I have seen two cover images for this movie. The image you see above, and this:
This was the cover art for the DVD set of the film that I had gotten. Both are fitting.
Based on Japanese folklore – The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter – the film starts with a bamboo cutter seeing a glowing bamboo shoot while working. As he gets closer, the bamboo shoot unfurls and reveals a tiny girl. He brings her home to his wife, and the tiny girl becomes a baby. The baby grows at an accelerated rate. She learns quickly, becoming used to a fun life with her adoptive parents and the children nearby.
But the bamboo cutter finds gold and beautiful cloth coming out of bamboo shoots. He takes it as a message from the heavens (where he thought his adoptive daughter came from) to have her daughter live like a princess – an actual princess in the old Japanese times, to live with the nobility instead of the commonfolk like she had been living with.
And so, what follows is a story of what becomes, and what could have been. A story of living a life that you never wanted. A story of being something you never wanted to be. A story of what is considered good, and what is truly beautiful. A story of both joy and sadness.
Kaguya lives the life of a noble, yet never wants to be a noble. Her more exuberant, exploratory personality doesn’t fit the mold of the stuffy, “elegant” nobility. She doesn’t ask for it – her father thinks it is for the best. And in many instances, you would think that living a life of riches and in the upper class would be nothing but good times. But Kaguya puts a magnifying glass over the concept of nobility, at least in terms of how nobles lived in the feudal era. It feels very much like her way of thinking, which reflects these more modern times, are in contrast to the old way of thinking in the past, when you would marry a successful man that you wouldn’t actually meet until the wedding, and expect happiness to come out of the standing and funds that he provides – not in how you actually feel about the person you’re tied to for the rest of your days. I don’t really see people thinking of marriage in that way anymore, and neither does Kaguya. Unfortunately, the rest of the world in the film does.
For the latter half of the film, Kaguya has very little control over what is happening to her. And it is perhaps reflective of the lack of control that we all sometimes feel in our lives. The idea of fate or destiny that has the river of life flowing in a direction that we don’t necessarily want it to. Kaguya tries to go against the current, and she is whisked away.
This is an amazing film, filled with little touches that makes it special. The art style – a mix of watercolor, pastel, pencil, and maybe even charcoal/crayon is both minimalistic and beautifully drawn. It is an infusion of the sumi-e painting style and the Studio Ghibli art style, which is fantastic. There’s a lot to the two-plus hours of film. And it’s wonderful. It really deserves a watch – even a rewatch.
In the beginning of this blog post, I mentioned the cover art, and that there were two different images. It’s fitting because there are two sides of Kaguya. Two sides that should be seen.