How do you review something so compelling, so engaging and so brilliant that to do so would make one seem like a boy with a huge crush? Roger Ebert placed the film as one of his 10 best films of all time at number six in 1999. Well, I am going to give a try anyway since I owe “Princess Mononoke” (1997) that much. This film is a period epic fantasy animated film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, it took the man 15 years to fully develop the story and to reveal the complexities of its sheer human drama and epic screenplay. It carries familiar themes to Miyazaki’s manga “The Journey of Shuna” with the story and characters undergoing changes during the planning stages. Miyazaki finally finished the story when he visited the ancient forests of Yakushima island. The film is just a work of art and made with such delicate care. I have said so many times, this film may have been one of the ones that had inspired Cameron’s “Avatar”.
“Mononoke” isn’t actually a name but it is the Japanese term for “spirit” or “monster”. The film occurs in the late Muromachi period in Japan that gives it a touch of a historical drama but it has several fantastic elements that makes it a film of wonder, fantasy and awe. Please note that I strongly advise one to use the original Japanese language track and to see the film with English subtitles; it will preserve the film’s mood, tone and magical journey when you do. Fans of the film rose up in disgust when Miramax originally intended the dvd to only have the English track and this forced the company to release it with the original language. Miyazaki also didn't allow the film to be edited to PG and so Miramax released it under PG-13. The dvd sold very well despite Disney's complaints that it didn't do well in U.S. theaters (it never got the publicity or the exposure as any of its films). Anime has been a genre usually seen as something with a ‘cult following’ and while this is true, Hayao Miyazaki is one of the folks who have caught the attention of mainstream audiences. It was the highest grossing movie in Japan until the disappointing “Titanic” took over that spot.
A time when forest gods and man walked the mountains and in the forest. A time at the dawn of the iron age. A time when man have began to abuse his land’s natural resources and a time when gods turn into demons when they suffer a death while filled with hate. A young man named Ashitaka (Matsuda Yoji) engages a Boar God on a rampage as its body is wracked with pain. With his faithful elk as his steed, the young warrior manages to defeat the boar god in defense of his village, but not without a price. The battle has left Ashitaka with a curse and he must now go on a journey to seek out the Deer god to ask for his aid. In his travels, Ashitaka comes across a town that makes iron led by Lady Eboshi (Yuko Tanaka). This town is locked in a struggle with a proud clan of humans against the forest’s animal gods led by the wolf goddess Moro (voiced by Miwa Akihiro) and her adopted daughter San (Yuriko Ishida), a human girl raised by wolves also known as Princess Mononoke. The struggle between man and nature is about to reach a finality…or is it?
As with most of Miyazaki’s films, “Princess Mononoke” has a strong ecological commentary as the story has themes of nature, human greed, respect and co-existence all wrapped around Japanese mythology. The messages are all there, man’s abuse of his resources and his arrogance to think that he is in control of everything and that his land must bend to his every whim. There are also themes as to how our reliance to technology can make us feel superior even the face of deities. The gods in “Princess Mononoke” are the ones who are trying to fight for survival and their home. Man is the one consumed by greed and pride, while the humans were the ones who play god in a way; as their emperor wishes to achieve immortality and they seem oblivious to the damage they are doing to their environment. But Miyazaki was careful not to portray man as the foremost villain in the film. Man also has his noble side as embodied by Lady Eboshi and her men. They live and they co-exist, they do what is best for each other. Lady Eboshi represents a side that is decent but at the same time she has greed and ruthlessness in her heart.
I suppose if the viewer wanted to go even deeper to the film’s story, one can see that the situation in the film is what brought forth this struggle birthed from hatred and misunderstanding. It is the dawn of a new age and a change is coming. There are a lot of complexities to the film’s plot and some of them you’ll have to absorb by reading between the lines. These complexities were told through the development of its characters and one will have to get into the mindset of the characters since the film gives no definite answers. This was easy to do since the script is just so enthralling and the dialogue speaks a lot to the character's development. There are also a lot of things that happens in the film, and some are deeply entrenched in symbolism which adds to its cinematic experience. To Miyazaki’s credit, he never feels too preachy in his themes. The direction and the writing maintained a sense of energy that the more you get into the film, the more you felt enthralled by it.
San is a young girl who hates humans because of her past. She is more in one with the gods of nature than with her own kind. Eboshi is a strong woman who does right by her people, but in a way, she is also playing in man’s world, and during this time, she may have to be as heartless or maybe more heartless than her male counterparts. She is the proud slayer of many animal gods and she sees the Deer god as another conquest. Eboshi seems to exhibit a traumatic past which makes her more aggressive and determined. Ashitaka is a young warrior who is caught in the crossfire, he tries to be the voice of reason by listening to both sides, not by words but through observation. He is one burdened by a curse so perhaps this was a way for the script to communicate that humans seem more receptive when faced by the shadow of death?
The animation work in the film is spectacular. Much of the film is made through hand-drawings and traditional cel animation which makes it more impressive. The backgrounds do have the use of CGI and digital paint, as the guys in Studio Ghibli does a fantastic job in blending in the 144,000 cel drawings into the CGI environment. The movements were fluid and refined. I was very impressed with the scenes of the charging boar tribe of Ottoka and the effects in the film were unbelievably well-executed for one made with 2D cel animation. There was also a lot of action scenes in the film and they all serve to generate suspense and thrills. This is not your children’s anime, as the action has heads being hacked off and limbs being severed. The film has a fair share of blood with scary images, and even some suggestive themes, so please be mindful of present company. The Japanese voice-acting in the film are excellent and its dialogue and music is so fitting to the film’s premise.
“Princess Mononoke” is definitely one of the greatest animated films ever made. This was before Miyazaki’s own “Spirited Away” (which I will review later) and while that film may seem superior to many, I believe the two films cannot be compared. This film is just awe-inspiring not just for its flawless animation but also because of the way its story is structured, developed and the complexities to the execution of its commentaries and themes. Man and nature share a link, man must learn to live within his boundaries. He must respect his land or he may perish alongside his world. Learn to live together or perish together. Man and nature must live in harmony and maybe then, man can be everything he wishes to be. 'Princess Mononoke" is about the struggle to live, the fight for the right to exist and to have a spot in their world.
HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!! [5- Out of 5 Stars]
One of the greatest achievements of Studio Ghibli and a work of high art. It is an epic struggle between man and nature and how hatred and pride can blind us to the truth. A total grand display of fantastic animation and careful storytelling. A Must-see!
The artwork of this film is astonishing. Set primarily in the forests of ancient Japan, the scenery is lush with life, vivid with depth and detail. The scenery is in some cases so gorgeous it will take your breath away. But the story, too, stands out from the crowd. Written by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki and adapted into English by writer Neil Gaiman, Princess Mononoke is the story Ferngully wanted to be. It tells of a great clash between humans and nature, with the animal gods and forest spirits … more
Before it ever arrived in the U.S., this epic, animated 1997 fantasy had already made history as the top-grossing domestic feature ever released in Japan, where its combination of mythic themes, mystical forces, and ravishing visuals tapped deeply into cultural identity and contemporary, ecological anxieties. For international animation andanimefans,Princess Mononokerepresents an auspicious next step for its revered creator, Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro,Kiki's Delivery Service), an acknowledgedanimepioneer, whose painterly style, vivid character design, and stylized approach to storytelling take ambitious, evolutionary steps here.Set in medieval Japan, Miyazaki's original story envisions a struggle between nature and man. The march of technology, embodied in the dark iron forges of the ambitious Tatara clan, threatens the natural forces explicit in the benevolent Great God of the Forest and the wide-eyed, spectral spirits he protects. When Ashitaka, a young warrior from a remote, and endangered, village clan, kills a ravenous, boar-like monster, he discovers the beast is in fact an infectious "demon god," transformed by human anger. Ashitaka's quest to solve the beast's fatal curse brings him into the midst of human political intrigues as well as the more crucial battle between man and nature. Miyazaki's convoluted fable is clearly not the stuff of kiddie matinees, nor is the often graphic violence depicted during the battles that ensue. ...