Based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Princess Kaguya takes that old Japanese myth and turns out a story of female empowerment being trapped by a society that wants to give none. Kaguya is a fantastic female heroine here, one that we can laugh and cry with as she is put through the wringer of society of both of her worlds. The film is broken into a loose 4 act structure that really allows the film to build up the world around Kaguya before throwing her into the more traditional narrative of the source material. The film’s final act might be its most beautiful, but also seems a bit out of left field for my liking to be honest. The sequence is sad and beautiful, the myth of it all just isn’t as naturally executed as the first half of the film. Still, this is a minor complaint as I found the film to be very heartfelt and funny throughout.
The themes at play here are what I found most surprising, as the film is able to balance the whimsy and magic of the story while exploring some serious emotional issues around relationships and longing. I was never expecting this film to address a subject like infidelity or the aforementioned female social norms, but Isao Takahata and his team deserve all the credit for pulling it off.
The animation style is a departure from what your are used to in a Ghibli film, but the look works given the mythical/folklore setting of the story. And that isn’t to say the simpler style doesn’t have moments of beauty, far from it, and I think the film’s more grand moments only stick out more sharply compared to the more basic animation that fills much of the film. I am not trying to knock the animation in any way here, it all looks spectacular, but the Ghibli team really took advantage of the style to accentuate moments versus the film’s animation more humble elements.
I can’t stress enough how great a character Kaguya is and how wholly they realized her for this version of this folktale. Takahata and Riko Sakaguchi made the right move by moving her to the forefront of the majority of her decisions, but I think that also makes the finale as jarring as it does. They built Kaguya up to be a woman of agency and all of a sudden she is bound to a higher powers bidding. Yeah, I know there is that look back, and yeah that sadness of not being able to control your destiny as a woman is sadly too true for many women, but that doesn’t mean I can’t hope for her to be able see through on her own wishes and desires.
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is a wonderful animated entry from Studio Ghibli, and might be my favorite entry from them in my admitted limited viewing of their filmography. Kaguya is a character you can get behind and root for as she tries to navigate a world of men/fools that want to hold her to their standards of a woman. Don’t let the animation style turn you away, this as rich as an animated offering as anything Studio Ghibli has to offer.