Studio Ghibli’s Isao Takahata’s adaptation of the ancient folk tale “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” is rendered in gorgeous hand-drawn animation that recalls both a children’s picture book and Japanese woodcuttings. This aesthetic and the title suggest the film’s shift in focus – rather than telling the story of the bamboo cutter who finds a daughter and wealth alike within the stalk of a magical bamboo plant, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is fundamentally about that little girl.
The film’s greatest strength, then – aside from its beautiful animation, of course – is how it renders young Kaguya’s (Asi Asakura/Chloë Grace-Moretz) struggles to assume the role of princess. The film’s second act – as she swept from her young friends and into a world of plucked eyebrows and forced seclusion – is its most heartfelt and affecting.
There’s a moment that concludes that act – a moment of unrestrained emotionality that’s either magical or out of a dream – that would’ve been a great ending for the film proper. The subsequent courtship plot accentuates Takahata’s portrayal of the oblivious selfishness of the upper class, but lacks the personal nuance that preceded it (while drawing the runtime out to well past two hours). Good, but not masterful.