The film is set in ancient Japan (around the Muromachi period 1392-1573) where people are beginning to use more advanced technology and to move away from small, secluded villages, into larger town like communities. A man by the name of Ashitaka is cursed by a possessed boar God and must leave his village and loved ones to try and find a cure and to discover that turned the boar God into a rampaging demon. On his journey he discovers a feud between humans living in a large iron works and the Gods of the neighbouring forest. A young girl called San travels with the Gods and tries to banish the humans, yet Ashitaka and San form a unique bond and must work together to save both the world of the Gods and of the humans.
Princess Mononoke is arguably Hayao Miyazaki's darkest and most complex film. Unlike other Studio Ghibli pictures, Princess Mononoke has a number of scenes of violence that would perhaps not be suitable for young children. Whilst this may put some people off the violence is never gratuitous and the darker tone complements the more complex themes that run through the movie. Image 1 of 3. Click to enlarge Image 2 of 3. Click to enlarge
The best way to describe Princess Mononoke is to call it epic. Yet whilst some epic movies neglect the relationships between characters and their growth in favour of filling the screen with impressive
Many themes are explored in the film such as the power of love, the weak being able to find great inner strength in order to prevail, and the importance of respecting and preserving our natural resources. The latter theme seems to occur throughout many of Miyazaki's earlier pictures such as Castle in the Sky and My Neighbour Totoro, yet its expression in Princess Mononoke is more complex. The relationship between humans and nature co-existing together is expressed between the polar opposites of the lush green forest residing right next to the foreboding and polluting iron works. The constant conflict between the two is portrayed through the many (bloody) conflicts that the Gods of the forest have with the humans.
A distinctive aspect of Princess Mononoke is the lack of any true antagonist or bad guy that opposes the hero. Whilst the audience may feel inclined to side with the plight of the forest spirits and San, the humans, and especially the leader of the iron works, Lady Eboshi, have very positive attributes. She wants to provide for her people as best she can, and she even takes care of lepers when others have discarded them. It is this use of well rounded characters in Princess Mononoke that really separates the film from other movies of its ilk and provides the greatest enjoyment.
There appears to be a lack of faith on behalf of the humans in the
Whilst the greatest enjoyment of the movie can be garnered from the well rounded characters and their relationships with one another, and thus the themes these relationships raise, there are also numerous action sequences which at times are simply breathtaking. These sequences often involve conflicts between the Gods and mortals (humans) and are reminiscent of the large scale battle scenes that you may see in films such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The battles are beautifully realised and often as violent as their live action counterparts.
Image 1 of 3. Click to enlarge
Image 2 of 3. Click to enlarge
Princess Mononoke is rooted in Japanese folklore. The spirits that populate the forest range in size and bizarreness. Whilst the wolf and boar Gods resemble their mortal equivalents (albeit they appear in much larger sizes) there are several more unique spirits in the forest. The Kodama are small, ghost like spirits that on occasion fill the forest. The movement of their heads creates a strange sound that resembles the beating of a drum. These creatures are brought to life in this, Studio Ghibli's most visually impressive feature film. Each frame has been lovingly crafted be it the vivid green forest that is full of life, or the brown and Image 3 of 3. Click to enlarge
Image 3 of 3. Click to enlarge
The musical score accompanies the movie perfectly with some stirring choral arrangements. The music is used sparingly though with a large percentage of the film devoid of any music but instead relies on natural sounds. The reliance on natural sounds is an ideal companion to the imagery of the forest and the spirits that live within it. The English dub is also of a very high quality with most of the major characters being voiced by well known stars such as Claire Danes and Billy Bob Thornton. The English dub is probably even better than the subtitled version as you get to appreciate the artistry of the visuals without the inconvenience of text running along the bottom of the screen.
Princess Mononoke is Miyazaki's most ambitious film to date. Whilst it could have ended up a mess with its complex character relationships and themes, he and his artists have produced one of the finest anime movies ever produced. Whilst the subject matter may not be to everyone's tastes as a visual spectacle the film can not be faulted. Whilst it is not my favourite Studio Ghibli film, it is the film I tend to come back to the most often and will do so again and again.
Princess Mononoke was released in 1997 in Japan to huge critical acclaim. The film is still the third highest grossing movie in Japanese history and only bettered by Titanic and Miyazaki's most recent...
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