Review: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a retelling of a traditional Japanese folk tale, sometimes called The Bamboo-Cutter’s Daughter, in the wonderful way only Studio Ghibli can do.

I remember first hearing about the folk tale on an episode of Ancient Alines, which prompted me to look up and read the actual story. It starts when a bamboo-cutter finds a glowing stalk of bamboo. He decided to cut it and found a miniature girl inside, since he and his wife weren’t able to have children they saw her as a blessing and raised her as their own. The bamboo-cutter finds more glowing stalks of bamboo that have small gold nuggets inside them, and uses the money to provide for her. As she grows older she gets extremely beautiful, and even though they try to keep her sheltered in the mountains, word of her beauty spreads and five princes show up at once to propose. She sends all of them on “impossible” tasks to delay getting married. Then at some point she gets depressed and finally reveals she remembers she was from the Moon and sent to Earth as a punishment, or for some other purpose. What comes next differs in different versions of the myth, sometimes she would have married one of the suitors, and gives him a potion for immortality before she’s taken back to the Moon by her people and forgets her time on Earth. The prince burns it because he’d rather die than live without her. They say the smoke can still be seen today (Mt. Fuji was more active back in the day). In other versions she didn’t want to marry anyone and leaves after both her parents die because she was sent to take care of them. And in other versions despite her parents trying to protect her, she is taken back to the Moon against her will leaving her parents in tears.

I learned they were making a movie after reading the myth, and couldn’t wait to see it. Then I was informed that it would be premiering on October 17th at a booth in NYCC, so Scott and I decided to get tickets for that Friday 🙂

I won’t say which version Studio Ghibli adhered most strongly too, but I will say that I was happy they didn’t Disneyfy the ending. They gave Princess Kaguya a personality along with hopes and dreams that made her relate-able as an almost real person, but that’s exactly what anyone should expect from Studio Ghibli. They did have her parents choose to make her a princess instead of keeping her sheltered, like in most versions I’ve read of the myth, because they believe it’s what’s best for her and what will bring her happiness. But she’d rather be free than confined to the life of a Japanese noblewoman. The artwork got noticeably different when her emotions become more intense, and it added a lot to the film. Movies like this are what animation as an art form is meant to be. I won’t say much more as I don’t want to spoil the ending, but this is definitely worth seeing, even if you have to trek into some special indie theater. And now reasons…

Why You Shouldn’t Like This

  • I had travel into the land of hipsters to see it.
  • It was kind of expensive because I was in the land of hipsters
  • One of her childhood friends turns out to be kind of a huge jerk later in the story. (Spoiler)Basically he’s willing to abandon all of his responsibilities (his own child included) for Kaguya.
  • The sense of mystery towards the end was frustrating, but the myth is like that too, so the movie can’t really be blamed.

But those reasons really aren’t much, I still thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it if you want to see something different that’s beautiful and makes you feel.

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