Anime Film Review: Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is a film directed by Hayao Miyazaki and released by Studio Ghibli in 1997 in Japan. Miramax Films released an English dubbed version of the film in 1999.

Princess Mononoke
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Yōji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi, Masahiko Nishimura, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Akihiro Miwa, Mitsuko Mori, Hisaya Morishige
Run Time: 134 minutes
Rated: PG-13

The film is set during the late Muromachi period of Japan, and it includes a number of fantastical elements. The story of the film focuses on the struggle between the supernatural guardians of the forest and the humans that try to consume the resources of the forest.

The main character of Princess Mononoke is Ashitaka, the last Emishi prince. The film opens with Ashitaka saving his village when he kills the demon form of Nago, the boar god, when he goes on a rampage and threatens the village. Unfortunately for Ashitaka, he receives a demon mark on his arm during the battle, and is cursed by the pain and hatred of the Boar God. When Nago’s corpse is examined, a ball of iron is discovered; it is believed that the ball of iron is connected to Nago’s curse. Because of the curse, Ashitaka is destined for death, so he decides to leave the village and search for a cure for the curse.

During his travels, Ashitaka arrives in a forest that is inhabited by animal gods and the Forest Spirit. A human settlement called Irontown is nearby, which is a refuge for social outcasts, former brothel workers and lepers. Lady Eboshi hires the citizens to manufacture firearms to defend the settlement against the forest gods; as part of their job, the people in the settlement clear the forest to get more iron ore. The actions of the settlement anger the animal gods, and both groups battle each other. It was during one of these battles that Lady Eboshi, the head of Irontown, shot the iron ball into Nago the Boar God.

The Irontown settlement is attacked by San, a human girl who has been adopted by wolves. Ashitaka intervenes to stop the fighting and takes San back to the forest; however, Ashitaka is injured during this effort. With San’s help, the Forest Spirit heals Ashitaka’s wounds, but not his curse. Ashitaka travels between Irontown and the forest in an attempt to make peace. Lady Eboshi, however, decides to hunt the head of the Forest Spirit. The remainder of the film shows what happens during Lady Eboshi’s attempt to get the Forest Spirit’s head.

Princess Mononoke tells a compelling story, and it focuses on two ideas: the environment and the fact that no one is necessarily either good or evil. What I really appreciate about the storytelling in Princess Mononoke is the fact that Miyazaki was able to tell this story without falling into the trap of “the forest animals and the animal spirits are the ‘good guys,’ and that Lady Eboshi and the citizens of Irontown are the ‘bad guys’.”

The animation in Princess Mononoke is breathtaking, and perfectly conveys the feelings and emotions Miyazaki wants the viewer to experience while watching the film. This was also one of the first Studio Ghibli films to truly begin utilizing computer animation. On the one hand, the computer animation does noticeably stand out from the rest of the animation in the film; however, since the computer animation was generally used for some of the more “fantastical” sequences in the film, the blatant different in animation actually helps to enhance those sequences.

It should be noted that Princess Mononoke carries a PG-13 rating, which is rather unusual for a Studio Ghibli film; however, this rating is very justified. During the film, there are beheadings shown at one point when Ashitaka is having to battle against some humans, and the overall feel of the film is a bit “darker” in comparison to most of the other films produced by Studio Ghibli.

When it comes to the actual DVD release of Princess Mononoke, there wasn’t much in the way of special features. There’s an English language theatrical trailer, and a short featurette about the making of the English dub of the film. The featurette focuses on the voice cast, but it also includes Neil Gaiman, the man who translated the film for the English dub. Overall, this was a decent featurette.

If you’re a fan of Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli, or if you simply like Princess Mononoke, then you really should include this DVD in your home video library if it isn’t already in it.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Princess Mononoke that my husband purchased for me as a gift.

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