The Tale of Princess Kaguya: the serenity of death, the intensity of life

first impression

I wasn't sure what I was getting myself when I began watching this on October 12. With respect to the (non)order I watched each Ghibli film, it was among the Ghibli films I watched going in the blindest; I sort of naturally watched much of the essential Ghiblis first (the period of time where people to me were like oh watch this one next, oh watch that one next, etc) before proceeding to the ones no one is bold enough to recommend. Picked this one out cause I saw it mentioned in Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, a documentary I watched sometime prior. Also watched that doc sometime after seeing The Wind Rises (which is what the doc was mainly about). That's relevant to mention because its the reason why I specially tier Wind Rises and Kaguya as The Big Two, but more that later.

So watchin it, thought it was bad at first.

I've been sitting about thinking what to say. It's become a personal cliche of mine to talk about first impression vs how I was in the middle of watching something, but gee. First scenes I was wondering 'idk if this really my thing' cause it is a bit baffling of a premise

A minature girl, Kaguya, emerges from an open glowing bamboo shoot. Thought this was going to be a boring fantasy, a la Howl's. But actually, everything quickly ceases to be so fantastical and over the next few hours and I am comfortable again. Was feeling so much hurt for Kaguya, the friends taken away from her, the life forced on her... but also also had plenty of beautiful moments. Takahata truly excels when it comes to creating characters effortless to empathise with.


While death is sad for the living left behind, for the dying, it is merely a passage out of this physical body to a spiritual existence, free of this mortal coil. If one turns off the radio, the music is still there. For all we know, the dead weep for us.

Read that poast from a garbage twitter account that was addressing something entirely different, but by pure coincidence I was thinking about Kaguya at the time. Specifically it's ending.

Kaguya can no longer stand the pain she is causing in evading marriage. She decides to kill herself after she is nearly raped. She does so by pleading the spirits, which consequentially explains the mysterious circumstances around her birth. Spirits decide to give her a lift on the next full moon.

It's a most unusual tragedy. She is a heavenly being who was sent to earth to live as a human: a cruel and unusual punishment, where one is tormented by forming worldly attachments, and suffering heartbreak.

So her death was simply serene, eyes vacant... music is confusingly beautiful.

The point of the movie isn't that life's not worth living, but that life is intense per Kaguya's last words are about how earth isn't a land of impurity, but of many other emotions. Takahata not only presents life as just inherently intense, but uses death as a contrast; it had to present death in the most appropariate way to contrast the right details of life. Death is vacant, serene. Dying? Oh that's painful. That's gory. But there is no dying in Kaguya, only death; the dying part is evaded. Like George Carlin said, people don't mind being dead, being dead is great... but getting dead?

The movie ofc doesn't actually say death though, and literally believing in an afterlife or spiritual existence isn't the point of course. Point is that she is not longer a human who experiences sadness.

the music

Did I mention the music.

isao takahata

This was his last movie, he died not too long later. I could sense the it's getting dark message in this.