Reviews of “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” (ca. 900 CE) and related work

“The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” (ca. 900 CEText)

Read in 2020.

Read in Yei Theodora Ozaki’s liberal 1908 translation.

Notable both for having early traits of science fiction and for the way it integrates a love of nature with a satire on polite society (the five dishonest noblemen, “knights” in Ozaki’s translation). What a pleasing coincidence that this is Japan’s oldest preserved prose narrative.

References here: “The Legend of the Paper Spaceship” (1975), “Princess Mononoke: The First Story” (1980), The Manga Guide to the Universe (2008).

text Japanese production fiction

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013Moving picture, 137 minutes)

Takahata Isao (director), Suzuki Toshio (producer).

Seen in 2015.

A miraculous child found in a bamboo stalk in the forest spends several years as a noble young lady in the capital. Eventually, she must return to her original home.

Written by Takahata Isao and Sakaguchi Riko. Largely faithful as an adaptation, although larger and more complicated than the original. In that context, shockingly successful as a gentle ideological modernization. The success comes in part because Takahata elects to place the story in a Heian-kyō appropriate to the time period when the story probably got its form. There are no extant manuscripts of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter older than the 16th century, but the story is told here as if it took place in the time of Murasaki Shikibu, who was one of the first to allude to it in preserved writings. A little of “The Princess Who Loved Insects” (ca. 1250) is mixed into the original folktale, precisely in the manner discussed in “On Nausicaä (1982), with the result that the main focus of the narrative is on the nature-loving Kaguya’s depression in the big city where young women are kept as treasures, conceptually and physically isolated from nature. A wonderfully compassionate work of feminism and environmentalism, as well as a masterpiece of visual design and animation by Tanabe Osamu and many others.

References here: Ghibli movie titles.

moving picture adaptation Ghibli animation Japanese production fiction