Film

The Animated Tale of Princess Kaguya is a Beautiful Japanese Folktale

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All Japanese animation is anime, but not all anime is what we tend to think of as Anime, bright and colorful with big-eyed characters. A case in point is Isao Takahata’s beautiful The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which is rendered in a muted, hand-drawn storybook style, befitting its origins as a 10th-century Japanese folktale. (There are echoes of Maurice Sendak throughout as well.)

One day, an elderly bamboo cutter (James Caan) discovers a tiny infant girl inside a glowing bamboo stalk, and brings her home to his wife (Mary Steenburgen). The infant grows at a substantially accelerated rate, eventually becoming the pretty tomboy Kaguya (Chloë Grace Moretz), who wants nothing more than to play in the woods with the local children.

Upon discovering that other bamboo stalks pay out in cash, her parents use their newfound wealth to prop her up as a princess to an array of suitors and increase their own social standing, very much against Kaguya’s will.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya has sci-fi overtones, but it’s more about the millennia-old subjugation and commodification of women, and Kaguya experiencing the best and the worst that a brief mortal life has to offer. Notably, the original story was called “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” but Takahata’s title puts the focus where it belongs.