back to the mountains only to find her friends are gone she collapses in the snow to awake in her room.

Princess Kaguya grows into a great beauty and suitors come to woo her, each comparing her to a fabulous object.  Desiring none of them she sets upon each of them a task:  bring to her the fabulous object that they ascribe to her beauty. When two return with the supposed objects she shows them to be the fraudulent. The third suitor never returns because he is a coward.  The fourth suitor dies while trying to find the treasure he promised.  Kaguya falls into despair but by now the Emperor has heard of her great beauty and has decided that she will be his.  He makes unwanted advances to Princess Kaguya and she disappears from his sight.  The Emperor withdraws but still plans to make her his.  It is now that Kaguya remembers where she was from.  Kaguya lived on the moon with the other divine beings longing to live on the earth she broke the laws of the moon and sent to earth as punishment.  But now because she prayed to the moon to help her against the Emperor the divine beings will come to claim her at the next full moon.  But she wants to stay because she has come to love her time on the earth and her parents.  She tells her parents that once the moon’s robe falls on her shoulders she shall forget all about her time on earth.  Her parents vow to protect but at the full moon the divine beings come and nothing dissuades them.

Isao Takahata whose only other film that I have seen is <a href=”; target=”_blank”>”Grave of the Fireflies</a>”, a masterpiece that I intend to review one day, has taken this classic fairy tale of Japan and brought it to life in beautiful animation that reminds me more of moving water colors than the anime style that was evident in recent Ghibli films.  I confess to being a bit of an anime snob and I didn’t listen to the english dub of this film rather I listened to it in Japanese and read the subtitles.  But if reading subtitles isn’t your favorite thing to do when watching a movie by all means listen to the english dub.

One thing I like especially of this film is how Takahata shows how even though well-meaning in their love of Princess Kaguya, the parents desire to make her into something that she wasn;t born into doesn’t make her happy and it is still the simple life that Kaguya desires and gives her the most joy.  And how riches never really makes you happy, even her “parents” are never really comfortable in the city, but it is when they return to the simple tasks they did in the forest such as weaving and growing a garden that they are happy.

Parents be aware that Takahata shows young children growing up in this era as they were.  This means that babies are depicted as naked and you will see things such as breast-feeding.  Also younger children will need to have the various divine beings explained.  In some explanations of this Japanese fairy tale Kaguya is called a fairy and that the fairies are who live in the moon.  However, it is obvious from the depiction of the divine beings that come down for Kaguya that they are incarnations of Buddhist mythology.

This is one of the best animated films that I have seen this year and from some of the awards that this film won I am not the only one that thinks so.  I give this film five stars.


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