The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Japanese: かぐや姫の物語, Hepburn: Kaguya-hime no Monogatari) is a 2013 Japanese animated fantasy drama film co-written and directed by Isao Takahata, based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a 10th-century Japanese literary tale. It was produced by Studio Ghibli for Nippon Television Network, Dentsu, Hakuhodo DYMP, Walt Disney Japan, Mitsubishi, Toho and KDDI, and distributed by Toho.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (poster).jpg
Japanese theatrical release poster
HepburnKaguya-hime no Monogatari
Directed byIsao Takahata[1]
Produced byYoshiaki Nishimura
Screenplay by
  • Isao Takahata
  • Riko Sakaguchi
Based onThe Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
Music byJoe Hisaishi
Edited byToshihiko Kojima
Distributed byToho
Release date
  • 23 November 2013 (2013-11-23)
Running time
137 minutes[2]
Budget¥5 billion ($49 million)[3]
Box office¥2.5 billion (Japan)
$27 million (worldwide)

The film features an ensemble voice cast that includes Aki Asakura, Kengo Kora, Takeo Chii, Nobuko Miyamoto, Atsuko Takahata, Tomoko Tabata, Tatekawa Shinosuke, Takaya Kamikawa, Hikaru Ijūin, Ryudo Uzaki, Nakamura Shichinosuke II, Isao Hashizume, Yukiji Asaoka (in a special appearance) and Tatsuya Nakadai.[4][5][6][7] The film features the final film performance by Chii, who died in June 2012, and was the final film directed by Takahata, who died in April 2018.

It was released in Japan on 23 November 2013, distributed by Toho. At the budget of US$49.3 million, it is the most expensive Japanese film as of 2020. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 87th Academy Awards. The production of the film was the subject of the feature-length documentary film Isao Takahata and His Tale of the Princess Kaguya.[8]


A bamboo cutter named Sanuki no Miyatsuko discovers a miniature girl inside a glowing bamboo shoot. Believing her to be a divine presence, he and his wife decide to raise her as their own, calling her "Princess". The girl grows rapidly, earning her the nickname "Takenoko" (Little Bamboo) from the other village children. Sutemaru, the oldest among Kaguya's friends, develops a close relationship with her.

Miyatsuko comes upon gold and fine cloth in the bamboo grove in the same way he found his daughter. He takes these as proof of her divine royalty and begins planning to make her a proper princess. He relocates the family to the capital, forcing the girl to leave her friends behind, and the family moves into a mansion replete with servants. The girl is soon saddled with a governess who is tasked with taming her into a noblewoman. The girl struggles with the restraints of nobility, yearning for her prior life in the countryside.

When the girl comes of age, she is granted the formal name of "Princess Kaguya" by a name-father. Miyatsuko then holds a celebration, where Kaguya overhears partygoers ridiculing her father's attempts to turn a peasant girl into a noble through money. Kaguya flees the capital in despair and runs back to the mountains, seeking Sutemaru and her other friends, but discovers that they have all moved away. She passes out in the snow and awakens back at the party.

Kaguya grows in beauty, attracting suitors. Five noblemen attempt to court her, comparing her to mythical treasures. Kaguya tells them she will only marry whoever can bring her the mythical treasure mentioned. Two suitors attempt to persuade her with counterfeits, the third abandons his quest out of cowardice, and the fourth attempts to woo her with flattering lies. When the last suitor is killed in his own quest, Kaguya becomes depressed. Eventually, the Emperor takes notice of Kaguya's beauty and tries to kidnap her, but she foils him and convinces him to leave.

Kaguya reveals to her parents that she originally came from the Moon. Once a resident there, she broke its laws, hoping to be exiled to Earth so that she could experience mortal life. When the Emperor made his advances, she silently begged the Moon to help her. Having heard her prayer, the Moon restored her memories and said she will be reclaimed during the next full moon. Kaguya confesses her attachment to Earth and her reluctance to leave; Miyatsuko swears to protect Kaguya and begins turning the mansion into a fortress.

Kaguya then returns to her home village and finds Sutemaru. The two profess their love for one another, and in their joy they leap into the air and fly over the countryside, only to encounter the Moon and fall. Sutemaru wakes up alone and reunites with his wife and child, interpreting the whole experience as a dream.

On the night of the full moon, a procession of celestial beings led by the Buddha descends from the Moon, and Miyatsuko is unable to stop it. An attendant offers Kaguya a robe that will erase her memories of Earth. She is granted one last moment with her parents before an attendant drapes the robe around her, appearing to erase her memory. They leave, and Miyatsuko and his wife are distraught. Kaguya looks back at Earth one last time, and cries silently as she remembers her mortal life.

Voice castEdit

Character Japanese cast[9] English dub cast
Princess Kaguya Aki Asakura Chloë Grace Moretz
Caitlyn Leone (young)
Sutemaru Kengo Kora Darren Criss
The Bamboo Cutter Takeo Chii[a] James Caan
The Bamboo Cutter's Wife / The Narrator Nobuko Miyamoto Mary Steenburgen
Lady Sagami Atsuko Takahata Lucy Liu
Me no Warawa Tomoko Tabata Hynden Walch
Inbe no Akita Tatekawa Shinosuke George Segal
Prince Ishitsukuri Takaya Kamikawa James Marsden
Lord Minister of the Right Abe Hikaru Ijūin Oliver Platt
Great Counselor Otomo Ryudo Uzaki Daniel Dae Kim
The Mikado Nakamura Shichinosuke II Dean Cain
Prince Kuramochi Isao Hashizume Beau Bridges
Middle Counselor Isonokami Tamaki Kojo John Cho
  1. ^ Yuji Miyake recorded additional dialogue for the bamboo cutter following Takeo Chii's death.[10]


As a child, Takahata read The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. He recalled that he struggled to relate and sympathize with the protagonist; to him, the "heroine’s transformation was enigmatic" and that it "didn’t evoke any empathy from [him]".[11] In 1960, Takahata was preparing for a potential adaptation for his employer Toei Animation, which eventually was abandoned.[12] After rereading the tale, he realized the story's potential to be entertaining, as long as an adaptation allowed the audience to understand how Princess Kaguya felt.[11][13]

Studio Ghibli revealed that Isao Takahata was working on a feature-length film in 2008.[14] Takahata announced at the 62nd Locarno International Film Festival in 2009 that he intended to direct a film based on the anonymous Japanese literary tale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.[15]

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was financed by Nippon TV, whose late chairman, Seiichiro Ujiie, gave ¥5 billion (approximately $40 million) towards the project.[16] Ujiie loved Takahata's work, and pleaded with Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki to let Takahata make one more film.[17] Ujiie died on 3 March 2011, but not before being able to view the script and some of the storyboards.[18]

To make sure the audience emotionally connected with the film, it was important to Takahata that viewers were able to "imagine or recall the reality deep within the drawings", rather than be distracted by a realistic art style.[19] He wanted to have people "recollect the realities of this life by sketching ordinary human qualities with simple props".[20] To assist with this vision, Osamu Tanabe provided the character designs and animation, and Kazuo Oga drew the watercolor backgrounds.[16]

The release of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was finally confirmed by Studio Ghibli and distributor Toho on 13 December 2012.[21]


A variety of themes are presented in The Tale of Princess Kaguya, ranging from Feminism and the restriction of women, the beauty of life in spite of sorrow to the duties and responsibilities of parenting to mention a few.

Some of the most striking themes introduced are feminism and the restriction of women. Evidence of them is when Princess Kaguya and her adoptive parents moved to the capital city in order to find her a husband befitting her royal status. Such a decision confronted Princess Kaguya’s wishes, and mission, of living a simple rural life but her father’s urge to make her live a princess’ lifestyle prevailed.[22] Moreover, her mother’s submissive role in terms of decision-making is evident in the construction of the theme. Another feminist depiction is a dream sequence scene where Princess Kaguya bursts through a series of doors while she is hidden from the public eye during a party in her honour. These doors represent the barriers she faces from her family and society, depicting the many restrictions women face against their own wishes and desires.[23]

Another topic within the film is the illustration of how absurd notions of beauty can be, when she is instructed on the principles of beauty and behaviour of women in the Heian times, principles all royal women must follow.[24] However, the princess expresses her discontent and the pain of having to renounce humanity when expected to stop smiling or expressing any kind of feeling or thought. This reaction is received with discontent by her tutor, an expert in femininity. Moreover, as Princess Kaguya grows, and her beauty becomes renown, suitors come to the palace to claim her hand: they have never seen her, and will not see her until the wedding takes place. Facing such an undesired situation, the Princess gives them impossible tasks before making up her mind on who is to marry her. This shows the fierce determination of a woman in a world dominated by hierarchy and men, by portraying the female character, Princess Kaguya, as independent and introspective who is at times crestfallen and saddened by her living situation.[25]

The weight of immaterial pleasures over wealth is represented mainly through the drawings. We can see soft lines and muted hues expressing the simplicity of life in rural Japan where Princess Kaguya finds joy around friends and family. In contrast, life in the palace is represented with bolder colors insinuating indulgence. There, in the palace, Kaguya finds herself full of luxury and wealth, but she is also shown as caged and isolated and in many scenes the film shows how much she misses the simple rural life. This is represented in the scene where Princess Kaguya escapes from the palace searching for freedom. In this scene, Takahata uses spontaneous brush strokes abandoning the carefully drawn charcoal lines. The use of heavy and violent strokes when Princess Kaguya runs shows us her frustration and despair for having to live in the palace.[26] To add sadness and despair to the main character, her eyes start losing their brightness as the film progresses. There is a sense of drowning in her that is constructed when the Princess overheards a group of drunk men talking about wanting to see her and mocking her father for paying to turn her from a commoner to a princess. As a consequence, her indignation builds up, and culminates into a sob. Unable to externalise her discontent, and as a sign of irremediable fate, she takes a breath, the frame pulls back and we get a shrinking image of her surrounded by darkness.This represents her feeling of being constricted and trapped, the self-awareness of her isolation and surrender to the loss of the happy simple life she once had. Furthermore, both the life of peasants and aristocrats are represented tragically as poverty prevents love and the restrictions of class prevent Kaguya from enjoying the life she would have chosen for herself.[27]

Beauty in life in spite of pain and suffering is another theme. This is clear in the final scene where the gods come down to earth in order to take Kaguya back to the moon. In this particular scene, a terrible sad scene, where the main characters witness the inevitable separation, the gods come on immaculately white clouds, and they are coloured brightly with gentle hues. The joyful music played contrasts the image of the family crying in desperation which makes it all more dramatic. Although the deities seem attractive, the dominating mint greens and bold pinks give them an acerbic quality. This hints that their world which is clean and without sorrow is dull, if not harsh and bitter. In contrast, life on Earth is all charcoal. This suggests that life on earth means experiencing loss, grief, sadness and regret. Princess Kaguya, at first, refuses to leave this dark Earth, she states that Earth is full of wonder and beauty[28]. We learn that she would rather accept all the suffering this planet offers her than returning to that place where feelings are numbed and memories of sorrow deleted. This works as a conclusion as well as a message of hope in humanity.

Finally, another theme present in the movie is the call of adulthood and responsibility. Kaguya was sent from her world to the world of humans, perhaps as a punishment for misbehaviour, thus, she ignores the responsibilities that await her. So when she faces responsibilities on Earth in the palace, she feels completely upset but eventually realises they are part of her duty. This is in turn stating that everyone in society needs to grow up and live within its restrictions.[29] The theme is also developed with reference to parenting: both parents feel responsible for the princess’ happiness and wellbeing. The moment she arrives they devote themselves to that. Even though her father is blinded by his own understanding of duty for her daughter, it is always clear that he loves her above all and that he never intends to cause her pain. The scene where she confesses to him that she called the people from the moon, unwillingly, when she felt overwhelmed by the prince touching her without her consent, breaks her father’s heart. This is the moment when inevitability strikes the three of them, they will be set apart no matter how hard he tries, even when he set an army, cried and begged for her daughter. Parenting is pain and renunciation, they both left their humble but happy lives in order to fulfill their duties. Her mother’s mission, on the other hand, is to accompany her daughter in silence, to listen, to reproduce the home the princess misses so much in the kitchen’s palace, where she hides and seeks peace.


In 2012, Shin-ichiro Ikebe was announced to write the film's score. However, in 2013, Joe Hisaishi replaced Ikebe as the composer. This is the first and only time that Hisaishi has scored a film directed by Isao Takahata.[30] The theme song "When I Remember This Life" was written and performed by Nikaido Kazumi.[31][32][33] The music from the film's original soundtrack was released on 20 November 2013.

All tracks are written by Joe Hisaishi, except where noted.

3."The Little Princess"1:15
4."The Joy of Living"1:01
5."The Sprout"2:19
6."Li'l Bamboo"2:06
8."Mountain Hamlet"1:53
10."Setting Out"1:19
11."Autumn Harvest"0:39
12."Supple Bamboo"1:22
13."Writing Practice"0:47
14."The Garden of Life"0:25
15."The Banquet"1:22
17."The Coming of Spring"1:03
18."Melody of the Beautiful Koto"0:34
19."Spring Waltz"2:02
20."Memories of the Village"1:36
21."The Nobles' Wild Ride"1:29
23."Cicada Night"1:12
24."Mystery of the Moon"0:48
27."The City of the Moon"0:28
28."Going Home"1:19
30."The Procession of Celestial Beings I"2:28
31."The Parting"1:07
32."The Procession of Celestial Beings II"0:57
34."When I Remember This Life" (Written and performed by Nikaido Kazumi[33])5:42
35."Koto Melody"0:57
36."Nursery Rhyme"0:48
37."Song of the Heavenly Maiden"1:34


The Tale of The Princess Kaguya was initially announced to be released simultaneously with The Wind Rises, another Ghibli film by Hayao Miyazaki in Japan in the summer of 2013,[34] which would have marked the first time that the works of the two directors were released together since the release of the films My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies in 1988.[34] However, in February 2013, distributor Toho announced that the release of Kaguya-Hime no Monogatari would be delayed to 23 November 2013, citing concerns that the storyboards were not yet complete.[35][36] On 12 March 2014, independent distributor GKIDS announced that it had acquired the US rights for the film and that it would release an English dub version produced by Studio Ghibli and Frank Marshall.[37] Chloë Grace Moretz is the voice of the title character in the English dub. It was released in select theaters in North America on 17 October 2014 and was also released on DVD and Blu-ray on 17 February 2015.[38][39] The film was selected to be screened as part of the Directors' Fortnight section of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.[40] Its North American première took place at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival during the festival's "Masters" program.[41]


Box officeEdit

The film debuted at first place during its opening weekend in Japan, grossing ¥284 million ($2.8 million).[42] By 2 February 2014, the film had grossed ¥2,313,602,733 ($22,613,153) at the Japanese box office.[43] The film went on to gross ¥2.47 billion ($25.35 million) in Japan, where it was the eleventh top-grossing Japanese film of 2014.[44]

Overseas, the film grossed $703,232 in North America,[45] and $969,920 in other territories,[46] for a worldwide total of $27.02 million.

Critical receptionEdit

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes assigned the film a score of 100% "Certified Fresh" with an average rating of 8.21/10 based on 92 reviews. The critics' consensus says, "Boasting narrative depth, frank honesty, and exquisite visual beauty, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a modern animated treasure with timeless appeal."[47] It was the first film of the decade to receive a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating, making it one of the highest-rated films of the 2010s.[48][failed verification] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 89 out of 100 based on 28 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[49]

In February 2014, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya placed 4th in both Kinema Junpo's Best Ten and their Reader's Choice Awards.[50] David Ehrlich of The A.V. Club gave the film an A, deeming it "the best animated movie of the year," adding that it is "destined to be remembered as one of the revered Studio Ghibli’s finest achievements."[51] Nicolas Rapold of The New York Times praised the artwork calling it "exquisitely drawn with both watercolor delicacy and a brisk sense of line."[52]


Year Award Category Recipients and nominees Results
2013 64th Blue Ribbon Award[53] Best Film Nominated
Best Director Isao Takahata Nominated
68th Mainichi Film Awards[54][55] Animation Film Award Won
2014 8th Asia Pacific Screen Award[56] Best Animated Feature Film Yoshiaki Nishimura Won
37th Japan Academy Prize[57] Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Music Joe Hisaishi Nominated
Kinema Junpo Awards[58] Best Film Nominated
67th Cannes Film Festival[59] Art Cinema Award (Directors' Fortnight) Isao Takahata Nominated
Prix SACD (Directors' Fortnight) Isao Takahata Nominated
Fantastic Fest[60] Audience Award Won
62nd San Sebastián International Film Festival Audience Award Nominated
39th Toronto International Film Festival[41] People's Choice Award for Best Drama Feature Film Nominated
47th Sitges Film Festival[61] Best Animated Feature Nominated
36th Mill Valley Film Festival[62] Audience Award for Best Animated Film Won
18th Oslo Films from the South Festival[63] Best Feature Nominated
35th Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[64] Best Animated Film Isao Takahata Won
40th Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[65] Best Animated Film Isao Takahata Won
Chicago Film Critics Association[66] Best Animated Feature Nominated
San Francisco Film Critics Circle[67] Best Animated Feature Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association[68] Best Animated Feature Won
18th Online Film Critics Society Awards[69] Best Animated Film Nominated
Best Foreign Language Film Nominated
87th Academy Awards[70] Best Animated Feature Film Isao Takahata, Yoshiaki Nishimura Nominated
2015 42nd Annual Annie Awards[71] Best Animated Feature Nominated
Directing in an Animated Feature Production Isao Takahata Nominated
Music in a Feature Production Joe Hisaishi Nominated
2016 21st Empire Awards[72][73] Best Animated Film Nominated

See alsoEdit


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