THERE'S REAL PLEASURE to be found in watching a Studio Ghibli character run down a flight of stairs—the simultaneous awkwardness and grace, the trips and mutters and sighs. About 45 minutes into The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, a character runs down a flight of stairs. The beauty of it catches me off guard and I'm immediately bewitched.
Princess Kaguya is based on a Japanese folktale, wherein a childless bamboo cutter finds a tiny princess in a stalk of bamboo. He and his wife raise her as their own so she can experience the joys and sorrows of human life. It's a good fit for Studio Ghibli, but Kaguya breaks out of the studio's traditional animation style, leaning into a more ethereal, motion-centered combination of brush strokes reminiscent of a watercolor piece. The effect is startlingly beautiful and original: Generally when people think of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke come to mind, but Princess Kaguya was directed and co-written by Miyazaki's partner and Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, a creator of beloved films in his own right (Pom Poko, Grave of the Fireflies).
There's plenty of excitement and conflict in The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, but there are also some places to sit quietly and admire the winding path of life, a common Ghibli theme. My favorite aspects of Studio Ghibli films are the things some people find unremarkable: All of their films have a nature/eco-protecting agenda. I know that I will learn about a kind of food. The characters have nuance and they care about smaller quests. That said, the second half of the film with Kaguya's exasperating suitors reminded me of sitting through the raccoon revelry scenes in Pom Poko—which, despite my great love for that film, also dragged a bit at times.