Yesterday I had the absolute pleasure of going to see the latest Studio Ghibli film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語 / Kaguya-hime no Monogatari).
The Tale of Princess Kaguya, directed and co-written by Isao Takahata (高畑 勲) (with Riko Sakaguchi), is based on the folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (竹取物語 / Taketori Monogatari). This 10th century folktale is considered the oldest example of Japanese prose narrative, and tells the story of a mysterious girl, Kaguya-hime, who is discovered inside the stalk of a bamboo plant.
Starting out as a teeny tiny Thumbelina-esque princess, Kaguya-hime soon grows into a human-sized baby, then a toddler, and before anyone can blink she is a little girl. The woodcutter and his wife marvel at her fast growth, and after finding some gold in the woods they decide to take her to the capital and raise her as a proper princess. In the capital she lives in a beautiful, large mansion, where she has endless supplies of beautiful clothes and a strict governess. The governess attempts to tame Kaguya-hime, a slightly wild child, into a proper noblewoman, but the young princess struggles with this, wanting to laugh and play and enjoy life instead.
After Kaguya-hime comes of age, would-be suitors from around the land come calling, but she’s having none of it. Sending the gentlemen away with impossible tasks, Kaguya-hime hopes they will not come back for her. She misses her friends in the countryside, and the simpler way of life there.
Eventually the Emperor takes an interest in the princess, but the idea revolts her. Kaguya-hime reveals to her parents that she is from the Moon, and when the Emperor makes advances on her she prays to the moon for help. Having heard her prayer, the Moon will reclaim her during the next full moon, but Kaguya-hime is reluctant to leave the Earth.
On the night of the full moon a procession of celestial beings (including the Amida Buddha) comes down from the moon to collect Kaguya-hime, and there is nothing she can do to stop herself being taken. She says the Earth is full of wonder and life and she wants to stay, but she is draped in a robe which makes her forget all about her time on Earth.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is utterly beautiful, and tragic. Make no mistake, although this is an animated movie with a child-friendly rating, it is not a kids’ film. The story is deep and involved, and dark in places. The narrative is presented with a kind of magic that one only finds in Studio Ghibi films.
The animation in this particular movie is quite different to other Studio Ghibli films, and deliberately so, I think. Watching this film I found myself actually gasping at the beauty at times; something I don’t think I’ve ever done when watching a film before. It was just gorgeous.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is most likely Isao Takahata’s last film, but what a swan song! He has done himself, and Studio Ghibli, very, very proud.