by Abby Ho, Amanda Low, and Rose Ho
Inspired by the Japanese folk story of The Bamboo Cutter, animation giant Studio Ghibli gives us The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. This sweeping adventure, presented through traditional, hand-drawn cel animation, is a classic story of love, sadness and joy.
(Warning! Spoilers ahead!)
Rose: I cried… A few times actually.
Amanda: I cried because it was a sad story but the artwork was so beautiful.
Rose: Yes, very lovely with the watercolour style. The close ups of plants was very appealing.
Amanda: Very! Visually speaking, there was so much to appreciate. I particularly loved the running scene.
Rose: Oh yeah, the rough, sketchy aesthetic during the running scene, with only her breathing as the sound. That was great.
Amanda: There was also a small moment where her father brings her gifts and the scrolls or rolls of cloth falls and he goes to push it back into the pile. I loved the little details like that too.
Rose: And when he knocks his hat against the top of the doorway. Twice!
Abby: Yes! It was really really wonderfully animated. Especially how they used line and colour to display emotion.
Amanda: An animator’s wet dream.
Rose: I felt like a little kid watching this fairytale.
Amanda: Yeah, it was very magical. Not just story wise but the appeal too.
Abby: For sure and for something so recently done (i.e. 2013), it uses such a traditional animation style.
Rose: Yes, it looked like cel animation, where they paint/draw every single frame, which has a nostalgic effect, I think. Like old school Disney.
Amanda: Yes. But they definitely embrace the roughness of the pencil strokes more.
Abby: It became so precious. ALSO the music was very compelling, fitting to every scene.
Amanda: The soundtrack is A+.
Rose: I didn’t realise that her suddenly being transported back to where she was, at certain parts of the film, was due to the moon god’s power. I thought she was waking up from a dream.
Abby: Yeah! In the scenes you can see the moon too in certain frames.
Amanda: When she runs off, there’s a giant moon in the center…OMG IT WAS FORESHADOWING. I was a bit concerned about Sutemaru. Dude had a wife and kid and was ready to run away from it all.
Abby: Yeah, but I kind of interpreted it as a dream? Like a ‘would be’ scenario? Because she kept saying she would’ve been happy but it can’t happen.
Rose: I think that the film stays in the POV of the princess and so when they are flying and he wakes up, I see that as the moon god’s intervention again.
Amanda: Ah yes, a dream would make more sense. Still, ditching your family in a dream…
Abby: Can we talk about the parental units and their relationship to her before and after moving?
Rose: The dad was kind of an idiot. He didn’t even ask her if living in the capital made her happy but he was all about making her his princess.
Amanda: It was like the world took advantage of Kaguya for what she was.
Rose: I think she was capable of finding joy in everything but they kept trying to take the joy out of things for her by making her follow all these rules of princess protocol. Like she was happy in the forest, and happy with new clothes and learning new activities (playing the instrument, for example) but then it became more and more restrictive. Like symbolically, the many layers of silk garments are beautiful but she was like a living doll.
Abby: I agree with what you said, Rose, about her being able to find joy, but at the same time, because of the restrictions and rules, her joy is compromised? I feel like the film shows a lot of possibilities or outcomes based on her decisions…where she could’ve maybe found happiness. Like if she stayed in the mountain, she could’ve had a life with Sutemaru…
Rose: Or she could’ve been forced to marry the emperor. The father was such a clown.
Amanda: I felt like the parent and daughter relationship developed a lot in the beginning but after that we see it a lot less. I loved the parents’ playful banter on taking care of the newfound baby.
Rose: That was pretty darn cute.
Amanda: And also when the mother was in fancy dress and was like ‘Pffftt. I’m not doing this right’. But after that, we see less of their relationship but more of how Kaguya interacts with each parent.
Rose: For a while I thought that every time she laughed, she would grow.
Abby: I thought it was every time she experienced something.
Amanda: I thought it was every time she experiences something happy.
Rose: Yeah, but I think she stopped growing magically after a point.
Amanda: Maybe that’s why she stopped growing at the Capital? There was no joy.
Rose: I was annoyed that all the men esp suitors objectified her. They didn’t care about personality. They just called her beautiful and promised her happiness. Even Sutemaru bothered me because they hadn’t hung out since they were kids but they’re supposed to be each other’s great love when they meet again.
Amanda: I kinda expected that, especially since this is a story that’s based on an old folk story, and takes place in an older time.
Rose: I wonder what the folktale/movie is trying to say?
Abby: I think the movie talks a lot about how happiness is perceived? For example, with her father and Kaguya’s idea of happiness?
Amanda: “You don’t need gold and riches to be happy”. That’s the best I got.
Rose: I feel like the movie was asking if it is worth the sadness and trouble of finding joy or is it better to live a life feeling nothing and remembering nothing…or do they only experience highs on the moon and never lows?
Amanda: “You don’t need gold and riches to be happy, also the moon is a stuck up place.”
Abby: I mean I have no experience on the moon but my takeaway was that living a full human life does not just mean happiness and freedom? Rather than looking at impurities of the earth as negative things, it’s almost like something that allows for the high’s in life?
Rose: “The shadow proves the sunshine”. Like how can you feel truly happy if you never know what it means to feel sad?
Abby: I still believe in the parental message. Mostly because it made me think about what happiness is considered to a parent versus a child.
Rose: She seems separated from her parents when she moves to the capital but her relationship with her mother is still retained while her father runs around trying to make her a princess. But she still loves both of them. Her disconnect with her father leads to him thinking that he can assume that all these trappings of nobility is what she wants but if he only stopped to listen to her..
Amanda: I felt like the mom was glad to have a child, whereas the dad was glad to have a gift from God.
Rose: Anything else we should talk about?
Amanda: I don’t have much left to say. The film was overall very impressive story wise and very visually appealing
Rose: Yes, it was excellent. Instant classic.
Abby: I think it was definitely one of my favourites out of the animations we reviewed!
Amanda: Yup. One last thing too, for something made in 2013, I praise it’s embracing of traditional animation styles. Especially in a time where 3D is so popular. It doesn’t just use cel animation but openly admits to it.
Rose: They were all visually very strong and also diverse. But since Kaguya made me cry, it would be my favourite.