Overview: Sprouting from within a bamboo stalk a little girl, believed to be a divine being, is reared to the status of nobility. 2013; Distributed by Toho; Rated PG; 137 minutes.
Unrestricted Innocence: The Bamboo Cutter and his wife raise their little princess from a bamboo shoot. Akin to her origins, the girl grows rapidly, changing before the eyes of her parents and village friends. The Bamboo Cutter’s notions of attaining a high social status for his child are reaffirmed after the bamboo grove gifts him gold and delicate silks. Within the capital, The Bamboo Cutter is disillusioned by what his princess’s happiness truly means. The subject matter of true happiness and marriage speak volumes to adults. On the other hand, the carefree nature of the film resonates more with children. The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a film that is to be viewed twice: as a child and as an adult. It is a film that becomes ingrained in childhood memories only to be shifted and reevaluated later. Kaguya does not shy away from the natural beauty of the human form. No reprimands as a mother freely breastfeeds her child, no shame as a young boy frolics without pants, no disgust at the bare bottoms of playmates. It simply is. Kaguya attains a humble innocence only to be worn down by societal normalities of the capital and the expectations of her father. The transformative process implies a cautionary forewarning: to be conscious of one another and to listen. Based off a Japanese folktale, Kaguya heavily incorporates Japanese traditions, more so than other film from Studio Ghibli. In an unobtrusive manner, Kaguya introduces hierarchical social structures, architecture, and standards of beauty. As Kaguya is further subdued to living as a noblewoman and a future bride, her astuteness does not falter. She is steady, mysterious, and radiant as moonlight.
Simplicity Speaks Volumes: Stylistically, Kaguya is striking in a demure sense, mimicking watercolor paintings and balancing negative and positive space. An emotional shift takes place halfway through the film, Kaguya’s despair and distress are present in her expression and in the sketched outlines. The softness previously enveloping Kaguya erupts into a tumultuous state as the scene is reversed into the harshness of black and white. The lines are no longer drawn with a light hand, but heavy and rough strokes dark as ink. Kaguya reaffirms traditions in animation; it slows the mind and comforts the eye, almost as if seeing the original drawings emerge through flipped pages. The frames per second have been reduced. The quality excels. This design element allows each image to embed itself for a longer period of time, allowing the viewer to absorb details fully.
Final Thoughts: Studio Ghibli continues to balance elaborate works with folklore intertwined deep in Japanese culture, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a quiet enchantment.