I discovered Studio Ghibli movies in 2015, while I was still in college. The first movie I watched was Spirited Away, which intrigued me so much that I sought out all the other Ghibli movies available at the time. Some were mind-blowing, some boring, and some required extra brainpower to understand. When discussing these films with fellow students, they too became an instant fan of the Ghibli world.
Now almost seven years later my life has changed significantly along with my taste in entertainment. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) has been on my to-watch list for a long time and recently I finally got around to watching it – hence this post!
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya : The Plot
A wood-cutter named Miyatsuko was cutting bamboo in a forest when he came across a mysterious shoot. Upon approaching, he found a beautiful doll inside that could move! The doll was sleeping peacefully. Miyatsuko couldn’t help but take the doll in his arms and bring it back home to show his wife. The poor couple had no children of their own.
When the lady took the doll in her arms, it magically transformed into a human baby. The couple was shocked yet delighted; they saw it as a blessing from heaven and started raising the little baby as their own child.
The baby grew quickly, so everyone named her Takenoko (Bamboo shoot). Takenoko was beloved by all. She was fun-loving and jolly, running with the little boys in the neighborhood where she met Sutenaru. Although he was much older than her at first, she soon caught up to his age. Takenoko loved nature – the hills, forests and countryside around her home. One day, her father found another mysterious bamboo stick that gave him gold. Miyatsuko realized that this gold must be a gift from heaven to care for their heavenly child.
Miyatsuko and his wife moved to the capital to refine their daughter, Takenoko, into a princess. Although she was hesitant to leave her friends behind, she obeyed her parents. To teach her proper etiquette, Takenoko’s father hired a lady; however, it proved difficult to curb her playful nature. Despite being talented and beautiful, Takenoko resented the restrictions placed on young women by societal rules and regulations.
Then came Takenoko’s naming ceremony. Miyatsuko hosted a three-day celebration for it. All the men drank, ate, gambled, and entertained themselves. Meanwhile, Takenoko (now named Princess Kaguya) couldn’t step outside. The guests started questioning her noble birth and whether she was worth all the hype. Life in the capital and these gossips took a toll on the princess; she fled to the countryside from the backdoor only to find out that forests had been destroyed and her childhood home was now deserted with her friends gone as well. Kaguya lost sense and fell down on the ground but woke up in her palace again like it was just a dream.
The talk about the princess’s beauty spread quickly, causing suitors from noble houses to fight over her. One day, she went with her mother and a handmaid to see cherry blossoms in the countryside. On their way back home, they encountered Sutemaru on the street. When she called out his name, he turned around but was unable to speak as someone began attacking him.
That incident deeply hurt the princess. She cried and then fell silent. She made herself agreeable, spending her time studying and training. Five noblemen approached to court her, but she reluctantly listened to their proposals while sitting behind a veil. They compared her beauty with that of unearthly things. The princess asked each of them to bring those same unearthly things to flatter her and said whoever succeeded would win her hand in marriage.
For the next few days, there were no signs of the princes. Miyatsuko grew desperate, fearing that the princess’s demands were unrealistic and that nobody would marry her. Eventually, three noblemen returned; however, all got rejected due to their falsehood. The one man whom Princess Kaguya found interesting died during the quest. Consequently, she felt hopeless and depressed.
Since the princess rejected all proposals, the king became interested in her. He ordered her to present herself to him, but she refused. The desperate king surprised her with a visit at her mansion and tried to hug her forcefully. However, the princess gathered courage and made him leave immediately. Princess Kaguya grew silent after that incident and was often seen looking at the moon with teary eyes every night. Her parents noticed this change and asked if anything was wrong. She confessed that she is descended from the moon and sought protection from heaven when the king tried to violate her. After 15 days, she would be taken back home. Despite growing affectionate towards earth’s nature, foster parents, and friends, Princess Kaguya did not want to return to the moon.
Miyatsuko promised to protect and converted the mansion into a fortress. Takenoko met Sutemaru for the last time, told him the truth, and expressed her love for him. Sutemaru also wanted to protect her at any cost. The encounter felt like a dream to him before he returned to his wife and child.
On the night of the full moon, celestial beings approached the capital to take Princess Kaguya back home. She bid farewell to her parents on Earth and donned a robe and crown that erased memories of her stay on Earth. Everyone watched in awe as she left while gazing at mesmerizing clouds resembling pieces of heaven.
My thoughts on the movie-
I honestly fell for the plot twice. I thought Sutemaru was Princess Kaguya’s love interest, willing to leave everything behind and flee with her to protect her from being taken away – which made me more confident. However, he already had a wife and son. I’m not sure if I misread the interaction. The princess having her own opinion instead of blindly obeying her parents to marry any nobleman – wow, this was amazing! Especially since she didn’t have another person in mind. Can you imagine a story where the princess isn’t obsessed with love and marriage but wants to study? Let me know in the comments!
The king mistook the princess’s rejection for acceptance in the movie. This reinforces the meaning of ‘no’ as a firm denial instead of ignoring logic and sensibility. I appreciate this message more than anything else. Most movies made for entertainment lack this simple ideology. The fact that the princess saved herself from the king, without any help from her father or love interests/men, is a powerful message. It shows that not all princesses need saving; they are strong enough to save themselves!
Last but not least, the princess is leaving for the moon. I have to admit, at first I felt a bit unsettled. It didn’t feel like an ending because usually in stories we see a marriage or union as the final event. But then I asked myself, “Is that necessary?” The princess wanted to experience life on Earth and she did just that. At the end of her stay, her people are picking her up again. Why would she need a prince charming just for vacation on another planet?
Enough of my rambling, I’d rate this movie 4.5/5 just for those small surprises and not following the stereotypes! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Check out my thoughts on another Ghibli movie here-