The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Title: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Genre: Drama
Company: Studio Ghibli
Format: Movie; 137 minutes.
Date: 11 Nov 2013

Synopsis: In a rural countryside, an old bamboo cutter and his wife discover a tiny baby inside a bamboo stalk. While raising her, they also come across a fortune of gold. Taking it as a sign of something divine, they use the gold to buy this baby, named Kaguya, a villa in the capital where she will be raised as a princess. Many suitors hear of her beauty and try to obtain her hand in marriage, but Kaguya only wants to return to her former life in the country side. Meanwhile, the wheels of fate are turning as her true origins come to light.

The Highlights
Human Experience: More than just entertainment, it is a relatable human experience.
Visuals: Impressionistic style that is simply breathtaking.
Takahata: Fitting swan song to a great career.

Studio Ghibli cofounder Isao Takahata marks his return to anime film making after 15 years with The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. In contrast with Takahata‘s previous works including Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday which tend towards realism, Princess Kaguya is a mythic story firmly established in fantasy. Nonetheless, the content of Princess Kaguya, while fantastic in nature, is no less meaningful or weighty in topic. Based on the well-known Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Princess Kaguya is a timeless tale about a girl’s struggles in managing parental and societal expectations with being true to her own aspirations and capabilities. It is a terribly beautiful, yet sad story that by the end becomes both thought provoking and stirring.

The heavy influence of Italian neorealism on Takahata’s career is once again apparent in Princess Kaguya. This can be seen in his careful attention to the more mundane aspects and hidden beauty of the characters’ lives on screen. Whether it is the beginning moments of Kaguya’s life as a baby playing in the countryside, the daily toil of her parent’s work, or the elaborate lessons on regal etiquette, we are able to peer into the psyche and temperament of the film’s characters in a fascinating manner. It allows us to understand the simple happiness Kaguya obtains before being dressed for court life, and fully empathize with her as various changes create turmoil in her life thereafter. Instilling pathos into an old folktale so lacking in detail is no small feat, but Takahata makes it look extremely easy.

Complementing it all is the movie’s visual style, which is unlike anything seen in most anime with its sketchy backgrounds, purposely incomplete pictures, and forceful lines. The film’s charcoal and watercolor designs accentuate the story with an elegance and tenderness that permeates all of your senses.  Rather than forcing all the details of the world onto the audience, the movie gently guides and probes us to an intimate and familiar place. Altogether this makes The Tale of the Princess Kaguya appear more like a moving, impressionistic painting that will not fail to take your breath away.

Princess Kaguya reminds us of what anime can be rather than what it often is in today’s age: an actual, relatable human experience. More than just a piece of entertainment, the movie provides insight into the feelings and aspirations of actual people living life in a particular time period.  Simply put, the void that Studio Ghibli would leave if it were not to make a full feature film like this again is too immense for just anybody to fill. Regardless, whether or not Takahata ever manages to return for one last animated movie, he can go out proudly as The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a fitting swan song to such an eminent career.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Reckoner

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