The Tale of Princess Kaguya
The first impression is that this
is really a visually stunning film.
The art work is incredible, as if you’re
constantly watching some really accomplished water color artist work
continuously on the backdrops, with charcoal artistry animating the
it’s a long film (137 minutes), the technique never ceases to amaze and
The story is itself also amazing and
fascinating, not just because of its uniqueness and originality (though it’s
“based on an old Japanese folk tale”), but because of its obvious
intersections with incarnational Christianity.
Once, long ago, there was a bamboo
cutter, who lived near a bamboo forest in a simple little house with his wife.
They couldn’t have any children, and were
saddened by that, but they loved each other, and enjoyed being together every
lived out in the country, where there were some other villagers, but some
distance from the capital city.
One day something startling
happens in the forest. The
bamboo cutter sees a stalk of bamboo glowing, as if lit from the inside.
Then, suddenly, a new bamboo shoot appears out of
the ground, then, a little doll-like figurine suddenly sprouts of the bamboo
shoot, and she’s alive and breathing!
The woodcutter excitedly takes the tiny
figurine home---he can hold it in the palm of his hand---and his wife, seeing
with excitement that the little doll is alive, experiences such an awakening
of her maternal instincts that suddenly she is able to produce breast milk to
feed the baby.
The baby grows very, very,
she is standing, then walking, then talking, all in a matter of days.
Her parents are astounded about this, but accept
it quietly, because their princess is, after all, a gift from Heaven.
Soon she wants to play with the
other boys and girls in the neighborhood.
She especially enjoys being outdoors with them,
and playing in the sunshine.
Somehow she already knows how to swim.
Somehow she already knows a song that the
children keep singing, about taking joy in the birds and the flowers and the
a gentle, happy child, and she brings great joy to her parents.
But they make the mistake of
believing that she would be happier if she became a “real” princess, that
is, was set up in the capital city with a big mansion, so she could entertain
princes as proper suitors.
Her parents spend all their resources building
the big house in the city for her, and they all leave their quiet little home
in the country which she loved so much.
The princess does her best to try to adapt to
their wishes, even submitting to lessons in how to behave like a princess.
Here, she is instructed to quit running, stop
playing, stop singing, and just sit quietly and act dignified.
For activity, she can weave at the loom.
But she is to suppress emotion, especially
to mention pluck her eyebrows and blacken her teeth, because that makes her
So there she is, dressed all in silk and
in the prime of her life, but she is miserable.
The suitors indeed come calling,
but she isn’t really interested in any of them.
Instead, she sends them on impossible quests (like bringing her the
bowl from The Buddha), to get them out of the way.
Even His Royal Highness comes calling, but he
turns out to be an arrogant bore who merely wants her for a another plaything,
like a palace courtesan, and he is simply amazed that not everyone wants to do
Our princess is so miserable that
she finally calls out to her Moon People, from which she came, to let her come
back, and though she regrets making her parents unhappy by leaving them,
still, she’s ready to return, except for one last vision/dream: a soaring
romp in her old playground with her best childhood friend, now grown and with
a family of his own. (This
time it’s Peter Pan who’s all grown up, not Wendy.)
The reason for her becoming human
in the first place? She
wanted to experience what the humans did, before returning to her Moon World
in the sky. She
wanted to become one of them in order to feel and think as they did.
And she did, indeed, experience it all, including
being celebrated as a unique person with special abilities, then
misunderstood, and finally disappearing by ascending to the Heavens.
The analogies are obvious, but the most
intriguing question is still Anselm’s in “Cur Deus Homo?”
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish
Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church,