In light of some recent sad news coming out of Japan last week, I wanted to revisit one of my favourite Isao Takahata films, which also happened to be his last directorial effort.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) is a Japanese fantasy drama directed by Isao Takahata and animated by Studio Ghibli. The two-hour, 17-minute movie is based upon a 10th-century Japanese folktale named ‘The Tale of a Bamboo Cutter.’
The story follows Kaguya-Hime, a curious, wide-eyed wanderer discovered as a baby inside of an of a glowing bamboo shoot.
The ageing bamboo-cutter who discovers her, Sanuki no Miyatsuko, sees the curious circumstance of her birth as an implication of her divine purpose. His belief is further echoed when he uncovers fine cloth and gold at her birthplace, leading him to believe she’s meant for royalty.
Miyatsuko and his wife care for Kaguya as their own as she rapidly grows, discovers an affinity for being nature-bound and develops friendships with other village children. Her country-side lifestyle is short-lived, however, as Miyatsuko relocates the family to the capital in pursuit of fulfilling her destiny.
I first heard of The Tale of The Bamboo Cutter back in 2004 in InuYasha the Movie: The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass. It offered a pretty mangled version of events of the tale, but even so, the connection piqued my interest.
Unsurprisingly, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya offers a much more fleshed out, fully-felt version of the events.
It’s painful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s monotone. And even with its make-believe elements, it’s honest.
Not to mention, the art-style is incredibly beautiful and enormously unique in comparison to 2010- anime. I’m always amazed at the intense attention to detail that Studio Ghibli brings to the table, and with Kaguya I was blown over. It’s unrefined, a little bit messy and a complete visual snack.
Studio Ghibli is often synonymous with Hayao Miyazaki, with many people genuinely believing that if it’s Ghibli, it’s a Miyazaki creation. Miyazaki is a powerhouse and a titan and all the other positive adjectives, but that definitely doesn’t mean you should sleep on Takahata’s prowess. He’s the creative genius behind at least 2 of my top 5 Ghibli movies, and I wish his work got more recognition in North America.
The soundtrack, composed by the masterful Joe Hisaishi, is soft, melancholy and scant. My favourite musical moment in the film was the nursery-rhyme styled melody named ‘Child’s Song.’ Some of its lyrics translated into English read:
Be born, grow up, and die/ still the wind blows, the rain falls.
The waterwheel goes round/ Lifetimes come and go in turn.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya left me stupefied, and I really was not expecting to love it in the way that I did. I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with the folklore before watching because context would probably be pretty helpful for a Western audience. It’s definitely not required and might actually impede on your enjoyment if you consider stuff like that to be spoilers (because, well, technically it is), but that’s just my two cents.
As always, I endorse watching the film Japanese with subtitles in your preferred language. I’m sure the dubs are fine, but in most cases, I think it’s greatly beneficial to consume art in the way it was meant to be consumed.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was Isao Takahata’s last directorial showcase and is the perfect starting point for anyone who’s not familiar with his work and doesn’t want to get absolutely destroyed by Grave of the Fireflies.