Studio Ghibli’s The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, directed and co-written by Isao Takahata, based on a 10th century Japanese folk tale, is a fable filled with charm, laughter, sadness and the pure, joyful, extraordinariness of everyday magic. It is not a fable of braying donkeys, big green oafs and other wisecracking anthropomorphs that passes for children’s entertainment on the other side of the Pacific, but rather a traditional fable, a story of something fabulous; that teaches and spellbinds adult and child alike. A world where wonder has not been reduced to mere antics.
When an elderly peasant couple, a bamboo cutter and his wife, find a tiny baby hidden in the bamboo grove one day, they are overjoyed and amazed at how fast she grows, at the magical things that happen around her.
The Princess, whom the local children call Little Bamboo, spends her days growing and learning amid idyllic nature, playing with the other children, filching melons and picking wild grapes, finding joy in falling plum blossom petals, but also singing a half remembered sad, sad song.
When her Poppa discovers great wealth amongst the bamboo, he decides that Heaven wants her to lead a life as a noble girl in the capital, that she will be happy there, and so begins a very different life served and taught by fine ladies, courted by nobles and important officials, as the beautiful Princess Kaguya. While she pines for the friends, the freedom, the nature of her so recent childhood, she also plays merry mischief on the self-important personages of the court, and even the Prince himself. Yet when she plays her koto, pure clear notes filled with melancholy and longing, we are reminded there is a deeper mystery, an otherworldliness, that haunts the Princess Kaguya.
Has there been any feature animation from any other studio anywhere in the world that one can describe as simply beautiful? That beauty is sketched in charcoal lines and watercolours, without pretence to realism, without a hint of CGI, at once seeming easy and free, so simply drawn and yet powerfully expressive. Meticulous in composition, it is art and storybook, Sumi-e come alive, magic and dream, joy and sadness. Who could ever imagine that so much could be had for the price of a ticket?