Film Review: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Studio Ghibli is often named the Disney of the East, a powerhouse animation studio responsible for some of the most successful and acclaimed animations to come out of Japan. From My Neighbour Totoro to Spirited Away, Studio Ghibli and its co-founder Hayao Miyazaki have captured the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide for decades, and have carved out a space in anime history. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (I will call it Princess Kaguya) on Netflix is a 2013 Ghibli film from director Isao Takahata. It retains Ghibli’s trademark relaxed energy, whimsical narrative and ethereal soundtrack, but its animation style is wholly and completely unique.

Princess Kaguya follows a bamboo farmer who receives a gift from the heavens in the form of a tiny baby born out of a bamboo shoot. He names her Princess and is determined to give her a life worthy of her perceived royal status. The film goes on to follow her life, as she grows rapidly, from playing with the children in her village to being named Princess Kaguya and moving to a mansion, having to deal with the constrains of noble life. Princess Kaguya has a watercolour-esque animation style with flowing movement and minimal backgrounds. It is unlike anything I have seen before and perfectly complements all other aspects of the film. From the colours to the linework to the character models, it creates an incredibly relaxing experience that will leave you re-evaluating the possibilities of animation. The narrative and the animation are both loose and flowing, shifting between locations and tones, with distinct moments that punctuate emotional high- and low-points.

The story is peaceful and thoughtful, following Kaguya as she matures, showing her entire life as she navigates the world around her and the imposing wishes of the men in her life. Kaguya’s life is dominated by her well-meaning but foolish father, who decides what is best for her and does his utmost to make that a reality. After moving to the mansion, she is forced to abide by the strict guidelines of traditional Japanese noble society, which includes marriage proposals. Her beauty is renowned and so high-ranking suitors make outrageous offers without even having seen her face. The absurdity of these cultural expectations is highlighted by Kaguya’s perspective of someone raised in the country. Her emotional reaction to this is tragically portrayed, as we see her go through a wide range of responses to her situation, from anger to depression. All of this culminates in a beautifully unexpected ending, that perfectly shows the end of her journey.

Princess Kaguya is a treat for all ages. It is relaxing and magical, whisking you away and taking you on a journey. If you are a fan of Ghibli films you will love this, and if you have never seen one before, this is an excellent introduction to the work of this legendary studio. If you are tired of the monotonous, repetitive nature of many of the animations being released in the West, this may open your eyes to the creative possibilities of the animation medium. Japan is responsible for some of the most inventive and inspired animated features in history, and the diverse range of stories and styles has something for everyone.

Princess Kaguya is available on Netflix in both original Japanese and an English dub, along with many of Studio Ghibli’s most iconic films.

4 stars

Adam Quinn

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