The Culture Behind ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’

Tale of the Princess Kaguya

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” was produced by Studio Ghibli in 2013, the legendary Japanese animation house that has brought us “Spirited Away,” “My Neighbor Totoro” and “The Wind Rises,” among other classics.

The release of “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” redefines the limits of animated storytelling and marks a triumphant highpoint within an extraordinary career in filmmaking for director Isao Takahata. 

Unlike Hayao Miyazaki, who directed “Spirited Away,” “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Princess Mononoke,” Takahata focuses more on traditional East Asian cultures which are represented by the usage of color, painting style, cultural elements and story background. Anyone who’ve seen animations from Miyazaki would know he loves to infuse many western cultural elements into his works.

The story in “Kaguya” is about a tiny girl who has been found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter and his wife. She grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady. The mysterious young princess enthralls all who encounter her — but ultimately she must confront her fate and leave the world she hates but also loves.

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is adapted from Japanese literature which is originally a Chinese folktale. It attracts me in two aspects: First of all, a lot of elements from the traditional Chinese culture, like bamboo, the ink wash painting, the immortal “Xian,” and the dressing style.

In addition to the emotional resonance I found in the film, the other reason I love it is because of the essential fundamental meaning it shows to us.

Princess Kaguya is not like normal people — she’s different. She’s not born in a normal way like a normal kid. She grew really fast. She had brighter skin. She’s pretty for sure because she’s unique.

But people are trying to change her, to assimilate her, to turn her to a standard beauty. For instance, people force her to shave her eyebrows, to dress like a noble young lady so she could attract rich men. Part of the plot is that in trying to escape, she’s running so fast that her makeup fades and all of the so-called pretty clothes are blown away. Without all these fake things, she’s real, and it’s her most beautiful moment.

When asked how should differences be dealt with, Saudi Arabian student Sara Bushnaq had this to say:

People should be more acceptant to differences, because it creates a more holistic and well-rounded idea of the world. It makes us less afraid and more curious.

People gradually realize that difference matters as well as the importance of diversity. “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” shows us that individual cultures could be lost if people don’t embrace their diversities.

Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Image credit: Studio Ghibli)
‘Tale of the Princess Kaguya’ (Image credit: Studio Ghibli)

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