In this edition of Creations of Chaos, director Isao Takahata once again ends a film with crushing despair. It’s the story about a Princess who wants to be a peasant, The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
Director: Isao Takahata
Writers: Isao Takahata and Riko Sakaguchi
Date Released: 2013
Version Watched: English Dubbed
Princess in the Moon
A Moon Princess runs away to Earth with the dream of experiencing a quiet, normal, life amongst nature. Unfortunately, she is such an exceptional child, her earth father decides that she should be more than a simple country girl. He believes that she is destined to be a great Princess, and so the poor Moon Princess is once again thrust into the world of suffocating rules, formality, and loneliness that she was desperately trying to escape.
Given that this is a Princess story, it could be the most Disney-esque of the Ghibli films, except instead of a peasant wanting to be a Princess, the Princess wishes to be a peasant. Instead of a chivalrous Prince, the Prince is, well, kind of rape-y. This isn’t a fairy tale that ends with true love’s kiss, a wedding, and a tea cup turning back into a little boy. The Tale of Princess Kaguya ends in sadness, hopelessness, and despair.
Like Ponyo, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a story about fathers and daughters, only poor Princess Kaguya wishes that she had Ponyo’s father.
The bamboo cutter is a helicopter parent, before helicopter parenting was a thing. He starts out wanting what every father wants, a wonderful, successful, and fulfilling life for his daughter. Unfortunately, his definition of success and fulfillment clashes with his daughter’s, and he lets his own desires and dreams cloud his judgement. He constantly pushes the Princess, promising that if she would just comply with his wishes, then she would be happy. He does not care that all she wants is to return to her quiet country life.
While most fairy tale stories are cautionary tales for children, this film is a cautionary tale for parents. It’s heartbreaking as it starts out with a warm, doting father, but he soon spirals into a rage-filled dictator whose ambitions eventually result in the loss of his daughter. It is a great lesson in not imposing your own personal ambitions onto others.
Princes, Princes Who Adore You
The suitors are my favorite part of the story.
Princess Kaguya is constantly being told that once she gets married all of her dreams will come true and she will be happy forever and ever. The intelligent girl that she is, the Princess doubts that marriage is the key to eternal happiness, especially since her father is more interested in a suitor’s social ranking than compatibility.
The five noble gentlemen show up, each proclaiming their love for the Princess and comparing her to a rare treasure. The Princess is not impressed. She does not relent. She is strong. She tells the suitors that she’ll marry the man who can obtain the impossible to get, rare treasure they compared her to. The Princess is a clever young lady. She knows that there is no way they will be able to achieve such a task.
Sadly, for as smart as the Princess’ plan is, she underestimates the stupidity of her gentlemen callers. Things deescalate quickly moving from comical, (when the first two suitors return with faked treasures) to super dark (when a suitor dies trying to obtain his treasure). This piece of the story cements The Princess’s character and allows her to shine and develop. Kaguya is a clever, independent-minded girl. That’s part of what makes her end so despairing. No matter how hard she tries to take control of her fate, no matter how smart she is, freedom slips through her fingers.
Art of Animation
The animation in this film is particularly interesting. The majority of the film is done in a Japanese water-color style that gives the film an elegant purity. As a viewer, it feels as if you are stepping inside of a storybook. It’s an animation style of which I’d love to see more. The Princess is drawn with the most complexity, while the other characters are less detailed. This artistic choice emphasizes the great beauty Kaguya is said to possess.
One of the most brilliant scenes is when the Princess runs away. To accentuate her inner turmoil, the animation shifts into rough, chaotic pencil sketching. The drawings are colorless, with the exception of Kaguya’s red pants. It’s the kind of thing that elevates the film from being just another animated princess story to a work of art.
Just as The Wind Rises was meant to be director Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is director Isao Takahata’s final film. When watching the documentary, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, there was a fear expressed that director Isao Takahata may never finish The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and that the film would never make it to the screen. In the end, the film took eight years to complete. The staff, being frustrated by what seemed to be a never-ending job, had to ask themselves, did they want to churn out multiple projects that would be easily forgotten, or work on one project that would endure for generations? All of the extra work was worth it in the end, for like most Studio Ghibli films, The Tale of Princess Kayuga is a visually stunning work of art with a moving story that will most certainly be loved for generations to come.