A magical creature is found inside a bamboo stalk by a bamboo cutter and his wife, and as they vow to look after her, the creature transforms into a human baby who grows at an alarming rate. When she reaches adolescence, the Bamboo Cutter brings his wife and his ‘princess’ to the big city, to find her a regal husband, and make her a true princess.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based on a tale from Japanese folklore, which is presumably a short tale told to children at bedtime. Studio Ghibli director Isao Takahata has transformed this tale for the big screen, and drawn it out the an incredible 136 minutes, to the detriment of the tale.
The film starts out well enough, focusing in on the magical origins of this tiny princess found in a bamboo stalk, but it quickly devolves into a story about the minutiae of life in a small Japanese village in the countryside. While the film is beautifully animated, there are times where it feels as though nothing is happening, other than watching the characters do through their day-to-day lives. When the story moves to the big city, Kaguya’s father becomes determined to turn her into a noblewoman, and bullies her into being something that she is not. This takes up most of the film. Being a Studio Ghibli film, one expects a little bit of magic in the story, but by the time it arrives, it is too little, too absurd and too late.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya was due to be released in Japan on the same day as The Wind Rises, but did not reach screens until almost four months later. It seems as though director Isao Takahata became too fascinated with the small details of the film, and forgot that he was telling a larger story, a story that is never truly resolved. This means that The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a mish mash of different tales, features a magical child who, it turns out, is not that magical and it takes 136 minutes to tell the audience almost nothing at all.
In all, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a drawn out, bloated mess. There is the grain of a good story in here, but it is lost in the minutiae of the characters’ day to day lives. As well as this, the magic spark that makes Studio Ghibli films so engrossing is most definitely absent here.