TIFF 2014: Charmed by Studio Ghibli's 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya'

September 9, 2014

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

As a die-hard Studio Ghibli fanboy, I always feel like I'm way behind when I finally see the latest film they originally released a year ago in Japan. But I'm so glad I finally caught up with Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya, originally released in Japan in November of 2013, but just now making its way to North America thanks to the Toronto Film Festival. I'm even happier I saw the original version with Japanese dialogue and English subtitles, the way it was meant to be seen, rather than the dubbed version coming up for the US. It's a wonderful film, incredibly charming and so much fun to watch. Of course, the animation is remarkably beautiful, unlike anything I've seen before - hand-animated to look like old watercolor scrolls.

Based on the classic Japanese folk story of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, the film tells the full story of the life of Princess Kaguya on Earth. Found glowing inside a bamboo stalk by a humble bamboo cutter, his life is suddenly changed and he decides to raise the beautiful girl with his wife. She grows up very quickly, a bit mischievous and preferential to rolling around with animals and nature than any other humans, but is so beautiful she suddenly becomes the object of affection for the most powerful men in Japan. Brought into the royal world, her parents try to make her into the princess she is supposed to be, but she prefers to be goofy, free-spirited and anti-establishment, which leads to all kinds of trouble. You'll laugh and never stop smiling.

While the film is obviously aimed at a younger audience, it's one of those timeless stories told perfectly that connect with any person of any age. I am curious how much it's influenced by a free-spirited shift in Japan, or rather is the influencer of that shift, in-so-much that it supports eschewing formalities and plays up the idea of being free. Like the wind, like nature, like the beasts, and birds, and bees. Watching her act this way, while keeping it light so kids are never bored, is so much fun. That's not to say it doesn't have a serious side, about how society tells us that we have to act a certain way when sometimes it's better to be free, to act on our will. The best scenes are the ones where she reacts in unexpected ways and everyone else is baffled.

With so much recent discussion about the future of Studio Ghibli, it's refreshing to just sit back, relax and enjoy a wonderful film from the studio. Takahata is a tremendously talented filmmaker who can balance many different aspects: the beauty of animation, the rigors of society, the delicacies of storytelling, and the entertainment value of cinema. He does so with such elegance that it's at times breathtaking, other times touching, but always thoroughly fulfilling to watch The Tale of Princess Kaguya. The animation alone, so marvelously realized with moments that will leave you in awe, is worth your time. Ghibli ain't done yet, and even though their future may be uncertain, at least the astonishing quality of their work remains consistent.

Alex's TIFF 2014 Rating: 8.8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing

Find more posts: Animation, Review, TIFF 14



Thanks AB! Glad to hear how good this was. This is one of the few films I would love to see this in IMAX.

DAVIDPD on Sep 9, 2014


I don't like the partial scores Firstshowing has adopted. What makes this just .3% better than The Theory of Everything? It tells me you were being too indecisive to give one a score of 8 and another a score of 9. Just my opinion, but I'd rather whole numbers.

MattPeloquin on Sep 9, 2014


Interesting. You know, I'm sorry but I just hate scores all around. All I know is that this film IS ".3%" (though that's not how I look at it or think about it at all) better than The Theory of Everything. I just feel, deep down in my bones, that it's slightly better. I had more problems with The Theory of Everything, and enjoyed this one more, but don't want to call it a complete 9 out of 10 (other Ghibli films are 9s, 9.5s, 10s). I can rate a film whatever I want. There are people who use 0-100 scales, A-F, 0-5, 0-4, everything. I rate what I feel when I'm writing the review, and with minor differentiations to indicate that one film is better than another, in my own opinion. However, at the same time - The Theory of Everything and The Tale of Princess Kaguya are incomparable in every possible way. So if you're comparing them based on ratings, you're coming at it from the entirely wrong direction anyway. This is why I prefer not putting any grade. But then people complain and say "well I don't know if you liked it or not!" They need some sort of guide. It's a never ending vicious circle.

Alex Billington on Sep 9, 2014


Haha, I just wanted to give you shit for it and hear you explain why it was .3% better. Most of the time I read the first and last paragraphs of these festival reviews to decide if I'll check it out later. Reading the whole review tells me too much about the film. I use the numbers to gauge your most and least favorite from the festival and make an effort to always see your top 3. Now I'll have to see the top 4 due to this .3% fiasco, aint nobody got time for dat.

MattPeloquin on Sep 9, 2014


I like English dubs, I don't think it takes away from the experience. I usually watch whichever is available but I have never noticed one to offer a more complete experience than the other. Just because it has the original voice-actors doesn't necessarily mean that it's the better experience. In-fact, some times I believe I appreciate it more because I can better appreciate the emotion in someone's voice when I am hearing what they are saying and not reading it. To each their own, but as someone who has vigorously viewed both, I think it's a personal preference more than anything.

Wes Draven on Oct 17, 2014


I think dubbing gets a bad rap because 7/10 the voice actors are shit. Especially when it's a lower budget thing, like anime. It can be done well, but I myself do prefer subtitles.

DAVIDPD on Oct 17, 2014

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