Studio Ghibli’s films have always embraced the connection between nature and magic, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya continues this tradition in fine form. Writer-director Isao Takahata, who also co-founded Studio Ghibli, breaks from the company’s familiar animation style to venture into a sumi-e look that perfectly suits the story’s celebration of nature’s simplicity and magnificence. Although Kaguya does become slightly redundant in highlighting its heroine’s values before the film indulges in an abrupt revelation, Takahata and Ghibli have still found fresh life in their classic themes.
A bamboo cutter is working in the forest one day when a tree begins to glow. As he approaches it, a plant blooms to reveal a tiny girl dressed in fine robes. He picks her up in the palm of his hand and takes her home to his wife whereupon the girl transforms into a normal, healthy, crying baby. The bamboo cutter takes this to be a sign that her original form indicated the girl’s destiny is to be a princess. The girl, Kaguya, physically ages through childhood and adolescence quickly (“like a bamboo shoot!” a playmate observes), but she’s overjoyed to be enjoying the wilderness around her. However, when another bamboo tree provides the cutter with gold, he uses their new wealth to move his family to the Capital and transform the girl into the princess he believes she was meant to be even though she’d rather be among nature and away from callow suitors.
The movie is based on a 10th century Japanese folktale, and Takahata beautifully animates his picture to the art style of the time period rather than create a straight adaptation. The story has a deep emphasis on appreciating the simple beauty of nature. Kaguya and her rural friends happily sing a song celebrating birds, beasts, grass, flowers, and so on. The more organic art techniques like watercolors, pens, and pencils are in tune with the simple life Kaguya wants to lead.