The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The expectedly exquisite new film from Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata adapts “the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” Japan’s oldest recorded folktale, by shifting emphasis just slightly as per house style: The title character here, more properly, is the adoptive daughter of the bamboo cutter, that simple country man who first discovered her inside a glowing plant and quite reasonably determined she was royalty. Not that it’s a contest, but as animated fable-epic heroines go, Ghibli princesses still are the best — the most gracefully independent, the most profoundly archetypal, the most human. Groomed for an aristocracy of which she’s wisely skeptical, Kaguya has much discomfiture to contend with, particularly a parade of variously unacceptable suitors. There’s also the gradually pressing question of her mysterious, supernatural origin. Subtly supported by Joe Hisaishi’s delicate score, Takahata works in a hand-drawn pastel style, showing a rare bucolic sensitivity that’s perfect for the almost overwhelming wistfulness his tale accumulates. On one level, it’s a loving assembly of little details — the well-observed frolicking of a baby or a frog or a kitten, the lone tear Kaguya sheds when first having her eyebrow plucked — but something deeper must be at play given the movie’s eerily devastating finale. Reportedly developed over the course of several years, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is on the long and busy side, but it works its magic by filling up with and fully appreciating life.