3.2 Once Upon a Time: The Bamboocutter

TASK

Produce a series of black and white illustrations in response to a popular fairy story or folk tale of your choice. Your illustrations will sit alongside the text to enhance the reading experience. Think about the best point(s) in the narrative to place your illustrations. Your illustrations need to bring the characters, locations and plot of the story to life. But you don’t have to do all of this in one illustration, so think about introducing different aspects across a range of illustrations. Make the most of the dramatic qualities of black and white. Think about where you’d physically place your images in relationship to the text on the page. Are these illustrations full page or vignettes? Do you incorporate some of the story’s text into your work or do they stand alone as images?
Reflect on how successfully your images connect to your chosen text in your learning log.

For this assignment I chose ‘The Bamboocutter’ . This is a 10th-century Japanese monogatari (fictional prose narrative) containing folkloric elements. It is considered the oldest extant Japanese prose narrative although the oldest manuscript dates to 1592. The tale is also known as The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語 Kaguya-hime no Monogatari?), after its protagonist. This was produced as a beautiful watercolour style animation with a slightly different storyline by Studio Ghibli and has also been a stock of Japanese manga and anime (see below).

Assessment

I wanted to use my illustrations to give a more challenging interpretation as a feminist allegory. A much darker version, in black and white. A story of innocence caged and fought over. Where the only escape is into fantasy and dream in the moon. As an attempt to gain some control over destiny.

A subsidiary aim was to really push what I am able to achieve in Black and White using ProCreate brushes, shapes and compositing.

The images so far correspond to the various stages in the Wikipedia narrative. They are illustrative, but play with the black/white symbolism of Japanese and Western cultures – white symbolising purity and the moon with its opposite of blackness and darkness and mystery.

I am aiming at an adult audience – possibly as part of a series of feminist ‘fairy tales retold’. I have not yet rewritten the text – whether this should follow the illustrations, or contrast with it – this is something I am panning to do in Assignment 4 as one of the ideas I develop further. I am still undecided whether or not to make all the images just black and white silhouette as I had originally planned – omitting the charcoal and the grey. This would be starker with possibility for clearer contrast. But then reality is a bit muddy grey. I could make much more of this symbolism.

Process

I started by getting a copy of the text, simplifying and annotating it – comparing the versions from Wikipedia and Studio Ghibli (See below). I also looked at other versions and what they had illustrated (See below).

Image 1: Birth

One day, while walking in the bamboo forest, an old, childless bamboo cutter called Taketori came across a mysterious, shining stalk of bamboo. After cutting it open, he found inside it a tiny infant the size of his thumb.

Here I am following the convention of making the baby Kaguya like a shining Buddha, naked and innocent. Contrasting with the large rough and clumsy hand of the bamboocutter. Kaguya-hime means “princess of flexible bamboos scattering light”. Are the bamboos phallic or bars of a jail? Do they reflect light in different directions and/or sparkle, or should they be solid, or toned? In black bamboo version one still sees the black as background linking white bamboo stalks with a sort of net fence. Can I make more of this symbolism?

Image 2 : Princess grows up

Taketori rejoiced to find such a beautiful girl and took her home. He and his wife raised her as their own child. They called her Kaguya-hime which means “princess of flexible bamboos scattering light”. Whenever Taketori went to the forest to cut down a stalk of bamboo, inside would shine a small nugget of gold. Soon he became rich. He bought a large palace in the capital and moved his wife and Kaguya there in search of good fortune.

Kaguya-hime grew into a woman of extraordinary beauty. At first Taketori tried to keep her away from outsiders.  But over time the news of her beauty spread.

Image 3 : Proposals

Five princes came to Taketori no Okina’s residence to ask for Kaguya-hime’s hand in marriage. Kaguya-hime was summoned and instructed to choose a husband. But she agreed to marry only the one who would prove his love by bringing her what she asked. The first she told to bring her the stone begging bowl of the Buddha Gautama Shakyamuni from India. The second a jewelled branch from the mythical island of Hōrai. The third the legendary robe of the fire-rat of China. The fourth a coloured jewel from a dragon’s neck. The fifth prince was asked to bring a cowry shell born of swallows.

Image 4: Love of the Emperor 

Even the Emperor of Japan, Mikado, came to hear of her beauty. When he saw her he fell immediately in love and asked her to marry him. Kaguya-hime rejected his request. Despite his continued advances she refused, telling him that she was not of his country and thus could not go to the palace with him. 

Image 5: Moon tears

That summer, whenever Kaguya-hime saw the full moon, her eyes filled with tears. Her behaviour became increasingly erratic. Her adoptive parents became very worried. But she was unable to tell them what was wrong. Finally in a dream she was told that she was not of this world. She had been sent to Earth for her own safety during a celestial war. The gold in the bamboo had been sent from the people of the Moon to pay for her safe-keeping. But now she must return to her people on the Moon.

Image 6: Light from Heaven

Hearing this, the Emperor sent many guards around her house to protect her from the Moon people. But when an embassy of “Heavenly Beings” arrived at the door of Taketori no Okina’s house, the guards were blinded by a strange light. Kaguya-hime announced that, though she loved her many friends on Earth, she must return with the Moon people to her true home. She wrote sad notes of apology to her parents and to the Emperor, then gave her parents her own robe as a memento. She then took a small taste of the elixir of life, attached it to her letter to the Emperor, and gave it to a guard officer. As she handed it to him, the feather robe was placed on her shoulders, and all of her sadness and compassion for the people of the Earth were forgotten. 

Image 7: Mount Fuji

When the Emperor read her letter he was overcome with sadness. He asked his servants, “Which mountain is the closest place to Heaven?”. One replied “the Great Mountain of Immortality or Mount Fuji in Suruga Province”. The Emperor ordered his men to take the letter to the summit of the mountain and burn it, in the hope that his message would reach the distant princess. But he commanded them  to burn the elixir of immortality since the Emperor did not wish to live forever without her. The smoke from the burning still rises to this day. 

Storyline and images

From Wikipedia article

Image 1

One day, while walking in the bamboo forest, an old, childless bamboo cutter called Taketori no Okina (竹取翁 “the Old Man who Harvests Bamboo”?) came across a mysterious, shining stalk of bamboo. After cutting it open, he found inside it an infant the size of his thumb. He rejoiced to find such a beautiful girl and took her home.

Image 2 : Princess grows up

He and his wife raised her as their own child and named her Kaguya-hime (かぐや姫 accurately, Nayotake-no-Kaguya-hime “princess of flexible bamboos scattering light”). Thereafter, Taketori no Okina found that whenever he cut down a stalk of bamboo, inside would be a small nugget of gold. Soon he became rich. Kaguya-hime grew from a small baby into a woman of ordinary size and extraordinary beauty. At first, Taketori no Okina tried to keep her away from outsiders, but over time the news of her beauty spread.

Image 3 3 proposals radiating out to the 3 stories

Eventually, five princes came to Taketori no Okina’s residence to ask for Kaguya-hime’s hand in marriage. The princes eventually persuaded Taketori no Okina to tell a reluctant Kaguya-hime to choose from among them. Kaguya-hime concocted impossible tasks for the princes, agreeing to marry the one who managed to bring her his specified item. That night, Taketori no Okina told the five princes what each must bring. The first was told to bring her the stone begging bowl of the Buddha Gautama Shakyamuni from India, the second a jeweled branch from the mythical island of Hōrai,[5] the third the legendary robe of the fire-rat of China, the fourth a colored jewel from a dragon’s neck, and the final prince a cowry shell born of swallows.

Realizing that it was an impossible task, the first prince returned with an expensive bowl, but after noticing that the bowl did not glow with holy light, Kaguya-hime saw through his deception. Likewise, two other princes attempted to deceive her with fakes, but also failed. The fourth gave up after encountering a storm, while the final prince lost his life (severely injured in some versions) in his attempt.

Image 4: Emperor proposes

After this, the Emperor of Japan, Mikado, came to see the strangely beautiful Kaguya-hime and, upon falling in love, asked her to marry him. Although he was not subjected to the impossible trials that had thwarted the princes, Kaguya-hime rejected his request for marriage as well, telling him that she was not of his country and thus could not go to the palace with him. She stayed in contact with the Emperor, but continued to rebuff his requests and marriage proposals.

Image 5: Moon tears

That summer, whenever Kaguya-hime saw the full moon, her eyes filled with tears. Though her adoptive parents worried greatly and questioned her, she was unable to tell them what was wrong. Her behaviour became increasingly erratic until she revealed that she was not of this world and must return to her people on the Moon. In some versions of this tale, it is said that she was sent to the Earth, where she would inevitably form material attachment, as a temporary punishment for some crime, while in others, she was sent to Earth for her own safety during a celestial war. The gold that Taketori no Okina had been finding had in fact been a stipend from the people of the Moon, sent down to pay for Kaguya-hime’s upkeep.

Image 6: Light from Heaven

As the day of her return approached, the Emperor sent many guards around her house to protect her from the Moon people, but when an embassy of “Heavenly Beings” arrived at the door of Taketori no Okina’s house, the guards were blinded by a strange light. Kaguya-hime announced that, though she loved her many friends on Earth, she must return with the Moon people to her true home. She wrote sad notes of apology to her parents and to the Emperor, then gave her parents her own robe as a memento. She then took a small taste of the elixir of life, attached it to her letter to the Emperor, and gave it to a guard officer. As she handed it to him, the feather robe was placed on her shoulders, and all of her sadness and compassion for the people of the Earth were forgotten. The heavenly entourage took Kaguya-hime back to Tsuki-no-Miyako (月の都/京; lit. “the Capital of the Moon”), leaving her earthly foster parents in tears.

Image 7: Mount Fuji

The parents became very sad and were soon put to bed sick. The officer returned to the Emperor with the items Kaguya-hime had given him as her last mortal act, and reported what had happened. The Emperor read her letter and was overcome with sadness. He asked his servants, “Which mountain is the closest place to Heaven?”, to which one replied the Great Mountain of Suruga Province. The Emperor ordered his men to take the letter to the summit of the mountain and burn it, in the hope that his message would reach the distant princess. The men were also commanded to burn the elixir of immortality since the Emperor did not wish to live forever without being able to see her. The legend has it that the word immortality(不死 fushi?, or fuji) became the name of the mountain, Mount Fuji. It is also said that the kanji for the mountain, 富士山 (literally “Mountain Abounding with Warriors”), are derived from the Emperor’s army ascending the slopes of the mountain to carry out his order. It is said that the smoke from the burning still rises to this day. (In the past, Mount Fuji was much more volcanically active.)

Kaguya-hime goes back to the Moon

Taketori no Okina takes Kaguya-hime to his home, Drawn by Tosa Hiromichi, c. 1600

 Princess Kaguye Studio Ghibli

The Princess Kaguye Studio Ghibli animation   vimeo

Princess Kaguya Wikipedia article

This version, as an animation for children as well as adults, is more of a story of childhood girl rebellion, love story of childhood friendship, has:

  • more on Kaguye’s childhood and childhood friends
  • Kaguye rebelling against the constraints of life in the mansion and feeling homesick for life in the village – going back to find everyone has gone
  • revulsion at the advances of the emperor rather than any love attachment
  • reluctance to leave earth

Storyline

A bamboo cutter named Sanuki no Miyatsuko discovers a miniature girl inside a glowing bamboo shoot. Believing her to be a divine presence, Miyatsuko and his wife decide to raise her as their own, calling her “Princess”. The girl grows rapidly and conspicuously, marveling her parents and earning her the nickname “Takenoko” (Little Bamboo) from the other children in the village. Sutemaru, the oldest among Kaguya’s friends, develops a particularly close relationship with her.

Miyatsuko comes upon gold and fine cloth in the bamboo grove in the same way he found his daughter. He takes these as proof of her divine royalty and begins planning to make her a proper princess. He soon relocates the family to the capital, forcing her to leave her friends behind. She finds herself in a mansion, replete with servants and fine clothes. She is also saddled with a governess who is tasked with taming her into a proper noblewoman. She struggles with the restraints of nobility, arguing that life should be full of laughter and struggle.

When the girl comes of age, she is granted the formal name of “Princess Kaguya” for the light and life that radiates from her. Miyatsuko holds a celebration in commemoration of Kaguya’s naming. At the celebration, Kaguya overhears partygoers ridiculing her father’s attempts to turn a peasant girl into a noble through money. Kaguya flees the capital in despair and runs back to the mountains, seeking Sutemaru and her other friends, but discovers that they have all moved away. Kaguya passes out in the snow and awakens back at the party.

Kaguya grows in beauty, attracting scores of would-be suitors. Five men of noble standing court her, comparing her to mythical treasures. Not wanting to marry any of them, Kaguya tells them she will only marry whoever can bring her the mythical treasure mentioned. Two suitors unsuccessfully attempt to persuade her with counterfeits. The third abandons his conquest out of cowardice, and the fourth attempts to woo her with flattering lies. When one of the men is killed in his quest, Kaguya falls into depression. Eventually, the Emperor takes notice of her. Taken with her beauty, he makes advances toward her, revolting her. Kaguya then demonstrates the ability to disappear at will, surprising the Emperor. Understanding that he has been too forward, the Emperor takes his leave.

After this encounter, Kaguya cries to the moon, praying for protection. She reveals to her parents that she originally came from the Moon, after it spoke to her. Once a resident of the Moon, she broke its laws, hoping to be exiled to Earth, so that she could experience mortal life. When the Emperor made his advances, she silently begged the Moon to help her. Having heard her prayer, the Moon will reclaim her during the next full moon. Kaguya confesses her attachment to Earth and her reluctance to leave.

Miyatsuko swears to protect Kaguya and begins assembling defensive forces. Kaguya returns to her hometown in the mountains once more. She finds Sutemaru and tells him she would have been happiest with him; Sutemaru vows to protect her. The two run around the grass field and Kaguya demonstrates the ability to fly. However, she loses it and the two drop into the water. Sutemaru wakes up on the grass field, thinking it was a dream, while Kaguya wakes up in the palace.

On the night of the full moon, a procession of celestial beings descends from the Moon, and Miyatsuko is unable to stop it. An attendant offers Kaguya a robe that will erase her memories of Earth. Kaguya begs the attendant to grant her a last moment with her parents.

The attendant assures her that upon returning to the Moon, she will be free of Earth’s impurities. Kaguya rebuffs her, saying that Earth is full of wonder and life. The attendant then drapes the robe around Kaguya, and she appears to forget about her life on Earth. The procession ascends to the Moon, leaving Miyatsuko and his wife distraught, as Kaguya looks back one last time with tears in her eyes.

Other animated versions and interpretations

The story, particularly the character of the moon princess, has been adapted in many different forms in Manga and anime: See Wikipedia article on Kaguya

There is a useful You Tube Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_wpG9BoZWXD-SpcgBdCzaR9f60aNEBU5 including a simple claymotion version (no 10).

This Korean version is a very romanticised version of the tale. I like the simplicity of the graphics and simple animation. But there is no depth to the narrative focussing on the romance between Kaguya and the Emperor.

This version has static images. The discussion interview on You Tube describes the princess as a more independent-minded woman. It is unclear where the illustrations come from. The general style and texturing looks as if they have been done in Painter.

Other Japanese Folk Tales

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/japan.html

Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan Richard Gordon Smith 1918

 Other stylistic influences

Audrey Niffeneger

Geoff Grandfield

Aubrey Beardsley

Japanese woodcut

Expressionist woodcut

Franz Masereel

Lynd Ward