The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is as pure a fairy tale as one ever put to film. I was up early in the morning when I was watching it, but it felt like I was a little boy, being told a simple, beautiful bed time story by the masters of Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, just to name a few).
The story is of a bamboo cutter (James Caan) who, while cutting, discovers a young child he immediately calls “Princess”. Along with his wife (Mary Steenburgen, who also does a stellar job narrating the story), they see her grow up right before her eyes in a blink of the eye. The Husband (no names are given to the parents) is determined to make her a Princess, and while the wife is set to follow her husbands wishes, she just wants her daughter to be happy.
She meets friends (who call her “Little Bamboo”), most importantly Sutemaru (Darren Criss), who knows she is destined for great things. One day, her parents take her to the palace, where she is indeed made a Princess.
We also meet Lady Sagami (Lucy Liu), brought it to teach the Princess how to act like a Princess ought to act (which is easier said than done). What we get is not a tale of palaces and fame and fortune, but of sad isolation and loneliness.
Five Princes approach to offer proposals for marriage, in a scene that will have you struck in awe of how it is handled (with a good number of laughs as well). The Princess (now having been called “Kaguya” does not seek anything more than happiness, which she learns is not always easy to obtain (shades of Citizen Kane come to mind).
It seems like the saying “Less is more” may be the best to describe the animation here. Basically all hand drawn almost like a coloring book, the film avoids all obvious uses of computer animation we would expect in today’s modern animated films. If you ever pause the film, you can spend five minutes just looking at the animation itself. One imagines how many pains in the wrist occurred to the animators.
Parents, they is one or two scenes of nudity, though it is non sexual. Toward the beginning, the mother realizes she is able to produce milk, and is able to breastfeed for the Princess (I assume it is normal for kids in Japan to see this as ok, but I am not sure). Without this scene, I feel the film is perfect for all ages.
There is a scene where Lady Sagami is showing the Princess how to observe scrolls. Sagami says to scroll slowly, while the princess unrolls the whole parchment from one end of the room to the other. In observing animated masterpieces such as The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, it should be observed the way Lady Sagami mentioned: Slow, and with attention to every detail.
Although I would not blame you for wanting to see it all for its glory as the Princess would.
Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2