Tuesday, July 11, 2023

"Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess" - A Magical Miyazaki Fairy Tale

"Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess" Credit: Studio Ghibli & the Ghibli Museum

Did you know Miyazaki loves the tale of The Gingerbread Man?

Japan has its own well-known version of this type* of tale - "Omusubi Kororin (Riceball rolls away)" - in which a rice ball rolls away**, and Miyazaki discovered similar tales across the world. They weren't variants - exactly - but he found many stories in different countries, in which, whatever the staple food of that country used to be, managed to get away. Either it got up after being baked or cooked and ran to have an adventure all by itself, or rolled comically far out of reach inciting adventure for its pursuers. 

The Gingerbread Man is the American version (first published in St. Nicholas Magazine in May 1875), and it's one of the variants of the "Fleeing Pancake" stories, (ATU 2025).***

Credit: Studio Ghibli/Ghibli Museum

[*This "type" of tale is a loose description. When using the word "type" discussing fairy tales, we're usually talking about the ATU classification. Omusubi Kororin and the tale mentioned below apparently haven't been classified - at all - but Miyazaki saw the connection between these Japanese tales and "fleeing pancake" tales, so we're running with it. So to speak. ;)

[**Some versions include magic but not all. The Lafcadio Hearn version includes a magic paddle, though the dumpling the old woman initially loses isn't magical itself.

[***A neat bit of trivia re The Gingerbread Man from SurLaLune: This is one tale where the literary American versions have strongly influenced the literary versions that later appeared in Europe.]

Miyazaki's Ginger Bread Man

Credit: Studio Ghibli/Ghibli Museum

In 2010, Miyazaki made his own version of this fairy tale in which he explored the question of life inside of bread (and other food staples)  - both in how the raw ingredients are made (magically and with hard labor) so that they can be transformed to "give life" to a hungry society, and also regarding what being "given life" can do (how an injection of hope and creativity can transform your circumstances).

I think this is the reason Miyazaki's protagonist is the little egg girl instead of his bread man. (Eggs are a common symbol of life and new beginnings around the world.)

Miyazaki's film is titled Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess (パン種とタマゴ姫 , Pandane to Tamago Hime) and is clearly his version of the familiar Gingerbread Man tale, while also being uniquely his own creation - exactly what new variants of tales should be! 

In this Miyazaki short, Baba Yaga - the familiar fairy tale figure complete with her mortar and pestle - brings an unbreakable egg to life and puts her to work in her watermill, a place where she grinds wheat into flour. There's magic, of course, and the Egg Princess ends up escaping with a friend made from dough, except he's not cooked yet.

Egg Princess Credit: Studio Ghibli/Ghibli Museum

There are a number of short films - exclusive to the Ghibli Museum in Japan - that most people haven't seen though - even Ghibli super-fans. Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess is one of those. Unless you're lucky enough to visit the Ghibli Museum and see one of these magical short films, you're generally out of luck. They aren't available to buy, or see, outside of the Museum. Even when you visit the Museum in Japan the films are shown in random sort of rotation, so you never know quite which film you'll see when you arrive.

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 Fortunately, the Ghibli Museum has produced some gorgeous, little "Art Of" books", which are like pamphlets, with final artwork, concept art, the story, some notes from Miyazaki, and more goodies, that people have been able to buy as souvenirs. It accompanies the film, and an exhibit, and some kind folk have shared the contents of these online for folks who aren't able to make it to Japan.

Before I share, though, here's a lovely summary I found on a Ghibli fan blog:

Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess asks the question, "How is bread made?" The idea is examined through the wild, imaginitive eyes of a small child. Cooking becomes magic. Ingredients become alchemy. Leavened bread becomes alive. The miracle of creation is on display, weaving through waking eyes and the imagination. Miyazaki has a way of making the natural world seem magical that is wholly unique. (Source

"Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess" Credit: Studio Ghibli & the Ghibli Museum

The Story

Here is a video that steps through the pamphlet - including the story -  with most of the Japanese translated to English as subtitles. I have included a transcription of those subtitles below in case you're unable to view the video and/or read the text. Even not running as a film, this is still quite a delightful fairy tale telling. Enjoy!

I have also found an online archive that has an incomplete upload of the pamphlet so you can zoom in and go back and forth to enjoy the artwork to your heart's content. You can see that HERE.

Transcription of subtitles from the video showing the Ghibli Museum pamphlet for Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess:

In a deep, deep hole in a forest of thorns lies Baba Yaga's small house with a watermill.

Baba Yaga is a hard worker. She grinds wheat, mixes it, eats well, and sleeps well. But the kitchen is a mess!

One day she found an egg that doesn't crack and she decided to take it in as a servant. Baba Yaga gave the egg a blow, and lo and behold, it now had hands and feet. The egg became a girl. The Egg Princess was born.

Original Work-Script-Supervision Hayao Miyazaki

Music Joe Hisaishi

Production Studio Ghibli

Film length 11min 37sec

"Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess" Credit: Studio Ghibli & the Ghibli Museum

Baba Yaga is in high spirits after eating a lot of eggs! Now, what to do with this egg?

With a quick puff, Baba Yaga's ribbon became a skirt. The Egg Princess quickly goes to work.

The moonlight shone on the wooden boat the dough rested in...

The dough started to move. The Egg Princess used the grapes to make eyes. Both escaped together from the house.

It's the middle of harvest season at the wheat field. Run! Run!

The harvested wheat is taken to the village. I will not let them escape! Baba Yaga follows after the trail of wagons.

Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess take refuge in the village square. The square is busy with villagers threshing wheat.

"Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess" Credit: Studio Ghibli & the Ghibli Museum

Within the hustle and bustle, there are two characters hiding. Baba Yaga's keen eye sees through their disguise. "Found you!"

"You belong to me!" Baba Yaga shouts maniacally.

She tears the dough apart and rounds them into form. "Let's hope you become delicious boules," Baba Yaga says.

The Egg Princess pulls the dough and binds them and says, "Become a breadman." Out of the hearth appeared...

Baba: "Hmph! The only consolation prize I get is a simple decoration from your chest!?" All the villagers were overjoyed.

Baba Yaga again searches for that egg that doesn't crack.

"Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess" Credit: Studio Ghibli & the Ghibli Museum

Hayao Miyazaki:

"I love Bruegel's paintings. But, it was the first time I learned that the wheat being harvested was actually rye. Since it was rye bread that they were harvesting, the people would eat black bread. Although we all eat bread, noodles, and pasta, we don't have much of a clue as to how that wheat is grown and manufactured.

Credit: Studio Ghibli/Ghibli Museum

I wanted to make a film set in a place like in Bruegel's paintings. Just how Japan has children's stories of rice balls running away like "Omusubi Kororin (Riceball rolls away)," in the countries where bread is a staple, I have come to find out that there are similar stories of bread "running away" as well. The bread in these stories are round pancakes, long-shaped, or flimsy. All different types of bread come from the land, but they all run away.

I figure that a bread out of an oven would roll away, but I do wonder about how a bread still in dough form would escape... As I was thinking about this very thing, the conception of this movie was aspired."


Credit: Ghibli Museum

There is no translation for the following pamphlet pages. There is Japanese text describing the panels about how bread is made, and the parts of Baba Yaga's watermill. There is an interview included in the pamphlet, which sadly also has not been translated. Maybe one day I'll be lucky enough to get a copy and a kind Japanese friend will translate it for me!

In the meantime, this wonderful film has been known to pop up in its entirety - in bootleg fashion - on the internet but it tends to appear, then get taken down until it pops up later on a completely different site. I won't link you because of this, but if you're super keen you can do your own search to see if you're lucky enough to find this golden egg of a film. 

Spotting Other Fairy Tales & Ghibli Easter Eggs

Did you notice the other fairy tale references in the images shown? 

There is a suspicious-looking two-toned apple being offered to the Egg Princess by Baba Yaga, her witch-like hand holding the stem. Unlike the apple bringing poisonous sleep, though, this rotten apple (it does have a worm, after all) brings life to the resting dough - "resting" is the correct term for when you're making dough and have to leave it to "rise" too! 

"Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess" Credit: Studio Ghibli & the Ghibli Museum

And, of course, the Egg Princess slaves away like many fairy tale heroines before she escapes, though it's a little more difficult to discuss without a copy of the short on hand to show what she does. In true "Miyazaki empowering girls" form, though, she essentially fashions her own escape, just like the many clever heroines in tales around the globe.

"Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess" Credit: Studio Ghibli & the Ghibli Museum

There is also the watermill that crushes and grinds the grain, transforming it into flour. I would not be surprised to find Miyazaki intentionally referenced Rumpelstiltskin turning straw into gold, as any food staple is very much like edible gold! I haven't found any proof that this was intentional though. 

There are several Studio Ghibli Easter eggs in this film too. Of special note are: 

- Baba Yaga looking very much like Yubaba and her sister Zeniba. There is lore, popularized since Spirited Away, that Baba Yaga is one of three sisters. Fans speculate this is the Baba Yaga we know from Ukrainian and Russian tales, while Yubaba and Zeniba are her sisters.

- when the dough-turned-bread man crawls out of the oven, the shot references Castle in the Sky

- Miyazaki as a pig-man, like the parents were turned into in Spirited Away

- Miyazaki's Heidi, from the series he animated when he was much younger (based on the novel), is seated at the table eating bread on one of the last pages of the pamphlet

My wish for all the fairy tale aficionados here is that one day, they're able to see this delightful film.

"Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess" Credit: Studio Ghibli & the Ghibli Museum


Gypsy Thornton (she/her) is the Guardian of a chicken-legged coffee cup with a mind of its own. A night owl forced to get up with larks, she often describes herself as liminal and is forever trying to do impossible things before breakfast. She can only be seen in her true form after midnight.

Creator & Editor: The Wondering
[a transformation of Once Upon A Blog: Fairy Tale News]

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