Japanese Movies


The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Director: Isao Takahata

 Isao Takahata, the Ghibli director behind ‘Grave of the Fireflies’, brings a classic Japanese folktale vividly to life with ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’.

One day a bamboo cutter is working in the grove, when he finds a princess no larger than his thumb in a bamboo sprout. Upon bringing her home to his wife, the princess transforms into a baby and the couple raise her. She is nicknamed ‘Takenoko’ (Lil’ Bamboo) by the children of the village, and like her namesake, she appears to grow very quickly. Upon returning to the grove, the bamboo cutter finds bamboo stalks that yield gold and silk kimono. With these riches, the couple decide to move to the capital to make the girl into a real princess. However, this may not be the life that she was intended for...

‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’ is based on a Japanese ‘monogatari’ (fictional prose narrative) from the 10th century, and it is a highly faithful adaptation of the original story, incorporating many of its folkloric elements.

This is Isao Takahata’s first film since ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ in 1999. Originally scheduled for release at the same time as Hayao Miyazaki’s, ‘The Wind Rises’, the delayed release and long production of ‘Kaguya’ is a testament to Takahata’s famed perfectionism. The film was recognised with an Academy Award nomination in 2013 for Best Animated Film.

There is a charming simplicity to the charcoal and pastel style artwork, which gives this film a style resolutely different to any other released in recent years. The charm of rural Japan and the beauty of the four seasons are captured in the colours of leaves and images of flowers in bloom, conveying themes of the happiness of living a simple life and not wanting for more. The copious sounds of bird song are coupled with the unmistakable signature style of lauded Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi, in his first collaboration with Takahata.

Somehow Kaguya’s accelerated development makes the theme of change and the pain of growing up more keenly felt, as she soon leaves people and places behind. Many stories about royalty deal with the pressures of expectation, and this film is no exception. But rather than being a tragic captive of duty, Kaguya is portrayed (in a number of exhilarating sequences) as having an irrepressible spirit that retains its freedom.

Ultimately this is a cautionary tale against forgetting our true purpose in life and a reminder that our time on Earth is short, a message that is particularly relevant in our busy modern world.

Joyous and heartbreaking, ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’ is a timeless and wonderfully imaginative animated masterpiece.

Be sure to look out for the excellent documentary ‘The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness’, which follows Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in their quest to bring ‘The Wind Rises’ and ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’ to the screen.


Introduced by Greg Corbett  

Greg Corbett has been visiting Japan since 1998. He has a keen interest in Japanese language and culture, and helps to organise a number of Japanese cultural events in Adelaide.