The Tale of Princess Kaguya: Themes & Background

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a 2013 Japanese animation movie. With Isao Takahata as director, this movie became one of the expensive movies ever made at the time. Adapted from an old Japanese folk tale, it tells a simple, beautiful, and poignant story.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

This film is based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, an old, imaginative folktale. In the original story, a bamboo cutter finds a little child in bamboo. Taking her to be a deity, he takes care of her. As time goes by, she grows to be a beautiful lady. So for her befitting status, the parents migrate to the city with the money acquired when they found her. However, the girl becomes uncomfortable in the city. And after regaining her memories, she goes backs to her own divine realm. Thus leaving behind the Earth and her adopted family.

Themes (The Tale of Princess Kaguya)

This movie has various themes. As the movie revolves around a female character, it is mostly related to feminism, the restrictions thrust on women. Other than that, another significant theme is life in sorrow and one’s duties and responsibilities as an adult.

Discovering Princess Kaguya
Finding Princess Kaguya

Restrictions meted out to women is a recurrent subject. For instance, Princess Kaguya is forced to relocate to the city. There she couldn’t voice her opinion. Also, it was mainly for her marriage, to gain status. Her parents did it for her, but her wish was not taken into consideration. She likes to live in the village, but she couldn’t live there. She tried to run away, but that too was in vain. All her actions fail and she is left heartbroken. If we relate these to her mother, she is also deemed helpless. She could only listen to her husband and perform her assigned duties.

Princess Kaguya - traditions and repression
Traditions and repression

The Tale of Princess Kaguya highlights many actions that are socially put forth on how to behave as a woman. It underscores how a woman has to suppress her emotion and never let it show it on the face. As an extension of that, it signifies that a woman becomes acceptable as a woman when she kills her emotions. They are taught to not pay heed to it, treat it as useless. Her ‘duties’ are taken to only serve others without taking care of her own self-worth.

Life and sorrow

Another theme is life and its inevitable disappointments and heartache. Life is pain. Princess Kaguya lives all her life in agony and sadness. Her wishes do not really come true. Her greatest wish to live in Earth’s realm is also shattered, as she is originally a being from the Moon. She wishes to live freely on Earth. But she becomes imprisoned in a palatial lifestyle. She could never escape from it. Finally, she is forced to return to her original realm.

Princess Kaguya - like a caged bird
Like a caged bird.

Her parents only did their duties. They love her unconditionally, so they only wish for her well-being. She is a mystical beauty, so they decide only the title of a ‘princess’ fits her adequately. Thus dragging her off to the city. But its effect is the opposite. She lives there like a bird in a cage. Her freedom is restricted. Her parents are helpless when the celestial beings finally come to take her back to her abode. They could only wail and cry for their daughter. Thus coming to realize, all that effort in vain.


The movie is adapted from the ‘Tale of the Bamboo cutter’. It’s a very old c. 10th-century Japanese monogatari relating the sorrowful story of a woman. It is told quite splendidly too.

The animation in the film uses soft, watercolor shades. Thus the visual design becomes as beautiful and delicate as the strokes of a brush. This brings a note of both serenity and fragility in the movie. For Kaguya’s life in the village, the color and effect were simple. But when it changes to the city, the colors become brighter and more flamboyant. It highlights a drastic difference between life in a city and a village. It also shows the materialistic differences.

Moon Princess
The Moon Princess

All the brushstrokes enhance the deeper meanings of the story. The visual design almost magically takes us into different realms, behind the scenes. The effect lasts longer and all the messages are conveyed perfectly.

The life of a woman is never easy. They have to take priority of others before themselves. That’s unfair treatment. Before anything else, a woman is also a living being with emotions. They have their own choices. with aspirations as men do. It is a mistake to treat women as powerless because they have power that is unfathomable.

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