ByJames McDonald, writer at
James is a Movie Critic and Celebrity Interviewer with over 30 years of experience as an Award-Winning Filmmaker.
James McDonald

Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter and his wife, a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady.

Studio Ghibli have produced some exemplary animated movies: “Ponyo”, “Spirited Away”, “The Wind Rises” and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.” “The Wind Rises” was a beautiful movie about Jiro Horikoshi, the nearsighted man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is based on the folktale “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.” As the story begins, we are introduced to Okina, a bamboo cutter and his wife Ona, an older couple who live a simple life in the woods. While chopping down bamboo chutes in the forest, Okina is taken aback when he notices something glowing bright in amongst some of the shrubs and bushes. As he approaches it, he realizes that it is a tiny baby girl who is dressed up as a beautiful princess.

She is so small that he is able to hold her, literally, in the palm of her hands. Believing her to be a gift from the heavens, he rushes back to his house where Ona is amazed at his discovery. Being too old to nurse, she wonders how she will be able to feed her and instantly, as if the Gods whispered in her ear, she pulls out her breast and the baby begins to feed. “I have milk!” she exclaims. Kaguya grows at an exponential rate, developing much faster than any other child and Okina continues to find riches in the forest where he found Kaguya. He finds gold and royal clothing and he gradually comprehends his findings as affirmation of Kaguya’s divine royalty and knows what must be done: he must take his family to the capital and build a luxurious mansion where Kaguya will become a real princess.

Taking her away from her friends in the forest, Kaguya is very reluctant to leave but once she sees her new home and how big and expansive it is, she is overjoyed. However, that happiness is shortlived when her father employs Lady Sagami, a coach in femininity who teaches Kaguya how to be prim and proper. Slowly but surely, all the delight and enjoyment that Kaguya shared with her friends in the forest, slowly drains out of her life as her father becomes obsessed with her being married into royalty. Suitors come and go and unlike any other princess in the land, she refuses them all, enraging many in the process but strangely enough, gaining interest from the Emperor himself. He makes a surprise visit to the house one day and without consent, grabs Kaguya and tells her how much he wants her.

She quickly disappears into thin air, surprising the Emperor and then materializes again, asking him to leave. He does so and Kaguya spends countless nights playing sad music to the moon. Shorty thereafter, she remembers, in fragmented recollection, that she actually lived on the moon and when the Emperor made his advances on her, she prayed to her people there to come and rescue her. Now, with just days remaining before she must leave, she realizes just how connected to the earth she really is and makes her way back to the forest to try and enjoy her remaining time. The movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at and it employs stark, expressive watercolors throughout to tell its story instead of modern animation used in movies like “Ice Age” and “Toy Story”.

It is a very uncomplicated tale about the simple things in life; family, friendship, laughter and happiness. After all, who doesn’t crave these things? When Kaguya informs her parents of her imminent return to the moon, her father suddenly realizes that the life he laid out for his daughter, wasn’t about her happiness, it was about his perceived notion of what her happiness should be and falls to his knees, apologizing for not being a better father. The movie is, at times, heartbreaking but it also celebrates the little things we all take for granted; a butterfly, a frog, a bird whistling and one scene in particular, when Kaguya is still young and living in the woods, is picking and eating berries with her friends and it brought me back to my hometown of Donaghmede in Dublin when I was a child and my mother took my sister and I and some friends out to pick berries and we had the best day ever. Very highly recommended.

In select theaters now

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