January 12, 2014

Fairy Tales From the East: Coming Soon to the Stage and Screen, By Nora Stasio, Fairy Tale News Reporter

hen the average person hears the words "fairy tale," they tend to think of stories that originated in the West, such as "Cinderella," "Rapunzel," or "Jack and the Beanstalk." But colorful folk tales can be traced back to all corners of the globe, tales which involve princesses, witches, magic relics, and epic journeys all their own. There are some truly fantastic stories that hail from the Far and Middle East that, I think, deserve a bit more attention from Westerners. Here’s some news about two awesome upcoming projects based on fairy tales from Eastern traditions.

If you’re a fan of Japanese animated films, you may have already heard about Kaguya-hime no Monogatari, or The Story of Princess Kaguya, a fairy tale coming out this fall.

For this unique project, Isao Takahata, the director of the critically acclaimed Graveyard of the Fireflies, has teamed up with the studio behind such masterworks as Spirited Away, Ponyo, My Neighbor Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle -- none other than Studio Ghibli. Hayao Miyazaki was not directly involved in Kaguya-hime, but like every film created by the company he founded, it has his blessing. (So sad to hear he’s retired!)

The film will be based on the traditional Japanese fairy tale, "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter," or Taketori Monogatari. It’s a bit like an Asian version of  "Thumbelina," only much more epic, especially towards the end. (Did you know there is also a Japanese version of  "Tom Thumb,"  called Issun-bōshi? But I digress.)

The original fairy tale opens with a humble bamboo cutter finding a tiny baby girl inside a stalk of bamboo. He takes her home, and he and his wife raise her as their own daughter, naming her Kaguya (pronounced KUH-goo-yah). The next day, the bamboo cutter finds a nugget of gold inside every stalk of bamboo he cuts down. And every day thenceforth, that same miracle keeps happening, so he saves up every nugget until he becomes rich.

His tiny daughter Kaguya grows bigger everyday, and by the time she is a full-sized teenager, she is widely considered the most beautiful woman in the land. Princes from many lands become her suitors. Even the Emperor himself sends a proposal! But Kaguya is not interested. She has a much grander destiny in store, one which she keeps secret for many years, even from her own parents.

I won’t give away the rest because I think it’s a really wonderful story, and you’ll want to experience it for yourself when Takahata’s film comes out. It’s not known if Studio Ghibli was planning to stick closely to the original story or if it made some of its own embellishments. There also doesn’t seem to be an official US, Canada, or UK release date as of yet. I personally am awaiting these details with bated breath.

The film was scheduled to be released in Japan on Nov. 23, 2013. Most Ghibli films take about one year to reach US and Canadian theaters, and two years to reach the UK, so we will all have to be patient. If you happen to live in Japan and have seen/will see this film, do leave us your critique in the comments!

Over the years, there have been plenty of Broadway musicals and drama based on fairy tales from western traditions. Have you seen Cinderella yet? It opened earlier this year at the Broadway Theatre in the heart of NYC. And next Spring, the Great White Way will see its first ever musical adaptation of a Middle Eastern folk tale straight out of Scheherazade's One Thousand and One Nights.

Disney’s 1992 animated film, Aladdin, is a uniquely American take on an Arabian tale that’s become a classic for viewers all over the globe. Following in the footsteps of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, Aladdin is the next Disney film being adapted into a Broadway Musical. Previews are slated for February 2014, and it should open in March at the New Amsterdam Theatre.

We all know that Disney has a habit of putting its own spin on the classic stories it adapts into films, and Aladdin is no exception. The film’s plot varies in multiple ways from that of the original tale. For example, in One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin has two genies (or djinn) at his beck and call -- one lives inside a ring, and the other inside an oil lamp.

It’s said that the script for the Broadway version of the Aladdin film will be completely new, not a rehashing of the exact script from the movie. It’ll be interesting to see what changes are made, and whether or not writers will reintroduce elements from the traditional version of the story, such as the second genie.

Have you ever read One Thousand and One Nights, or any other Eastern folk tales? Are there any you’d like to see adapted for stage or screen? Leave a comment!

Bio: Nora writes, "I have been a lover of creative writing and fairy tales for basically my entire life! I recently graduated Cum Laude from Rutgers where I completed a minor in English, with a focus in Creative Writing and Shakespeare (I majored in Psychology)."


  1. I grew up on Japanese folktales, a natural result of my dad's talents for language and storytelling. Eastern tales are a rich resource that deserve more attention here. I look forward to seeing Studio Ghibli's take on Kaguyahime. I set another Japanese tale, Tsuru no Ongaeshi, in the Midwest. You can read it here: River Story.

  2. I must confess that reading 1001 Nights is on my 'to-do' list and I haven't gotten to it yet. I have a beautifully bound leather set from my grandfather and I intend to read it someday! Meanwhile I have read and re-read my paperback editions of Grimm and all the Andrew Lang fairy books several times. I enjoyed reading your column.