Movie Review - The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

I haven't seen too many films from Studio Ghibli, so I can't make any comparisons that would be comprehensive. This is a princess fairy tale that is based on an ancient story in Japan's past. As such, it has familiar elements, but there are aspects about it that felt strange and compelling, if not unique. The 2D animation, what looks like traditional, hand-drawn animation, is gorgeous. The first third in fact is lovely. The film runs a little too long, dwelling here and there, as well as being a bit repetitive. Yet, those strange aspects held my attention.

Kaguya is born inside a flower that grows out of a bamboo tree. She fits into the palm of a bamboo cutter's hand. The bamboo cutter and his wife adopt Kaguya and decide to raise her, not unlike John and Martha Kent in Superman. Raising her proves not that difficult or long due to Kaguya's constant growth spurts.

Kaguya befriends some young boys who live near the bamboo forest. They are amazed at her fast growth. Some pick on her, but she's defended by one young boy named Sutemaru. She first catches his eye as a baby. Sutemaru eventually comes to fall in love with her and she in return.

Later, they explore the possibility of pursuing a relationship, which inherently is bizarre, given the age differential and that Sutemaru knew her as a baby and now is fantasizing about being her lover. It's a little creepy, but director and co-writer Isao Takahata never plays it that way or allows that suggestion into the text of the film. What he does allow is the suggestion of adultery and child abandonment by Sutemaru, though we shouldn't think less of these things just because it's done by an animated figure.

Kaguya does leave the bamboo forest and her parents take her into town where she lives a life of wealth and nobility. Young noble men and princes even court her and want her hand in marriage. She rejects them all. One reason is because she's still in love with Sutemaru but the other reason is that she doesn't like life as a "princess," which is simply ritualistic and stifling traditions. It's not real to her. It's fake. As such, this film mocks those ritualistic and patriarchal traditions, which isn't new. This film is more a pastoral, but there is a twist that adds a bit of a wrinkle.


Kaguya is an alien. The film has this contrast of aliens who ride on clouds from the moon with people in feudal Japan. This comes to pass late in the film, but it should have been revealed earlier, allowing that contrast to have a bigger or richer impact in the narrative than it does.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for thematic elements, some violent action and partial nudity.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 17 mins.


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