What to do when you don’t have a lot of things to do and a lot of time on your hands? There’s only one obvious choice and that is to binge on anime!
My wife and I went to see The Tale of Princess Kaguya at our local theater, part of the Ghibli Fest series that shows up once a month. It was everything I’d hoped for.
Kaguya is found one day in a stalk of bamboo as a tiny doll-like creature by an old bamboo cutter who takes her home to his wife. She quickly transforms into a baby and the elderly wife miraculously begins producing milk. The infant begins to grow extremely quickly, earning the nickname “Bamboo” because of how fast bamboo shoots grow. Soon she has caught up to the eldest of the other children.
Isao Takahata and Hayao Myasaki had spoken about the need to make a Japanese version of the western classic Heidi. Miyasaki was retiring at the time and Takakata agreed to do one more movie for the studio. Takahata reportedly told one journalist that Kaguya’s childhood “stems from my ideal image of what a child should be like” and Heidi was a direct influence.
The movie goes on to explore the happiness Kaguya and her friends knew as children of the country life. They wander from one adventure to the next, swimming naked in the river, catching birds in the forest and stealing melons from other farmers. Then one day, the old bamboo cutter discovers vast amounts of gold in a bamboo he’d cut and then many different swaths of the finest silk in another. He decides that this was a sign from the gods that she should not live the life of a poor country girl and instead become a princess. I’m not going to spoil it any further.
The movie derives from an ancient Japanese story, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter which is considered the oldest extant prose narrative of Japan dating back to the 10th century.
The director spent years thinking about the story and struggling with how he could make a character people would empathize with. It cost over $49 million to make and in 2013 was the most expensive anime ever produced. The style of animation was deliberately simple with hand-drawn characters, lush watercolor backgrounds, and minimal props.
Takahata did not live much beyond his masterpiece’s completion He died of lung cancer on April 5, 2018. Among his other works are Grave of the Fireflies and Anne of Green Gables.
If I were to ascribe a color to this movie, I’d assign it pink. The pink of a baby’s bottom and the pink of cherry blossoms. The pink of a young maiden’s cheek and the pink of the memories of youth. Perhaps even the pink of eyes that have wept in sadness and regret.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya hit 100% on Rotten Tomatoes which said:
Boasting narrative depth, frank honesty, and exquisite visual beauty, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a modern animated treasure…
and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. There is a lesson in this story that is as valid today as it was a thousand years ago. When you get a chance, watch this movie. You won’t regret it.