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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a retelling of a 10th-century Japanese fable about a tiny, mysterious princess who sprouts from a bamboo stalk and is raised by an elderly bamboo cutter and his wife. The movie, which is available in both the original Japanese (with English subtitles) and in dubbed English, should appeal to mature elementary schoolers who are already fans of movies like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. There are a couple of scenes of violence -- including the death or disappearance of a couple of characters -- as well as a moment when a woman's bare breast is shown because she's nursing. Families who enjoy fantasies and folk tales should consider seeing this unique film together; it has serious themes and moments of heartbreak, but it also offers strong messages about what children need to thrive (love, encouragement, and the freedom to be themselves) and how striving for social status will ultimately leave you dissatisfied.
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What's the story?
THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA retells an ancient Japanese folk tale about an elderly bamboo cutter (voiced by James Caan in the English dubbed version) who finds a tiny, magical princess sprouting from a shining bamboo stalk. Shocked by the discovery, he runs home with the tiny princess in his hand. There, the old man and his wife (Mary Steenburgen) watch as the she transforms into a baby. The baby grows faster than other kids and is soon a delightful, curious girl out enjoying the forest with the local boys. One day, the bamboo cutter finds that the bamboo is shining again, this time with treasure. With his newfound fortune, the bamboo cutter moves to the city to give his princess a proper "young lady's" education, complete with an uptight royal governess. Despondent about moving away from her beloved country home, Kaguya's (Chole Grace Moretz) only joy is an outdoor garden she tends for herself. When she comes of age, tales of her beauty reach the highest levels of Japanese society, and five titled men vie for her hand in marriage. But Kaguya still misses her first crush, Sutemaru (Darren Criss), from her childhood home.
Is it any good?
Director Isao Takahata's (Studio Ghibli co-founder) poignant hand-drawn adventure is gorgeously animated. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is sure to make audiences think about everything from parent-child relationships to the oppressive trappings of class to the far-reaching consequences of ignoring your child's potential. This is far from the typical happily-ever-after stories many families are used to seeing, but fans of Japanese animation may not be surprised by the serious themes and at times heartbreaking scenes.
The animation stresses the beauty of the natural and the ridiculousness of the artificial. The story does the same, largely in the form of the governess' demands that Kaguya pluck her eyebrows, blacken her teeth, pull up her hair, and never, ever run -- which are all depicted as ludicrous (much like in Brave). Kaguya yearns for the forest, for freedom, and for her beloved Sutemaru, who treated her as an equal, not a prize to possess. Parents may feel a pang of sadness as they relate with both the Bamboo Cutter, who does what he thinks is best for Kaguya's future, and his wife, who understands that what her daughter wants is her forest home and quiet moments of happiness.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of Japanese animation. Why is it so appealing?
The studio behind The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Studio Ghibli, is known for offering alternatives to mainstream Hollywood movies. What sets them apart from animated movies made in the United States?
What do you think the message of this fairy tale is? Were you surprised by the way the story ended? What would you have liked to happen?
- In theaters: October 17, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: February 17, 2015
- Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen
- Director: Isao Takahata
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More
- Character strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 137 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, some violent action and partial nudity
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: February 2, 2021
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