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Brought to Life: The Folklore Behind Kaguya

This is an extension of the review of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which can be found here:

Highly, highly recommended that you watch the film before reading this.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is based on a Japanese folktale called The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (which you can find here:, or on Wikipedia). I just wanted to take a quick look at the folktale and see what the differences were between the two.

There are a few key differences that separate the two stories in my eyes – the ending and the characterization of the Emperor. The emperor is much more creepy and kind of slimy in the film, as far as I can tell. He very much tries to advance on Kaguya and feels as if it is his birthright to have her by his side – to become one of his wives. His way of thinking is understandable – he’s the ruler of the land, and probably has anything and everything given to him. However, that doesn’t make how he goes about it any less creepy. He suddenly and uncomfortably hugs her, which is evident in her almost-disgusted expression. It’s just awful to watch the Emperor do that to Kaguya. It’s worse that we don’t get to see much of him after that. He simply says something like, “I’ll be back, and you’re definitely meant to be mine.” This just ups the creepiness factor and makes him a very uncomfortable character. He’s certainly not a friend to Kaguya, or to the audience.

Because this is basically all we see of him (before that, we just see him scheming to get her to be his bride), we’re simply left with a very negative impression. This is a difference from the folktale, in which it seems that they keep in contact and they’re more like friends (to the point that she is one of the people she leaves a parting letter to), though Kaguya-hime continues to reject his advances.

This is actually a plot point in the folktale, as the Emperor continues to love Kaguya, even going so far as to leave a smoke signal/message for her. This isn’t in the ending of the film, which is understandable as it already reaches past the 2 hour mark and there isn’t much time fit in for the emperor. It wouldn’t be as romantic in the film, just more uncomfortable.

Another difference in the ending – and I think this is critical – is that Kaguya accepts her fate in the folktale. In the film, she is trying to fight her fate. While it leaves less loose ends and probably feels more fulfilling as a result in the folktale, it really pushes the point of fate and destiny home for the film, which I accept.

There are more differences, but from a cursory glance, some changes, though slight, really changed the movie for me, which is fascinating.

I’d like to get into the making of for this film, and perhaps look into the director’s mindset for why these differences exist, so stay tuned!


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