Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Yōji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi, Masahiko Nishimura, Tsunehiko Kamijō, Akihiro Miwa, Mitsuko Mori, Hisaya Morishige
MPAA Rating: PG-13
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To See With Eyes Unclouded By Hate
Princess Mononoke is the result of many years of hard work by Studio Ghibli founder and director Hayao Miyazaki – and that hard work shows itself, especially with its animation. Studio Ghibli has always set the bar high in terms of animation with their 2D films, but Princess Mononoke is the most visually astounding of the lot.
While the animation is brilliant, the plot also excels with a story that looks to find compromise between humans and nature. At times though the film’s lack of subtlety with its ideologies starts to make it sound preachy, and that can be a nuisance. Nevertheless, Princess Mononoke is another top notch film by one of Japan’s greatest animation studios.
Ashitaka, the last Emishi Prince, battles a giant boar that’s been cursed by a demon that’s threatening his village. Although he defeats the boar, the curse on the demon infects his arm, enhancing his fighting abilities, but guaranteeing a premature death filled with great suffering. Ashitaka goes into exile, heading west, where his village’s wise woman suggest he go to find a cure. Ashitaka learns his best chance of survival may be to find the Great Forest Spirit.
While traveling west he gets caught up in a brewing war between the people of Iron Town and the animals and Gods of the forest. The Town is led by Lady Eboshi who wishes to cut the forest down to make iron and firearms. The forest is led by the giant wolf God Moro, and a human named San (called Princess Mononke by Eboshi) who wish to destroy the town and save the forest. Finding a solution to this conflict, may also help save Ashitaka from the curse that is slowly consuming him.
At first glance Princess Mononoke has all the makings of another Fern Gully. Although preserving nature is a big part of this story, Princess Mononoke never takes singular biased opinion and instead tells a much more morally complicated tale about humans and nature learning to live together.
The humans in Lady Eboshi’s town are all former miscreants – men with criminal pasts, women that used to be whores – but are now making the most of their second chance at life by living productive reformed lives. They have a long history of suffering at the hands of nature who has massed animal armies together to attack and kill these villagers. The town also has a penchant for greed, and making new weapons to kill the animals that attack them.
The wolves, the boars, and San have watched their homes be destroyed and their animal brethren be slaughtered so that the humans can make weapons, machines, and iron. The way the conflict between people and nature is set up in this film makes it nearly impossible to chose any one side – each has their merits and each has their flaws. As the movie states over and over again it’s the hatred between these two that’s the real enemy.
The ideologies, which are largely agreeable, are stated bluntly throughout the film. This starts to make Princess Mononoke feel like a preacher, rather than a film, and it was one of the biggest issues I had watching it. The other issue was the ending which solves a complicated conflict all to easily. Granted this is an animated fantasy, the conflicts between the opposing sides are very real world, giving them an easy ending doesn’t do these conflicts any justice. .
The animation is absolutely brilliant. This is one of the most intricate and beautifully animated 2D films ever made. Ashitaka’s scene walking through the forest with the forest spirits captures so many of nature’s details; it leaves you wondering how such a thing could have been drawn by hand. For a Studio Ghibli film, Princess Mononoke incorporates a surprising amount of violence in its story. Viewers can expect to see some blood and a number of dismemberment’s and decapitations – however the film does stop short of becoming a true gorefest.
This is a great animated film, although I would be hesitant to call it one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films – they set the bar real high. Nevertheless this an excellent story, with some beautiful animation – highly recommended to fans of anime and to people looking for a moralistically complicated film.