The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is the final film directed by Isao Takahata before his death in 2018. The film’s story is based on the Japanese folktale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
English Publisher: GKIDS
Format: Blu-ray/DVD
Release Date: June 7, 2022

A bamboo cutter named Sanuki no Miyatsuko finds a small girl inside a glowing bamboo shoot, and he believes that she is a divine presence and takes her home. The small girl transforms into a baby, and the bamboo cutter and his wife decide to raise her as their own child. They refer to the child as Princess, and they discover she grows at an incredibly rapid pace. As she gets older, Princess becomes friends with some of the other children in the small village they live in. She especially becomes close to Sutemaru, the oldest boy among her friends.

Over time, the bamboo cutter finds gold and fine clothing in glowing bamboo shoots, and he takes this as a sign that Princess is divine royalty. He decides to make her into a proper princess, and he uses his newfound wealth to buy a mansion in the capital and move his family out of the country. Because of this, Princess is forced to leave her friends behind without saying goodbye, which ends up being the beginning of her troubles of adjusting to life in the capital. It doesn’t help that the bamboo cutter has let his idea of turning the girl into a proper princess go to his head.

After moving to the capital, Princess comes of age and is granted the formal name of “Princess Kaguya.” Kaguya has a hard time adjusting to the restraints of nobility after experiencing the freedom she had when she lived in the country, and her situation becomes worse when nobles suddenly appear and ask for her hand in marriage.

I thought that the story of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was well told, even though it was a little slow to get going. However, the pacing needs to be that slow in order to establish Princess and her childhood in the country. One thing I really appreciated is that this story, after all is said and done, doesn’t have a happy ending. After everything that Kaguya goes through, a happy ending would have felt forced. Although, I found I had a hard time mustering any sympathy for the bamboo cutter at the end of the film because of how he was more concerned about himself and his family’s appearance than he was on Kaguy’’s happiness. He kept turning a blind eye to how unhappy the situation was making her.

I thought that the character of Kaguya was relatable, especially after her family moves to the capital. You could sympathize with her plight, because in a lot of ways, living as nobility stifled her and turned her into a prisoner. And having to deal with a father who ignored how this was affecting his daughter surely couldn’t have helped matters, and as a viewer, I found that I was concerned for her mental well-being.

The animation in The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was stunning. It doesn’t have the look that’s normally attributed to anime, and in some respects, it almost looks as if the animation was based off of the Japanese ukiyo-e art of the 17th through the 19th centuries. With the story being told, especially the sections where Kaguya is struggling the most with the restraints of nobility, more traditional animation just wouldn’t have been as effective. The color palette used for the film also helped to add to the look and feel of the animation. One of the most interesting things about the animation was, whenever Kaguya would be scared or worried, the animation would be a little more stretched out or elongated. This created an interesting effect and helped the viewer to understand that those were the emotions that Kaguya was feeling during that time.

Between the storytelling and the animation, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a riveting film to watch. Of the Takahata works that I’ve personally seen, I think this film was his best, and it’s a film that I would recommend an anime fan to watch at least once.

When it comes to this Blu-ray/DVD combo release of the film, the Blu-ray has 1080p High Definition Widescreen (1.85:1) video, while the DVD has Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) video. For audio, the Blu-ray has English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1, and French 5.1 DTS Digital Surround. The DVD has English Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1, and French Dolby Digital 5.1. I had no complaints about either the video or audio quality of this release.

There are a total of three bonus features included in this release, and they appear on both the Blu-ray disc and the DVD disc. The first feature is the press conference that announced the completion of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya anime film. This feature runs for 40 minutes, and it has Japanese audio with English subtitles. The press conference included a representative from Nippon TV, director Isao Takahata, the co-writer for the script, as well as several of the voice actors and the singer of the theme song. It may have been a press conference, but it was far from boring. The stories that various members of the panel shared were either interesting or amusing. It’s a bonus feature that’s worth checking out.

Next is “Japanese trailers and TV spots.” This runs for 13-and-a-half minutes and includes a total of 11 items of varying lengths. One of the trailers was rather long, and it felt more like a music video for the ending credits song than a trailer. But as you would expect, these trailers all have Japanese audio with English subtitles. The final extra on the set is “U.S. Trailers,” which runs for three minutes.

The first time I watched The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, I had checked out a two-disc DVD release of the film from the library. That release had a second DVD that included an hour-and-a-half long behind the scenes bonus feature. Unfortunately, this bonus feature was excluded from this Blu-ray/DVD reissue of the film, and I’m a little bummed about that because I enjoy watching behind the scenes documentaries.

However, this release does comes with a booklet that features images, as well as writeups from Isao Takahata, Yoshiaki Nishimura, and Toshio Suzuki. While this doesn’t entirely make up for excluding the behind the scenes bonus feature, it at least includes thoughts from individuals who had been involved with the film.

If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli or a fan of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, I would suggest adding this release of the film to your anime home video library. Even though it’s missing one of the bonus features from the original release, this one is still worth getting in order to have the film on Blu-ray.

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