Discovering a story that’s significant to another culture is a fascinating thing to me . We have particular expectations of etiquette for the simplest things in life; when we sit on the bus with a stranger, when we order coffee, or have dinner with friends. When I watch something like The Princess of Kaguya, I’m experiencing something from people with quintessentially different notions about these. For the inquisitive, there are few better ways to learn about the inspirations and drivings of a people different to yourself, than to hear their stories.
More like a moving drawing than a traditional movie, this tale is apparently Japan’s oldest recorded, originating 1000 years back. It’s vivid imagination is characteristic of Studio Ghibli’s eccentric style, and had I not bothered to read the original story, may have mistook it for another of their creative pregnancies.
Though it shares structural similarities to many other classical tales of historical stature, The Princess of Kaguya is not a tragedy like Oedipus nor a doctrinal narrative like Journey to the West – it’s simply a story. It dabbles with the struggles of growing up and societal expectations versus individual freedom. Both of which it does with a warming depth and restful pacing.
This is certainly not a movie for people with short attention spans. Kaguya expects you can get by on relaxed, serene characterisation, as it’s not an overly eventful. It’s not rushed by fear of disinterest. You’ll need a phlegmatic tranquility and a listener’s patience to fully enjoy what’s being told. It’s reminiscent of a slow and steady bedtime story that finds joy and contentment in the small details and the seemingly insignificant – all of which is evidenced by a brevity of music. The wind and leaves are the main chimes you’ll hear.
I’ve always said (at least in my head, and in the last few years) that writing is more than just dialogue; it’s comprised of pacing, atmosphere and scenery. There are many ways to tell a story apart from simply telling it. Kaguya has the opposite problem. For all it’s nuance and charm, Kaguya has a schoolyard language that makes it seem like a children’s book – though it’s not particular meant to be. The dialogue interweaves between unnoticeable to annoyingly juvenile, which unfortunately juxtaposes an otherwise well-told tale. You may not want to hear everyone speak, but you will want to hear and see everything else.