My kids are four and six. I showed this one to my older kid when she was two or three and she loved it. Okay, she didn't get a lot of it and got kind of bored. But she said she loved it. I don't really know why this movie couldn't be G. There is one moment of violence that is unsettling because it is grounded and realistic. It also deals heavily with mythology and there is the implication of a dragon in a cloud. There also a ton of baby butts in the movie. Also, Kaguya threatens to kill herself. I guess there are naked babies all about. Regardless, I kind of feel like this one should be G. But it's PG and that's okay too, I guess.
DIRECTOR: Isao Takahata
I love Ghibli. This whole binge-Ghibli-for-the-podcast isn't the worst job in the world. I can watch a lot of them with my kids in the room. They are pretty movies that are usually well made. It gives me an excuse to watch movies that I've mostly seen before, but now I get a chance to watch them critically. It's not a bad way to spend a spring break. I frontloaded The Tale of Princess Kaguya to the beginning of the binging because I knew that it wasn't one of my favorites. The odd thing is that it might be one of the prettiest due to the stylized art, but I also know that it had obvious pacing issues making it more boring than it should be. I also knew that I wouldn't be able to get to the scarier ones earlier and I knew that there wasn't anything too scary in it. It didn't stop Henry from getting scared at some stuff, but he gets scared at everything. We can't even play video games with bad guys in them because he gets so scared. But Kaguya is a great watch, regardless of how dull it can really get at times.
I really should do a little bit of research on this movie. This movie might justify a commentary watch simply because I feel like I'm under-serving this film by not knowing any of the history behind it. Realize that everything I'm saying is speculation, but the movie feels like a visual adaptation of oral tradition. I know that a quick Google search of "Kaguya" would get me my answer if I just scroll down a bit, but I also know that I'm insanely distracted right now and don't really feel like writing this. The reason I make the claim about oral tradition is that the visual look of the movie seems like something out of Japanese mythology. Also, the story arcs in here seem very much like mythology, talking about the many nonrelated storylines that all connect to the same protagonist. Kaguya's origin is important to the end of the film, but the way it is presented seems like a very old way of thinking. She is simply found inside the bamboo and the bamboo provides for her. Rather than starting the story on the moon (Watch it...this will all make a little more sense), the story starts from the almost religious origin of nature providing Kaguya to the woodcutter. Similarly, the archetype of the woodcutter and his wife really come out of a fairy tale tradition / mythological tradition. If this isn't based on an actual story, the filmmakers had to be keeping this in mind when this story was created. I'm actually feeling shame right now that I don't know enough about Japanese mythology to talk about this at length, especially considering that I'm writing about references to mythology in Sandman for a grad school class. But I am pretty good at archetypes and tone and Takahata really nails that in spades. The watercolor feel to this movie is just the most impressive and serves the narrative more than any other style provided. I suppose that I'm a little spoiled by Ghibli's other outings because I want everything to have that crispness that the Miyazaki films have, but I don't mind this one bit. In fact, I prefer it for this movie because it gives a completely different sense about nature than Miyazaki does. Miyazaki has this love for nature, but nature is always powerful and almost godlike in his films. Kaguya loves nature for a totally different reason. Kaguya loves nature's simplicity. They aren't contradictory, but rather examining the multifaceted elements of the natural world. You're welcome for that fancy analysis. This is why I get paid the no bucks.
I'm not quite sure what all of the themes are trying to say. There are some really superficial and obvious themes, like Kaguya's love of simplicity over luxury. This ties into the value of freedom and love over social stature and comfort. That stuff is on the nose. But I am confused about the stuff it is trying to say about mortality. There is a message about death in this movie. Kaguya's fear of returning to her people mirrors the loss of a child, but normally that child doesn't have such clear foreknowledge. Is this movie about the loss of a child? I don't full on get that vibe. I think her leaving is the idea that she never really got to appreciate life on the level she was meant to. This is where things get muddied a bit. The moon people (I swear, this will make just a little more sense if you watch the movie) provide for her all that she could possibly want. They give the woodcutter and his wife all of the richest that they could imagine. The provide clothes for Kaguya and the woodcutter, initially honorably, uses this money for Kaguya instead of himself. Yeah, he loses the forest through the trees, but he means to do good for his daughter. Like most parents, he doesn't know how to do it right all of the time. But why give the woodcutter all this money if he wasn't supposed to give the princess the most financially stable life imaginable? I mean, she comes in the form of a tiny adult princess. It seems like Princess Kaguya was destined by her people to be miserable. And the end, she has to convince her people that the Earth is not imperfect. But they set her up for imperfection. That hardly seems fair. Okay, Father Woodcutter got swept away, but he does it out of ignorance. I know it doesn't excuse the fact that he misses the point of what Kaguya was all about. He's stubborn and that's his character flaw. But he's getting all of this input from what he perceives as gods. (Let's put this on the table: the moon people look like gods.) He sees all these miracles telling him, seemingly, that Princess Kaguya must be raised to be a princess. He doesn't see that his daughter has a group of friends. (Okay, he sees the boys calling her "Little Bamboo", but he mistakes it for bullying.) He doesn't see that she likes scraping her knees and running with the kids. All he sees is that he has failed as a caretaker to provide his magical daughter with every luxury that should be available to her. That message is a little bit weird. It's just muddy, is all. Clearly, the woodcutter is in the wrong. The movie does a solid job portraying him in a fairly negative light, but it never makes him the bad guy. He is always still a loving father and is always shown as trying his best. But he also is one of the bigger obstacles for Kaguya. The message, I suppose, is that even the best intentioned of people can still screw up pretty bad. But what am I to take away? I guess it is to listen to children, but then again, he gets a ton of data saying he should act the other way. It's just very muddy for me.
There's a weird moment at the end. I guess I should put SPOILERS here because it is icky, but I know why it kind of had to be icky. When Kaguya leaves for the country at the end of the movie (which I have the feeling didn't really happen, but that's kind of cool in itself), she runs into Sutemaru on the mountain. The mountain is once again verdant and it seems like this is the last chance for Kaguya to express her love to Sutemaru. I love that we don't really know ever if she does love Sutemaru. I get the vibe that Kaguya was meant never to marry because people simply admire her for her beauty. But that's a separate section. This leads into a flying sequence that shows them hugging in the sky. They are now the couple that the movie implies that they should be, but it also seems like this is all a dream sequence. Sutemaru wakes up and is found my his wife and child. That's so weird for a love story. But it is also very cool. I want to discuss the icky element first and call out that it is creepy that he holds a torch for the woman of his past. What is he doing dreaming of this other lady and thinking that they could fly together? (Side note: Maybe it isn't a dream because the dream informs Sutemaru that Kaguya must return to her people. Now I don't know what the heck happened at the end.) But it also shows that time moves on. I kind of dig that it doesn't overidealize obsession and turns it into love. He doesn't seem to be sad with his wife and kid. Quite the opposite. It seems like Sutemaru, from the very brief interaction with his his kid, that he's happy and a good father. But there is always the part of him that acknowledges that his life would have been very different. It's still icky, but it is also true from his perspective. I don't know how I feel about it outside of the fact that it is very different than the messages of other movies having to do with a clear male and female coupling.
I can't believe that my kids sat through the second half of this movie. I guess it was because Olivia was telling jokes through a lot of it and I was just letting it happen. I'm not ready to have the discussion about emotional vulnerability yet. But I really enjoyed it overall, despite the fact that it is criminally boring at times. It is a beautiful BEAUTIFUL movie that just needs to have a little more fun at times. I also don't know enough about the story to really offer any real insight into the story. Regardless, I think Ghibli fans should check this one out at least once. It's a pretty looking picture, guys.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.