The Legend of Princess Kaguya in Takahata’s Last Masterpiece

If you are looking for a fun children film with a happy ending, this film by Studio Ghibli is not for you to be enjoyed. But if you are looking for a true masterpiece that was beautifully hand-painted with a perfect story, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a story that you won’t miss. The Tale of Princess Kaguya is one of my favorite stories — and films, of all time. Adapted from a Japanese tale from the 10th century, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, The Tale of Princess Bamboo Kaguya, is the oldest work of fiction in Japanese culture, centered on sincerity, love, family, throne, and divine principles.

Japan’s oldest work of fiction

The Tale of Princess Kaguya considered as Japan’s oldest prose narrative – tells the story of a girl named Kaguya, who is found by a bamboo-cutting grandfather in the middle of a forest and raised as his daughter.

One day, the bamboo cutter was harvesting bamboo in the forest as usual, when he found a bamboo that was shining brightly.

“Wait, bamboo shouldn’t shine”, thought the grandfather.

Out of curiosity, he cut the bamboo and found a teeny-tiny baby that could be held in the palm of his hand. He took the tiny baby home, and together with his wife, both of whom had no children, decided to raise her and named her ‘Princess’.

Since then, weirdness after oddity has continued to happen. Whenever harvesting bamboo the grandfather will find small nuggets of gold or a pile of expensive silk cloth from inside some shining bamboo. The little girl grew up very fast. The grandmother even suddenly could breastfeed. They concluded that the child was sent by Buddha for them. The child was destined to be with them, and they raised him with love, like their own biological child. Nuggets of gold after the gold that were collected, and in just 3 months, made the husband and wife quite rich to uplift their socio-economic status.

Coming of Age

As she grew older, Kaguya felt that part of her felt always sad and alone, especially when she looked at the moon. Strangely. Like she shouldn’t be on earth. Like she had the desire to go elsewhere. To go to another world. However, she really likes living on earth, living in a village, living modesty with his mother and father, living a simple life even though seeing butterflies, birds, and flowers. She also felt the seeds of love growing in her heart and soul to her playmate, Sutemaru.

Kaguya’s parents, especially the father, felt that they should no longer be in the village and become villagers anymore, and with the gold that was accumulated by ‘his father’, they decided to move to the city and bought a palace. We can see that money can change a person. Wealth can turn life upside down. This story tries to teach us that. That treasure is also a trial of the world.

Apart from money, Kaguya’s beauty can never be covered up. From a village girl, Kaguya was forced to become a princess. A daughter whom men all over the country talk about. Kaguya grew into a gorgeous woman. Her beauty is difficult to hide. She became famous throughout the country.

A Devoted Daugther

Kaguya was forced by her father to learn to be a real princess. The way she walks is no longer as comfortable as before. The way to smile is now not as sincere as before. How to see life, not as wide as it used to be. And from this moment, we see conflict in Kaguya’s heart who originally wanted freedom. Isao Takahata and Studio Ghibli describe with great detail in the depiction of the characters and stories. Even when trying to animate Kaguya running down the palace hallways, Studio Ghibli included 6 frames of animation in the same exact scene. This makes Isao Takahata’s final work a masterpiece he left behind. As if Isao Takahata predicted his own death.

Even when Isao Takahata tried to describe how Kaguya felt when she was mocked at the changing-party name to Princess Bamboo, we saw the animation of Kaguya breaking a small plate with her hand, deep facial expression, a cry, then ran through the door, threw away all the layers of expensive colored cloth that clung to his body, and left a black and white silhouette, and ran, and continued to run towards the village where they lived. And when he finally arrived at the village under a Sakura tree, Studio Ghibli’s color returned. This scene is so abstract as if it depicts Kaguya’s true identity, a simple girl, who doesn’t need material things to live happily.

Meaning of Sincerity

The story continues when Kaguya finally gives up on the situation. She finally followed what her father wanted. To get married, without pursuing love, without experiencing true happiness. It is said that 5 princes from all over the country had come to ask for her hand. Even just one of the five was enough for the father whose eyes had been covered by the blindness of property, throne, and the world. Unlike the daughter.

However, Kaguya wanted to determine who was the most sincere among the five. He also made the conditions for the five of them to give him an object that was hard to find that was previously compared Kaguya to them, from a Chinese fire-rat robe to a Buddhist cup. But none of the five can fulfill it. Lie after lie being shown in order to get Kaguya’s beauty. Even one of them died while carrying out his mission. Still, in a state of regret and depression when his last candidate died, the Emperor heard the beauty of Kaguya.

The Emperor, who was also blinded by Kaguya, proposed her. Kaguya, again rejecting him, and The Emperor came just to sneaked her out, then tried to sexually harass her. The Emperor realized his mistake.

At the lowest point in her life, Kaguya silently looked at the moon, prayed, complaining that her life was no longer beautiful. Buddha heard her prayer and returned her memory. Kaguya finally found out that she was not from earth. That she is a resident of the moon who made a mistake because she wanted to become a resident of the earth, and was punished by being expelled from the moon,  sent down to the earth. The moon will return to take her. Kaguya told her parents. Her parents finally realized that gold and wealth now doesn’t matter anymore.

The Concept of Science Fiction

As illustrating an early science fiction concept, this may be an early Japanese work on the existence of other life beyond Earth, when the Moon civilized alien sent its inhabitants to live on Earth. Parallel, we can see that there are two different worlds with different civilizations. The backward earth creatures, and the moon creatures with ‘advanced’ technology, hence,  could not feel the happiness that the earthlings could enjoy.

The God of the moon finally came down to earth, along with the inhabitants of the moon, which even the help of the emperor’s army could not stop him. Kaguya returned to the moon without a single glimmer of memory about her mortal life on earth. Her sadness disappeared. Forgotten. Kaguya became the moon princess. From this film, we learn that one day, we will return to God. That one day, we will leave the mortal world, and return to the side of God, the sole owner of everything.

The Legend of Mount Fuji

It is not depicted in Studio Ghibli’s masterpiece, but, in the original story, Kaguya gave an elixir of life that could bestow long life, with a letter of apology to the emperor. However, the Emperor, who had deeply fallen in love with Kaguya, headed for the highest peak in Japan — Mount Fuji, burned the two gifts, hoping that it would be conveyed to Kaguya to the moon. The letters burned in the fire, but myths and legends became a belief when the burning liquid of life turned into magma, and turned Mount Fuji into a volcano, sending smoke to the moon for good. The form of Kaguya’s love from the Emperor who refuses to live forever, without his true love.

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