Princess Mononoke is the tenth feature film produced and released by the Japanese Animation studio, Studo Ghibli (スタジオジブリ), and the seventh film directed by Hayao Miyzaki. It took Miyazaki over sixteen years to fully develop the story; and at the time it was the most expensive anime ever produced. It currently sits at #98 on the IMDB Top 250 films, and at 94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Check out our review of the fourth film in our Miyazaki Month, Princess Mononoke after the jump!
While defending his village from a demon-boar, Ashitaka is injured and his right arm is cursed by the demon. The curse is deadly, and in order to have any chance of survival Ashitaka must travel through the forests in the West [and beyond] to seek a cure. He seeks not only a cure for the curse, but the origins of the demon-boar and reason for it’s appearance. While travelling through the forest Ashitaka meets a monk who informs him that the best chance he has of lifting the curse lies with the animal gods who inhabit the area.
In his search for the animal gods, Ashitaka comes across the mining town of Tatara, who are waging their own war with the forest and those that inhabit it. Lady Eboshi and the town have been clearing the forest and developing weapons which have the ability to cause large-scale damage to the area. This has enraged the animal gods and they are displeased with the humans. Amongst the gods lives San (or Mononoke) – a young woman who was adopted by the animal gods and considers herself one of them. Ashitaka intervenes to help San when she attacks the village, and from there he becomes invested in the plight of the forest and the animals. Ashitaka decides to help protect the animal gods from Lady Eboshi [and the village], who believe the head of the animal god will end the battle in their favour. He slowly becomes quite taken by San, and is in awe of her and her dedication to protecting the forest and her family.
This film is so thematically-rich and deeply layered, and it is quite difficult to sum it up in a short review. It would be easy to write a couple of thousand words of plot summary alone, and even then you’d only be scrapping the surface of this extraordinary film. The distinctive feature of this film is it’s commentary on the environment and the impact that human’s have on both the plant and animal life. The film very much represents the environment as a living entity that has a soul and a “being”. Miyazaki is quite an active environmentalist in his personal life, and he can sometimes be found walking the streets of Tokyo, protesting against nuclear power and weapons. This film very much feels like a personal plea from him to all of us to respect the environment more. [See here for a great video interview with him about the environment in his films].
For every action there is an equal or worse reaction – this is a message that the film repeats again and again. The humans take things from the environment, so the environment takes something from the humans – often sacrificing parts of itself to try to save the truly sacred aspects/things. Humans can’t be allowed to live without realising the consequences of their greed – the cost is too high. The pain that the animal gods and even the plant-life displays in this film when it is dying or watching others die is extraordinary – they may not be human but they have more humanity than most people do.
Like all Miyazaki films, this is beautifully animated and wonderfully scored – this basically goes without saying by now! Miyzaki has always paid special attention to making sure all of the elements in the environment in his films feel real and living, and this is very much the case in this film. Every movement of the trees in the wind, every clump of earth crushed by a footstep, every trickle of water – it is all so very real and tangible.
The relationship between Ashitaka and San is fascinating to watch grow and change. Firstly he is frightened of her, then he is in awe of her, and finally he is just completely captivated by all that she does and all that she is. Theirs is not a conventional relationship, but it is one that you enjoy watching develop. You can’t help but wish that there will be a happy ending for the two of them, and for the environment which they are fighting to save.
We could keep going on about how wonderful every element of this film is, but you probably get the idea by now. It’s not as full of whimsy and pure happiness as many of his other films, and therefore some people may not enjoy it as much. However, what it lacks in whimsy it makes up for in character, story, and in an environmental message that has real conviction.