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‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’ review


The latest Ghibli film to be released in the US, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is an enchanting adaptation of a 10th century proto-scifi Japanese folk story The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, directed by Isao Takahata, the 78 year old co-founder of the studio. Cinematically stunning, the 137-minute film is done entirely in a minimal watercolor and charcoal style reminiscent of traditional Japanese painting, refreshing different from most traditional cel and computer animation. While not as tear-jerking and heart-crushing as The Grave of the Fireflies (one of the saddest anime ever made and the film Takahata’s best known for), Kaguya is nonetheless deeply moving in a more subtle, mature way.

The story begins with a supernatural birth, when an old bamboo cutter finds a glowing baby inside one of the chutes. He and his wife adopt the child, who grows up rapidly to the amazement of the couple and the neighborhood children, who all call her Kaguya or “little bamboo.” While Kaguya’s accelerated childhood is peaceful and idyllic, marked by miraculous gifts that appear in the bamboo grove, the step-father is convinced that she is a princess, and as such belongs in the royal court. So, just as Kaguya starts developing feelings for a local boy, she is suddenly whisked away to the capital. Much of the second act is about her adaptation to court life, where her wild nature frustrates her courtesan tutor, while simultaneously breathing new life into the stuffy palace halls. One of the most amusing parts is when Kaguya is courted by five suitors who each declare their love through inflated poetic metaphor (revering her more than the Buddha’s begging bowl or a mythic golden tree with silver leaves, etc). Recognizing the empty nature of their claims, Kaguya says that whoever can bring her the object they compared her to, would get her hand in marriage, and both hilarity and tragedy ensue.

Trying to avoid further spoilers, the film does take a much more serious turn into the third act, as palace pressures and sexual tension make Kaguya resent ‘civilized’ life. There are also some beautiful reflections on memory, as she remembers her youth, discovers her origin, and later realizes what she’ll have to choose to forget. The ending is especially unusual for Western viewers, but recalls Takahata’s Pom Poko (1994) in its processional splendor. While suitable for all ages, the film has many adult undercurrents and deep philosophical insights, similar to those of Deleuze and Guattari. The rhizome/tree especially, as bamboo is a rhizome, which grows rapidly in every direction, like Kaguya herself. Meanwhile, her life at court is fundamentally arborescent, as social pressure from all sides insists that she plant roots by choosing a husband. The corollary poles of nomadic life and the sedentary State are also there when we learn that Kaguya’s childhood friends had been gone from their village for ten years to allow ecosystem there to replenish itself. Lastly, the whole movement of the story could be seen as a territorialization, deterritorialization, and reterritorialization, which (like a double-negative) is not the same as coming back to the starting point, you can’t step into the same bamboo grove twice.

Originally, Kaguya was to be released with Hayao Miyazaki’s final film The Wind Rises, which would be the first time he and Takahata put out a double feature since My Neighbor Totoro/Grave of the Fireflies. Delays made this impossible, and sadly the box-office flop of Kaguya ($49.3 million production, $24.5 million box office) has forced Studio Ghibli into a hiatus. But great art is seldom marketable, and the masterful Kaguya is a proper ending to Takahata’s prolific career.

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Ian Buchanan confirmed

The latest addition to “Desiring Machine,” and one which now spreads our project across three continents, is Australian philosopher Ian Buchanan. Director of the Institute for Social Transformation Research based at University of Wollongong, he wrote “Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus,” “Deleuzism: A Metacommentary,” and a collection of papers published under “Deleuzean Century?” as well as co-editing a great number of Deleuze Studies books through Edinburgh University Press including “Deleuze and Feminist Theory” with Claire Colebrook and “Deleuze and Space” with Gregg Lambert.

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Alexander Galloway confirmed

A new addition to the “Desiring Machine” project is Prof. Alexander Galloway, of the Media, Culture, and Communications of New York University. He is a programmer and artist, who teaches several Deleuze classes at NYU. His publications include “Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization,” “The Exploit: A Theory of Networks,” and “Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture.” He is also responsible for several computer art projects such as the surveillance tool “Carnivore,” and the computer game “Kriegspiel,” based on a game of war designed by Debord around the military theory of Carl von Clausewitz. Prof. Galloway is also a translator of the French philosophical group Tiqqun, in particular their “Introduction to Civil War.” We appreciate his machinic expertise in our undertaking.

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Patricia Pisters confirmed

We want to welcome another participant to “Desiring Machine,” Patricia Pisters, Professor of Media & Film Studies at Universiteit van Amsterdam. She is the author of “The Neuro-Image: A Deleuzian Film-Philosophy of Digital Screen Culture” and “The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory.” Also, she appeared in the 1997 Dutch TV documentary on Deleuze titled “Mille Gilles.”

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Thanks to our backers!

We want to express our gratitude to Mark Lu and Jason Read for supporting our project! We would not be able to do this without you.

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Claire Colebrook confirmed

We also just received word that Claire Colebrook will take part in our film. She is a professor of English at Penn State University and has a number of publications on our subject including “Deleuze and the Meaning of Life,” “Understanding Deleuze (Australian Cultural Studies),” “Deleuze: A Guide for the Perplexed,” and “Deleuze (Routledge).” Her specialties include contemporary literature, theory, and visual cultural studies with an emphasis on film. We are glad to add her to our roster.

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Gregg Lambert confirmed

Another scholar to join the Desiring Machine project is Prof. Gregg Lambert, Dean’s Professor of Humanities and Founding Director of the Syracuse University Humanities Center at Syracuse University. His books include “The Non-Philoophy of Gilles Deleuze,” “Who’s Afraid of Deleuze & Guattari,” and “In Search of a New Image of Thought: Gilles Deleuze and Philosophical Expressionism.” He was also co-editor of “Deleuze and Space (Deleuze Connections).” We look forward to interviewing him.

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Poster art finished

Here’s the oil painting of Deleuze that we plan to use for the film poster, made by Vladimir Aituganov (, an internationally acclaimed and Metropolitan Museum of Art recognized artist. This too is available as a prize for pledging to our Kickstarter campaign.

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Promo art complete

Our logo is done. This is the ink original, and the color version is on our Kickstarter. The original drawing can be yours, see pledge prizes for details



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John Protevi confirmed

We have another confirmation to announce – John Protevi. Professor of French Studies and Philosophy at Louisiana State University, he specializes in contemporary French philosophy (Deleuze, Foucault) and how it relates to biology, earth sciences, dynamic systems theory, and cognitive science. Some of his publications include “Life, War, Earth: Deleuze and the Sciences,” “Political Physics: Deleuze, Derrida and the Body Politic,” and “Between Deleuze and Derrida” (editor). We are grateful for his interest in our project and look forward to working with him. One of Prof. Protevi’s lectures on “Deleuze, Music, and Ancient Warfare,” can be found here.

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