I have had a wavering relation to movies: growing up, I hated them. The idea of spending three hours immersed in someone else’s story in a dark room was claustrophobic. A little older, the stories began to seem alluring, may be because life was tiring and less entertaining ; writing your own story is exhausting and daunting after all. More likely it was because people introduced me to better movies than the ones available to me growing up.
After some gap in the late-blooming love, a gap fuelled by TV series addiction, this year I am trying to return to movies, albeit slowly. A Sunday at a time. To watch something gripping enough, I have been relying on dilapidated prints of old movies available on Youtube, so it was great to see that Netflix has finally brought some titles from Studio Ghibli to our living room. Studio Ghibli has been behind some of the most revered anime movies made in Japan from sublime directors like Miyazaki, and Japanese anime is a genre I have greatly enjoyed in the past.
When I sat down in front of the screen today, I was determined to watch an anime, particularly from Miyazaki. But scrolling through the title, the image of Princess Kaguya caught my eye. The water-colour hues in the background were so gentle and soothing, that I was immediately drawn to it.
The film is drawn from a folktale and is fantastical, but also very spiritual. A thumblina princess appears in front of a bamboo cutter, and transforms into a little child when he carries her home to his wife. The couple bring up the child as their own, but because of her initial appearance, the bamboo cutter is convinced that she is meant to be a noble princess. Lil’ bamboo (that’s how her friends call her) enjoys a carefree childhood with friends and Sutemaru, a boy, who would later personify all the happiness of this time. This idyllic world is shattered when the father takes her away to the capital and begins training her to be a princess. At her naming ceremony, she is christened Kaguya and the fame of her music and beauty reaches far and wide. Noblemen vie for her acceptance as she sends them on fool’s errands. All this while, she continues to pine for the idyllic home and forest she left behind. She prays to the moon, and threatened by a suitor’s advances, expresses a wish to not be on the earth. The moon takes her back on the next full moon night, as she desperately tries to cling on to the love on earth.
The story is a spiritual tale, and if you have any doubt about it, Buddha makes an appearance at the end as Kaguya struggles to disconnect from her parents. Kaguya spends her life in memory of a childhood, unhappy at the change and responsibility thrust upon her. The father continues to drive her towards what he thinks is her purpose, even though no one knows why is she on earth. Each of us is Kaguya, chasing a destiny which the world thinks is our way. But at the same time, we are lured by the carefree existence of childhood and keep wondering whether this pursuit is real and required. We want to escape to a past, even as parents and our well wishers push us to an imagined better future. And we end up ‘being’ in neither.
The brushstrokes used in the creation of the movie’s anime are ethereal. Like Kaguya, I wanted to freeze most frames, and seeing the message in front of me, couldn’t stop laughing at the irony of my behaviour. It is difficult to detach from the aesthetics and beauty of the world around, and all the heart desires is to possess. But possession doesn’t end the desire, which merely flies elsewhere. The lost love stories are so much more alluring than the ones that are found and become real.
I can’t ignore the triteness of my own words – how many times have they been said and written, perhaps even by myself. But they sound especially wise to me in the moment. If only, I can let go of the moment and still be blessed with the wisdom.