The Tale of the Princess Kaguya has the look, and the feel, of the traditional folk tale it is based upon. It is very much an Isao Takahata Studio Ghibli film. Much as I adore Hayao Miyazaki’s films, I doubt that he could have managed the melancholic ending[1] of Princess Kaguya as deftly as Takahata does here[2].

In this I suspect[3] that Takahata was remaining true to the source material. Happy endings to folk or faery tales are a relatively recent invention in the west[4], and I expect that the same is true for Asian folk tales as well[5].

However I was almost expecting this from the beginning. Princess Kaguya is beautifully designed and shot with the feel of a traditional folk tale and this sets the mood appropriately throughout. Even in the happy moments there is that sense of something watching, waiting.

One of the things I found most interesting was the commentary on Japanese history, social classes, and the limited roles of women in the period. In particular Kaguya’s resistance to those customs[6] generates a lot of sympathy, and this certainly felt like the intended response.

There’s also some fairly pointed commentary on parents living through their children, although this is mostly on the adoptive father. That said, his intentions were usually good, and this is acknowledged at the end.

I’m hard pressed to come up with a verdict for Princess Kaguya.

I think The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a film that I admire, that everyone with an interest in anime should see at least once.

This is a beautiful, albeit unconventionally so, piece of anime film making.

But is Princess Kaguya a film I want to see again? I don’t know, that’s something I’m going to have to think about some more.

[1] Complete with suitably downbeat end credits song.

[2] Takahata has form for sadder and/or subtler endings. Cr. Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko, Only Yesterday.

[3] And to a certain extent Wikipedia confirms.

[4] Started by the Brothers Grimm IIRC, and brought to completion by Disney.

[5] Where I suspect that a lot of the process is taking place in anime and manga, at least in Japan.

[6] Kaguya is particularly unimpressed wth the white face makeup, the fully plucked eyebrows, and the prospect of an arranged marriage.