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Studio Ghibli Challenge #21: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) Anime Movie Review

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Poster

In 2001, Studio Ghibli brought us the legendary Spirited Away, arguably one of their best works of all time. I remember watching it for the first time, and my jaw dropped due to its sheer awesomeness. For a while, I always told myself that the film could never be topped by any other, even if it was from the same studio.

Twelve years later unearthed an absolute monster of a movie. If I turned back the clock and watched this on the big screen, I am sure that after the movie, I would stand and clap my hands because of just how mammoth of a film this is.

I don't know about the others, but The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is on a different level. A level that even the legendary Spirited Away didn't reach.

This is the final film of one of Studio Ghibli's founders, Isao Takahata.

young Kaguya

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is based on the famous Japanese folklore during the 10th century, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The movie starts when a male bamboo cutter stumbled upon a glowing bamboo shoot. He opens it and notices a miniature girl inside crying. Believing that she was a gift from the heavens, he and his wife decided to raise her as their daughter and called her Princess. The young girl grew rapidly in just a couple of days, causing the other children to call her "Takenoko," or a little bamboo shoot. One of them is Sutenmaru, whom she develops a close relationship with.

The bamboo cutter once again stumbles upon a glowing bamboo shoot. Out of curiosity, he opened it, and this time, gold and fine cloth appeared. He selfishly thinks of a way to properly make her daughter a princess. He relocates the family to the capital, leaving her friends behind. They move into a mansion with servants who treat their daughter like a princess. To fulfill her duties, she needs a governess who will teach her the ways and traditions of being a princess, such as dressing correctly, putting charcoal on her teeth, etc. She struggles with the restraints of being a noblewoman and wants to live in the countryside.

Shutenmaru and Kaguya

A few years later, when she was of proper age, they named her "Princess Kaguya." Her mother and father celebrated and decided to organize a party. Since she is not allowed to talk to others and stay in her room, she somehow overhears a conversation that ridicules her father's attempts to make a peasant become a princess. Angry, she runs away from the capital to the countryside seeking Sutenmaru and her friends but discovers they have already moved out. She passes out and awakens back at the party.

Her astounding beauty attracts five noble suitors. They compared her to mystical treasures that are fabled to exist. Kaguya told them she would only marry the one who could bring back the mystical treasures they mentioned. Spring came, and she and her mother went to the countryside to see the cherry blossoms. When they stumbled upon one, she danced underneath the falling petals happily. She was spotted by a child taken away by their family and immediately bowed down to her, reminding the Princess who she was now. On their way home, they meet Sutenmaru and the others, but Kaguya immediately notices her stand in society and decides to hold back.

Kaguya learning to be a princess

Two of her suitors attempt to give her counterfeit gifts, the third gives up, the fourth tries to provide her with a flower instead of the present, and the fifth dies in his quest. Depressed, the Emperor takes advantage and tries to kidnap her, but she is able to convince him to leave. She reveals to her parents that she came from the Moon. She was hoping to be exiled to Earth to live a mortal life. When the Emperor took advantage of her weakness, she begged the Moon to take her, which restored her memories. On a full moon night, she will leave Earth and go back. Her father doesn't want the fortunes to go away and builds a fortress to combat whatever force will take away his daughter.

Kaguya returns to the countryside and meets Sutenmaru, who is now married and has kids. The two profess their love and celebrate by flying over the lush countryside, only to be stopped by the presence of the Moon. Sutenmaru wakes up alone and contemplates that what he experienced was a dream.

Kaguya runs away from the capital

On the night of the full moon, celestial beings from the Moon descend to the Earth. His father and the warriors were not able to stop them. An attendant gave Kaguya a robe that erased her memories on Earth. They leave with the Princess taking one last look as tears fall from her eyes, noting that her experience on Earth is just a dream to her.

When I said earlier that this is a monster of a film might be an understatement. It is so good that even great films might think about this one. The fact that Rotten Tomatoes scored it a perfect 100% proves how mammoth this movie is.

Kaguya happy

The story is captivating, tragic, and heartwarming. From start to finish, it grips you to your seat. As much as you want the movie not to end even after more than 2 hours, it has to. The end is like the icing on the cake; it is perfect for its story.

In my opinion, two things make this movie astounding. The first one is the use of watercolor-like animation. It brings a certain depth and understanding to how the characters and the surroundings are represented. The movie starts by using light and vibrant colors, which explains Kaguya's happiness in her experiences in the countryside with her friends and family. But soon, once she gets to the capital, the colors become darker as we contemplate her feelings of depression, sadness, and anger.

The second is the lesson the story brings to its audiences. The movie begins with the parents treating Kaguya like their child, and the simple things she does make them happy even though they only live enough for their means. But as soon as the father stumbles upon loads of riches, he selfishly thinks about her daughter becoming an actual princess even though she is already satisfied with the simple things. Even though she hates doing nobility things, she doesn't have a choice because she feels trapped in her parents' decisions. Isao Takahata's depiction of immaterial objects being more important is also present here. You might have hated what happened to Kaguya as the story progresses, but it is the right thing. The story didn't sugarcoat anything it needed to tell its audience.

The Emperor tries to kidnap Kaguya

Another fascinating thing is that the folklore the movie is based on came from the 10th century. Imagine writing a story that is still relevant and powerful more than ten centuries later.

However, even though it got nominated for Best Animated Film at the 87th Academy Awards, it fell short of Big Hero 6. No offense, I like that film, but it doesn't come close to The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya. It's just of a different caliber.

I believe this film is one of the best movies of the 2010s. Not just in the animation category but overall.

Kaguya looks back

If you are looking for a gem among gems, then you need to add this to your list. I guarantee you that the moment this movie ends, you will be in awe at how magnificent this is.

A score of 5 out of 5 stars is an understatement. I say this movie deserves a solid 6 out of 5 stars.

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