Follow TV Tropes


Anime / The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Go To

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a 2013 Japanese animation film from Studio Ghibli, directed by Isao Takahata, based on the 10th-century Japanese folk story The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Clocking in at 2 hours and 17 minutes, it stands as Ghibli's longest film ever released and the fourth-longest animated film in the world. It's also the longest animated movie to not be tied to a preexisting media franchise.

A bamboo cutter discovers a miniature girl in a bamboo shoot. He and his wife take her in, naming her "Princess Kaguya" and raising her to be a lady. As Kaguya grows in beauty, she also remembers her origins on the Moon, and is torn between returning there and her love for her life on Earth.

This was Takahata's last directorial work before his death in April 2018, though not the last project he was involved in (that being The Red Turtle in 2016, which he co-produced alongside Toshio Suzuki, Vincent Maraval, Pascal Caucheteux, and Grégoire Sorlat). It was dubbed and released in North America in 2014, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, a first for an anime film not directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It was also the first Ghibli film to be distributed on home video by Universal in North America. It also is currently the highest-budget anime film ever made, having a budget of $49 million (5 billion Yen)note .


No relation to Kaguya-sama: Love is War. The same Japanese folk tale that inspired this film was adapted back in 1987 as a live-action feature called Princess From the Moon.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The film follows the folktale close enough, but adds more Character Development and scenes to flesh out the story more.
  • Adaptational Self-Defense: In the original folktale the Impossible Task Kaguya assigns to each suitor is depicted as an example of feminine caprice, while the film makes clear that Kaguya has very good reasons for wanting these strange men to leave her alone and she is utterly horrified to learn her demands ultimately got one of them killed.
  • Adult Fear:
    • A toddler Kaguya strays from her father in the woods and gets nearly attacked by a wild boar. Luckily, she's rescued.
    • Advertisement:
    • Inadvertently ruining your child's life when trying to give them a better one.
  • Amnesiac God: The film plays with this, as Kaguya is revealed to be a Lunarian — an immortal celestial being from the Moon, whose ranks include the Buddha — who was temporarily exiled to Earth with her memories of her prior life being erased as punishment. When the other Lunarians place a celestial robe on her, restoring her divine status, her memories of her mortal life on Earth are erased.
  • All Just a Dream:
    • Kaguya goes through one after overhearing some highly unflattering comments by inebriated guests, wherein she runs back to the village only to find everyone gone.
    • Later, Sutemaru has one about flying away with Kaguya, leaving his family behind.
    • Both moments are ambiguous and indicate that at least some of it might have happened as her dreams seem to overlapped with actual events (Kaguya is given some plot-relevant information in the former, and with the latter, while it's reasonable to assume that the running off and flying part must have been a dream, everything up till that point is presented in a perfectly down-to-earth, realistic manner... And everything Kaguya says and does is things Sutemaru would have no possible way of knowing about.
  • An Aesop:
    • Money can't buy happiness. A poor and happy life is better than a rich and miserable one.
    • Living a life that makes you miserable to please others will only leave you full of regrets when you reach the end of your life.
    • Giving your child a better life only works if you pay attention to what makes them happy, and give them the life they want rather than the one you think they should have.
  • Analogy Backfire: The fourth suitor claims that he offers Kaguya, not the Buddhist Begging Bowl he promised, but a simple wildflower. He explains to Kaguya that in his search for the treasure, he happened upon the wildflower instead and found it more suitable to represent his 'devotion' for her. As opposed to his and the other suitors' claims of how their love for her were like impossible treasures, it makes it look like his love has shifted to becoming just like that flower: simple but natural and blooming. But when it's revealed he's made that speech before to other girls (including his begrudging current wife), said-wife makes a scathing point that his wildflower speech is but a glorified pick-up line. If anything, it only serves to reflect how he really views women: as easily attainable as common wildflowers to pluck up and then dispose of when he tires of them.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Near the end, Kaguya confesses to Sutemaru in a (possible) dream that she's loved him all along and could have been happy with him, but knows it's too late since she has to return to the moon soon.
  • Arcadia: Country life is romanticized, showing peasant children enjoying chore-free summers.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: Zigzagged. Breastfeeding is portrayed matter-of-factly with nipples shown in close-up, and the infants are often without pants, but the girls get the Barbie Doll treatment while the boys do not. When Kaguya is older and goes swimming with her friends, she removes her clothes and has a complete Barbie Doll job.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Me no Warawa almost pulls one off when she recruits the neighbourhood kids to sing Kaguya's childhood nursery rhyme about the blessings of life on Earth as she's about to be taken away. It doesn't work, but it does make her pause and drop the robe of forgetfulness long enough for her parents to reach her and say goodbye one last time.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: When the fifth suitor dies, there is a close-up on his hand opening to show a hatched baby swallow.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The emissaries from the moon are not even remotely bad beings, but they also do not seem to realize that no one considers what they're doing to be something good. They are, to put it simply, in an uncanny way harmoniously detached and oblivious of how utterly inhumane they really are. The way they envision earthly life as "impure", and something worth to be punished for longing for could put them in the Scary Dogmatic Aliens category.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor Kaguya endures several over the film, but the two biggest examples have to be learning the fifth suitor killed himself trying to fetch a swallow's egg shell for her, and after the Emperor embraces her without her consent, leaving her with Dull Eyes of Unhappiness that hastens her symbolic death to the moon.
  • Bumbling Dad: Kaguya's father obviously means well, but his attempts to make her happy just make her more and more miserable which hastens her return to the moon.
  • Casting Gag: A subtle one. The old woodcutter is voiced by Tatsuya Nakadai in the Japanese version. Nakadai had played a woodcutter in one of the ghost stories in Kwaidan.
  • Cast of Snowflakes: Despite the simple art style of the movie, all characters look different from each other.
  • Cat Smile: Kaguya's handmaiden Me no Warawa sports a subtle one.
  • Cherry Blossoms: There are falling sakura petals before the five suitors arrive.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Poor unlucky Sutemaru. Or rather, Kaguya is this to him since she dies tragically young while he marries and starts a family.
  • Comforting Comforter: In an early scene the mother covers sleeping Kaguya with a sheet.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Best exemplified with Kaguya's tutor. Her tutor teaches her how to be a proper lady, which is very tedious and restrictive. Her tutor also imposes contemporary fashion standards that the audience knows to look off (like plucking her eyebrows and rubbing black charcoal over her teeth), but are considered beautiful during the time the film is set in. Her tutor also insists that if Kaguya chooses a rich man's hand she will be happy, but Kaguya points out that she's never met or seen any of these men or vice-versa, so how can they love her, and how can she find happiness pledging her hand to a stranger?
  • Diving Save: How Sutemaru rescues Kaguya from a mama boar.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The whole story, on Kaguya's father side, is a fantasy retelling of what fatherhood and the relative Adult Fear means:
    • The Bamboo Cutter, the very day meets his daughter, is instantly smitten with her, naming her his "princess" and acting as she'll be destined to be the most beautiful, important girl in his whole life. Exactly as every father is led to believe his own daughter is the cutest, brightest, loveliest little princess around.
    • Kaguya grows at an extraordinary rate in the first act of the movie, often with other characters commenting upon her growth with every spurt she has (often following some special event, like flowers suddenly blooming or her learning how to crawl and walk). Now, what exactly is it grown-ups tend to say regarding children? "They grow up so fast."
    • The Bamboo Cutter has always shown signs of being a protective, worrywart of a father. But losing your little daughter in the woods, or a big area with little to nothing hopes of finding her in time is the quintessential Adult Fear.
    • Kaguya eventually grows up, and her adoptive father accidentally screws her whole life by trying to provide her an upperclass education and find her a high-ranking husband. Almost every father wants his daughter to have a better life than the one he led, sometimes without stopping to collect her own opinions in the process.
    • Kaguya refuses to tell her father how she feels, to avoid hurting him. Her father couldn't have possibly known what's wrong with her. He sees her sullen and moody for all her teenage years, and every attempt to cheer her up is shot down. Exactly as the average complaint of a father unable to connect with his teenage daughter.
    • In the end, Kaguya has to get back to her kingdom on the moon, forgetting her life on Earth. How does a father feel when he becomes suddenly aware that his daughter is going to live on her own, possibly ending up somewhere where being in contact frequently would be very hard, if not impossible?
    • The whole plot point with donning the celestial robe and forgetting everyone on Earth could be related to a daughter moving far away, "forgetting" about her parents and never calling them.
  • Double Standard: The film critiques this big time, since Kaguya grows up in a patriarchal environment. She and her mother receive scolding for out-of-line behavior while the more bumbling suitors and Kaguya's father are virtually free of reproach. Kaguya and her mother are also forced to adhere to much more restrictive "in-line" behavior, while her father and suitors still can't be bothered to follow the lax rules set out for them.
  • Downer Ending: Kaguya is taken back to the Moon, the celestial robe placed on her stripping her of all memory of everything she experienced. It's implied she has some sense of what she's lost, judging both by her story of the one who came before her, but she only remembers enough to know she's sad and doesn't know why, given her backwards glance at the Earth. According to Isao Takahata, the movie is about a girl who is born and grows up but dies young.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Kaguya's father thinks giving her a mansion, fancy things, lady training, and a rich husband will make her happy. He also imposes strict behavior standards on her as a lady, to the point that for years she's not allowed to ever run, laugh, play, have friends, or be out in nature—to the point that he scolds her for simply playing with a cat in the garden at one point, and she sits in a literal gilded cage alone in a dark room while he and the other male guests get to drink and party in her honor. Then, later, he acts SURPRISED to learn that she is miserable in the restrictive life he imposed on her.
  • Dramatic Drop: Kaguya drops a flower pot when hearing about the death of one of the suitors.
  • Easy Amnesia: As easy as putting on a robe of forgetfulness.
  • Empathic Environment: Rain starts pouring down when Sutemaru gets curbstomped in the street after bumping into Kaguya again.
  • Engagement Challenge: Kaguya sets up an Impossible Task for each of her suitors to avoid marriage. Most of the suitors cheat, allowing her to reject them, but the last one ends up getting himself killed, much to Kaguya's horror.
  • Eyes Always Shut: Me no Warawa, who opens her eyes rarely (usually when shocked).
  • Flower from the Mountaintop: In order to win the hand of Princess Kaguya, the first suitor quests himself to pluck a branch from the tree of jewels that grows on the Mountain of Horai. He later shows up with a counterfeit made by craftsmen.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Around the middle of the film, Kaguya states that the moment she marries the Emperor and her father dons the hat of a court official, she will kill herself. Later in the film, after the Emperor attempts to make his advances on her, Kaguya ends up inadvertently summoning the lunarians to take her away, and they do indeed do so at the end of the film. Where this really comes into play is an explanation by Isao Takahata himself that Kaguya's departure is symbolic of death, meaning she did indeed end up killing herself in a metaphorical sense.
    • A subtle one near the start of the film. While Kaguya is still a baby, a number of kids nickname her "bamboo" and beckon her toward them. Her father insists that her name is "Princess," and beckons her toward him instead. While little Kaguya would obviously prefer to be with the kids, she's swayed to go to her father instead. When she gets older, even though she'd rather stay with Sutemaru and live as a bamboo-cutter's daughter in the mountains, she lets her parents (particularly her father) persuade her to move to the city to live as a noble lady instead. This leads to years of unhappiness, and she dies full of regret.
  • Flight of Romance: Towards the end, Kaguya and Sutemaru seemingly re-unite with a romantic flight sequence, before it turns into All Just a Dream / Or Was It a Dream? see description above.
  • From Dress to Dressing: Kaguya patches up Sutemaru this way after a tumble off a rocky hillside.
  • Gigantic Moon: The moon has an enormous size when Kaguya flees the city to get back to her home in the forest. Justified as this scene later turns out to be All Just a Dream.
  • Gilded Cage: Kaguya's life as a high-class lady is a very restrictive one.
  • Gonk: One of the suitors is incredibly obese. Another has an ugly wife.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: And not-so-gorgeous, like blackened teeth and plucked eyebrows.
  • Happy Rain: During their Flight of Romance towards the end, Sutemaru and Kaguya are seen enjoying the pouring rain.
  • Heroic BSoD: Kaguya goes through one when she hears one of the suitors died while on his quest.
  • Impossible Task: What Kaguya orders her suitors to accomplish if they want her hand in marriage. One of the suitors even uses the trope's name in the English dub.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Several characters make remarks about Kaguya's beauty.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: When Kaguya gets to her prepubescent years, she doffs her clothes (with Barbie Doll Anatomy) with the other kids while swimming with no problem, since all she's known is being One of the Boys. The boys are left agape.
  • Intangibility: Kaguya somehow does this when the Emperor gets a little too close.
  • Irony: The fifth suitor dies from falling and breaking his spine, whilst a tiny unharmed swallow hatchling escapes its shell and hatches in the palm of his dead hand. Such imagery is quite grim.
  • It's All About Me:
    • The Emperor is convinced that Kaguya refused five suitors so she could belong to him.
    • Downplayed for Kaguya's father. He honestly wants to make her happy by making her rich, but let's be honest: the higher her status, the higher his by proxy. When he encourages her to become the Emperor's concubine Kaguya calls him out on it, pointing out that if she did he would become a court official, and by this point she's done sacrificing her own happiness for his advancement.
  • It's All Junk: Kaguya eventually realizes her treasured little garden (that she shaped to resemble their old home in the mountains) is just a fake imitation of the real thing she always wanted. She ends up destroying it in a fit of emotion.
  • Lonely at the Top: The higher her popularity as "Princess Kaguya" rises, the more lonely and miserable she feels.
  • Love Interest: Sutemaru is the most prominent male presence in Kaguya's life next to her own father... or he was, before her family moved away to the city and he dropped out of her life almost completely. During the final act, she reunites with him and reveals her wish that she might have been able to live her life with him, only for the people of the moon to confront her, leading Kaguya to return to her final days at the palace and Sutemaru back to his wife and children.
  • Loving a Shadow: Kaguya has countless admirers and no less than five suitors competing for her hand, despite none of them ever having seen or looked at her.
  • Lunarians: The Moon People, who eventually arrive to collect Kaguya.
  • Mid-Suicide Regret: One of the most tragic examples. When the Emperor embraces her from behind she wants nothing more than to return to the moon, inadvertently summoning the People of the Moon to come fetch her. After the shock wears off, she realizes she still wants to stay on earth, and realizes she could still leave her Gilded Cage behind and live the life she wants... if only the People of the Moon weren't coming to get her no matter what so soon. In the end they come to get her and place a Cloak of Forgetfullness above her, which Word of God explains symbolizes a young woman dying tragically young and experiencing The Nothing After Death.
  • Mind Screw: It's difficult to figure out what exactly is the point of the ending without Word of God to explain the symbolism. The relentless approach of the People of the Moon is not an attack by Scary Dogmatic Aliens, but the souls of the departed coming to bring Kaguya because she's dying and destined for The Nothing After Death.
  • Modest Royalty: Kaguya and her parents retain their peasant history even when they move to the capital. Kaguya becomes a Rebellious Princess (see below), her mother continues to work in the kitchen and garden, and her father keeps his oafishness despite being the most adamant to adopt royalty.
  • Mood Whiplash: The fifth suitor triumphantly grasping a swallow's egg before pratfalling into a large kettle slap-stick style is Played for Laughs, until the very next scene reveals he died from the fall. Princess Kaguya is understandably distraught.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Kaguya is distraught to learn that her Impossible Task got her fifth suitor killed.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Kaguya was genuinely happy living as a simple bamboo cutter's daughter in the mountains. Then her father decides to buy her a mansion in the capital, give her proper lady training, and put her on the marriage market for rich suitors, ruining her happiness and hastening her return to the moon.
  • Noblewoman's Laugh: Averted. While Sagami tells Kaguya that refined women do not laugh loudly, she doesn't give a demonstration.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Kaguya realizes pretty quickly that she's not happy living in the Gilded Cage her father set up for her, but tries to play along to make him happy. After being miserable for years, she dies tragically young, ruing all the time she wasted living a life she hated instead of using what little time she had on earth to be happy.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Kaguya's menarche kicks off the chain of events that ends with her return to the moon.
  • One of the Boys: Kaguya when she becomes a part of Sutemaru's gang.
  • Overprotective Dad: Averted with Kaguya's father, who does indeed want the best for Kaguya, including the highest-ranking husband possible.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Kaguya starts to give one of these as she's saying her final goodbye to her parents and to the Earth, adamant that the moon people's attempt to downplay her hesitation by pointing out the impurity of Earth and the sorrow and pain that exist in it only reveals that they don't fully grasp the complexities and blessings of life on this planet and of the humans who inhabit it. Indeed they don't (nor do they care), for they place the robe of forgetfulness on her mid-speech and shut her down.
  • Prince Charmless: Mildly downplayed by the Emperor who, though he carries himself with grace, is also an egocentric twit who arrives at the conclusion that Kaguya must've refused all other suitors because she's waiting for him to propose. After this he goes on to decide that he's Entitled to Have Her and attempts to take her with him against her will, reasoning that no girl has never wanted him not to take her. Even after Kaguya has made it as clear as possible that she wants nothing to do with him, he insists that it's his conviction that her happiness is dependent on her belonging to him.
  • Princess Protagonist: Kaguya, though raised by woodcutters and technically a celestial immortal, is referred to as princess, and eventually leaves her happy simple life to live like a princess.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The wife of the third suitor gives her husband one of these, knowing that Kaguya would probably become just another disposable spouse of his, just like she has become.
  • Rebellious Princess: Justified with the titular Kaguya, as she grew up in a hamlet surrounded by nature and friends, as well as allowed more freedom than when she became a princess. This is also downplayed is that she does succumb to much of the traditions for a time to keep her father pleased.
  • Rescue Romance: Kaguya first meets her childhood friend Sutemaru when he rescues her from a wild boar.
  • Retraux: The film's art style, based on ukiyo-e watercolor paintings.
  • Rule of Symbolism: All over the place.
    • Kaguya's father gives her a bird in a cage for a present which represents her own situation in the Gilded Cage. She decides to free the bird.
    • During the feast her father throws to celebrate her first period, Kaguya sits in a literal cage alone behind a curtain, while all the men get to drink, laugh, and party supposedly in her honor. The dejected look on her face says it all.
    • The five suitors compare her beauty to impossible treasures as proof of their love, despite having never seen her. When she asks them to go find said treasures they sputter that that's impossible, which she takes to mean their love for her is as non-existent as the treasures they describe. She's tragically right.
    • The first two suitors show up and claim they found the impossible treasure she requested, only for them to turn out to be fakes. Kaguya lampshades that their love is as fake as the public image her father cultivated for her.
    • The third suitor brings a single wild flower he plucked from the side of the road as a symbol of his affection. His wife (whom it's implied he wooed with this same pickup line) turns up and demands to know how many more flowers he intends to pluck and discard in this manner.
    • The emperor embracing her from behind without her consent, her horrified reaction, her subsequent Empty Shell and Dull Eyes of Unhappiness behavior, and her news to her parents that his embrace made her want to escape so intensely that it hastened her inescapable return to the moon, can all be read as symbolism for Kaguya experiencing Rape as Drama and then being Driven to Suicide or Death by Despair.
    • The people of the moon could easily be read as a Take That! to Buddhism. Not only does the leader of the moon people resemble the Buddha, but they're described as ageless, immortal beings who never experience the miseries of mortal life (hunger, pain, fear, sorrow, loss, grief, aging, sickness, or death) but also never its joys or pleasures either. (One of the core tenets of Buddhism is rising above worldly suffering and desire to obtain enlightenment.) The moon and its people can be seen as symboling nirvana (a state of permanent peace, liberation, and "consciousness without feature, without end" beyond suffering and desire). Kaguya's passionate speech that she's learned that it's better to experience all the joys and hardships of mortal life than the bland immortal existence, and them putting the cloak of forgetfullness on her anyway is unambiguously depicted as a Downer Ending.
  • Running Gag: Kaguya's father losing his hat every time he walks through a doorway.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: One of Kaguya's suitors compares her to a cowry shell kept warm in a swallow's nest; she responds by requesting that he bring such a thing to her in exchange for her hand. This is 'easily' the least exotic comparison made, and thus the least exotic demand, but he falls just after grabbing something from a nest, shouting out in triumph, tumbling to land face-first in a giant pot, lethally breaking his spine. His treasure ends up being a mundane bird's egg, with the chick inside chirping.
  • Shout-Out:
  • So Happy Together: Sutemaru and Kaguya's reunion and Flight of Romance are too good to last more than a couple of scenes.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The Tear Jerker ending is set to very happy festival music. Justified Trope as the inhabitants of the Moon do not know anything about sorrow or suffering; they are pretty much incapable of realizing that a Soundtrack Dissonance is even possible.
  • Stern Teacher: Sagami, though she admits that Kaguya performs better when not in her lessons.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Kaguya's childhood is relatively happy. Once she's taken to the capital, however, things sour:
    • She's immediately shut off from her childhood friends.
    • Her teacher is demanding and has no tolerance for her lack of enthusiasm.
    • Her first period is met with her father putting her on the marriage market.
    • Suitors are immediately struck by her, before even having met her, which puts pressure her to marry someone she doesn't even know.
    • She briefly sees one childhood friend in the street, which mainly makes him pause in shock and be thoroughly beaten.
    • One suitor successfully plays to her interests, but is strongly implied to be manipulating her rather than being genuine as the parents secretly have one of his earlier wives present at his proposal to verify his sincerity.
    • Another accidentally dies in an attempt to woo her (see Shoot the Shaggy Dog above).
    • The Emperor concludes that she's shooting everyone else down because she's holding out for him, and when he embraces her from behind, she panics, and sets in motion her return to the Moon.
    • In the end, she can do nothing to stop it; even under protest, as she recognizes both the good and the bad of Earth and clearly doesn't want to forget it, the celestial robe is placed on her anyway.
  • Uptown Girl: Kaguya becomes this to Sutemaru after her father moves her to the capital.
  • "Well Done, Daughter!" Girl: This is why Kaguya endures the traditions as long as she does in order to please her father.
  • Women Are Wiser: Kaguya's mother and handmaiden understand her and what makes her happy better than her father ever does.
  • Wonder Child: Kaguya is found dressed as a princess no more than a few inches tall, then turns into a fast-growing baby.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: One suitor does seem to align to her interest and understands her longing to escape her mansion and she nearly considers it... until it's revealed that his wife is present and he made a similar promise to her.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: No one is able to resist Kaguya's return to the Moon.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: During Kaguya's dream sequence, she discovers that the villagers of her former countryside home have migrated somewhere else and the fields will take a long time to regain their life. This reveals that even the option to go back home is not available.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Kaguya's father enlists the entire household to shoot down the Moon delegation as they arrive. However, the arrows turn to flowers mid-air, and everyone falls asleep save Kaguya's parents.

Alternative Title(s): The Tale Of Princess Kaguya


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: