While many Japanese people might know this story by heart, many Western watchers might not be familiar with the tale of the “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”. Ghibli has taken the tale and turned it into a beautifully animate tale that all can enjoy, but let’s take a minute to delve a bit deeper into the story.
Once upon a time, a bamboo cutter came across a shining stalk of bamboo. Cutting it open, he found inside a young child the size of a thumb. When he brought her home, he and his wife named her Kaguya-hime. However, as much as Kaguya herself was a blessing so too was the next surprise.
Every time the bamboocutter split open a bamboo stalk, he would find a gold nugget, but as his riches grew so too did news of his beautiful daughter. The Bamboo Princess had suddenly become a legendary beauty.
Suitor after suitor visited the young lady, but her father gave them nigh-impossible tasks to complete. However, one was of quite a different calibre.
The Emperor had asked Kaguya to be his own, but she could not as her time on Earth was slowly coming to an end. Whenever she looked up at the moon, her eyes would fill with tears. It was there she belonged.
Leaving a note of love and an elixir of immortality for the Emperor, she returned to the moon.
Overcome with sadness, the Emperor commanded his army to take the note and burn it at the highest point in Japan, so the smoke would reach her. This is why, as so the tale tells, Mt. Fuji (a direct translation of the word immortality) got its name.
Director Isao Takahara watercoloured-take creates a beautiful recreation of this age-old story. I enjoyed seeing how the character’s emotion states were depicted through their expressions and actions rather than just words. It might be difficult for non-Japanese to really get the subtleties of how the characters interaction, but it’s a good introduction to some of Japan’s oldest tales.
It’s also one example of early science-fiction with many speculation that Kaguya had been sent to Earth in order to protect her from a celestial conflict and the gold found in the bamboo was simply upkeep for the Earthling taking care of her.
The sad story made me nostalgic and I even felt little scared near to the end because it essentially shows Kaguya’s death. The film made me consider the fragility of happiness and our existence, and I recommend taking a watch.