It begins with a beam of light through a forest of bamboo, a spark from above that attracts a bamboo cutter who unwraps the bamboo stalk to find a tiny woman sleeping. He takes the tiny being home to his wife, and the childless couple becomes the parents of a baby, a baby of normal size once she emerges from the curl of bamboo. The joyful baby grows quickly before their eyes.
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, one of the five films nominated for an Academy award in the animation category, was directed by Isao Takahata, co-founder of Studio Ghibli that produced animated films such as Spirited Away. Based on a Japanese folktale, the story is beautifully told through hand-drawn illustrations. Within a short time, the found baby becomes a child and then grows to be an adult. Her name changes from the nickname, “L’il Bamboo,” to Kaguya. She becomes a princess when the bamboo cutter, her adoptive father, magically finds gold and is determined to use it to buy a castle in the capital against her wishes. Four suitors pursue her, but she asserts her own will. Just as with other Ghibli films, Japanese myth and spiritual symbols are intertwined with the story.
I find in this story so many elements that draw me to many stories like it, principally among them the something of value hidden in a forest, revealed by the thinnest of sunbeam.
The film is available in both subtitles and dubbed into English. Chances are that another excellent animated movie, How to Train Your Dragon II, will take the top prize in the category, but the beauty of this movie—the magic of finding a small being in a shaft of sunlight, a dark cloud that becomes a dragon, a young woman who struggles to come into her own—makes it well worth discovering.