Princess Kaguya is found by a bamboo cutter inside the stem of bamboo plant. Assuming it’s a gift from the heavens, he and his wife take the child on as their own. They then plan to organise a wetnurse, which seems like drawing a long bow sing the child magically appeared inside a tree and may not even be human. Walking across a log bridge in the forest, the old man’s wife suddenly pauses and miraculously any vestiges of her post-menopausal state seem to vanish as she removes her own breast from her blouse and begins feeding the baby.
Now you don’t get that kind of behaviour in a Disney film! (A young boy also gets punched multiple times in the face later in the film, just for stealing a chicken.)
Then again, this is a Studio Ghibli film directed by Isao Takahata who brought us perhaps one of the most harrowing animated features ever with Grave of the Fireflies – a film following two children in the nuclear fallout of the bombs dropped in Hiroshima during WWII. So, subtlety and quirky woodland creatures is not the order of the day for The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
Whether Kaguya is indeed a princess, is something that is debated constantly throughout the film, through the conviction of the bamboo cutter and his wife, against the sceptics who come to question how a child born in a bamboo shoot could possess regal blood. Nevertheless Kaguya does everything within her means to enchant potential suitors with her koto playing, while presenting her less attractive side for those she does not wish to be pursued by.
She is certainly an industrious and creative bamboo child. She would be a blessing to have as a daughter. She is polite, well-humoured and pretty. But she is an independent modern bamboo child. A rebel even. So for her woodcutter parents, who want nothing more than for her to be married, she looks destined to live a single life tormenting those who desire her affection.
Takahata has cleverly captured the complexities of a rebel who still suffers from her own insecurities about her appearance, while displaying a confident veneer. Kaguya’s desire to remain independent is juxtaposed against her quest to find a place where she fits in. The child, born of a bamboo tree to barren parents in a traditional patriarchal society of Japanese villagers; she is certainly an accurate representation of young adults.
Perhaps if bamboo sticks were involved more in childrearing, the world would be a better place. (Bamboo sticks used for birthing royal babies; i.e. not for beatings.)