Film & DVD Review: The Tale of Princess Kaguya


The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a feature-length film from Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli. They are known around the world for such classic films My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo and Spirited Away (winner of the 2001 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature), as well as many more. Often receiving Academy Awards after their U.S. distribution.

Princess Kaguya is their most recent film to reach nomination at the Academy. What’s different is that Kaguya is the first to be nominated that was not directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It was in fact directed by Isao Takahata, known for the previous Ghibli films Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko and My Neighbors the Yamadas.

Though Takahata’s name might not be as well-known as Miyazaki in the animation world he still packs a punch when it comes to unique and emotionally endearing films. His film Grave of the Fireflies, which is set in Japan during the end of World War II, is often listed as one of the saddest films ever created.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is no less of an emotional roller-coaster.

The film was adapted from the 10th Century Japanese folktale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which is considered the oldest Japanese prose narrative. The film follows a bamboo cutter and his wife living in the countryside when they find a tiny girl inside one of the bamboo shoots he was collecting. “What a beautiful little doll,” his wife says. The tiny girl begins to grow into a full size baby after she is held by his wife.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya ©Studio Ghibli

The two raise the young girl as their own. But strangely, she seems to grow a lot faster than most kids. Learning how to walk soon after she becomes a baby. The bamboo cutter calls her “Princess,” while the children of the village call her “Li’l Bamboo.” The bamboo cutter begins to receive signs that she may be an actual princess.

Princess Kaguya displays a different look than many of the other Studio Ghibli films. It holds slight similarity in the loose watercolor design to My Neighbors the Yamadas, which was made to look similar to its comic strip basis. Kaguya however often has streaking charcoal lines and a rough, emotional look at times. At first glance it reminded me of ancient Japanese scrolls.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya ©Studio Ghibli

Overall the film is a luscious and uniquely artistic film. It’s like watching a living painting.

Beyond the art style of the film we are presented with quite possibly one of the best soundtrack scores to any Studio Ghibli film. As usual, conducted by Joe Hisaishi, who has scored many of the Ghibli films. I fell in love with the soundtrack and had to pause the film so I could import buy it online. I of course wanted a hard copy and imported it from Korea. It can be downloaded a lot cheaper from iTunes.

The film was recently released on DVD and BluRay from the New York based animated film ditributer, GKids, who previously released the Studio Ghibli film From Up on Poppy Hill (directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son). The Kaguya BluRay features a stunning slipcover, with a crisp design and a bit of holographic shine.


I was surprised to find that it also came with an additional disk, featuring a full documentary all about the film with director, Isao Takahata. Isao Takahata and His Tale of Princess Kaguya. It was a great extra and made purchasing the film well-worth it. A perfect collectors release for any Studio Ghibli film.


GKids approaches these films as art, which is so nice to see in a world so quickly willing to write animated films off as novelty. Their BluRay releases often showcase this, with an attention to detail and design that avoids gimmicks and focuses on making sure the film is presented as it should be. Here are two other GKids distributed films I currently own. ernestTrailers: Ernest & CelestineFrom Up on Poppy Hill

Have you seen The Tale of Princess Kaguya? If so, what was your take on it? If not, did this post make you want to?

Until next time!

damian alexander

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