20-26 March 2015 #750

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

A Japanese delight which is set to become another Studio Ghibli classic
Sophia Pande

I have always loved Studio Ghibli’s productions, referring to them often in my reviews, especially when talking about animation that is not a product of this blessed dream factory. While Hayao Miyazaki, the founder and acknowledged master of Ghibli did not direct The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) which is co-written and directed by Isao Takahata, it is nevertheless one of the most charming and uplifting films to come out of the famed animation studio.

The film is based on a Japanese folk tale about a bamboo cutter who comes across a magical shoot that opens to reveal a tiny, delicate, sleeping princess.

Convinced that she is an offering from heaven, the bamboo cutter takes her in his palms and brings the princess home, where she metamorphoses into a wailing, chubby baby girl in the arms of the shocked but simultaneously delighted wife of the bamboo cutter. The happy couple raise her as she grows rapidly, which earns her the nickname of “Little Bamboo” even while the bamboo cutter and his wife continue to call her “Princess”; though she calls them “Mother” and “Father” with utter sincerity seemingly unaware of her magical origins.

It is only when the bamboo cutter begins to discover caches of gold and rich silks for kimonos in the bamboo groves he frequents for work that he begins to glimmer with the idea of taking his beautiful “Princess” into the capital city so that she may finally get her due.

I will not reveal too much of the plot – which runs along the classical lines of a charming fable, moonlight and all, but I will say that The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is not as bland as it sounds in my meagre synopsis. The strengths, a staple with Studio Ghibli, lies in the humour, both gentle and raucous, as well as the extraordinary detail with which characters are captured, rendered, and developed.

The moments of “Little Bamboo” growing up in the countryside with her hooligan sidekicks (all chubby little boys scrambling around her long legs, aside of course from Sutemaru, the handsome one) are utterly captivating, recording childhood in all its glory with skinned knees, fruit stealing, squabbling, and gluttony.

The transition from the country to the city is a bit of abrupt, but is compensated by the entrance of some rather hilarious characters, though the first half of the film is stronger due to the pastoral setting.

I watched the film in its subtitled version so I missed a few plot points towards the end, particularly to do with Japanese folklore, but this in no way detracted from my delight with this film which is set to become another Studio Ghibli classic.