Recently I was drawn back to Hayao Miyazaki’s modern animation classic Princess Mononoke! Every time I watch Mononoke, I see it with a pair of fresh eyes. As a film consisting of many layers, something previously undiscovered is revealed as each one is peeled back.
Princess Mononoke is one of my all-time favourite Hayao Miyazaki films. It was also highly praised by renowned film critic Roger Ebert. The lush green scenery of the beautiful forests, hills, and emerald fields just captivates you and pulls you into the story. Miyazaki has been a champion of nature for most of his life. You can see it not only in Mononoke but in other films such as My Neighbor Totoro.
Until very recently, Miyazaki was one of the last advocates of hand-drawn animation in Japan and the entire world. His character designs have always possessed a simplistic yet signature look to them. Because of this fact, you immediately know when you are watching a Studio Gibli film! Most of the older men in his movies have scruffy-looking beards, while the younger males maintain a clean-shaven look. Many of the female characters are rather plain looking as well with most not wearing a speck of makeup. Lady Eboshi is the exact opposite of these characters. Her lips are garnished in a thick shade of velvety red lipstick.
The vocal talents chosen for this film match their on-screen counterparts quite nicely. Ashitaka is played by youthful and yet masculine sounding Youji Matsuda. He has actually voiced characters in several other animations. The intensely savage beauty of San (Mononoke) is captured flawlessly by actress Yuriko Ishida. Yuko Tanaka’s relentlessly ruthless performance as Lady Eboshi is also very commanding!
Ashitaka inherits a life-threatening curse from the Boar God. The elder of his village instructs him to embark upon a quest in order to investigate this curse and save his village. He travels to a place called Iron Town. Iron Town is a place inhabited by humans at the edge of a sacred forest. This forest is protected and watched over by the Deer God and Wolf Gods. The wolves raised a female human, a princess of the forest, known as Mononoke Hime or San.
Princess Mononoke (San) exists with the wolves and other animals in the forest. She lives in harmony with all creatures and spirits. She lives to protect the forest and its various Gods, especially the Deer God. Ashitaka, the main male character, has to save the forest and teach his fellow humans how to coexist with their environment. Ashitaka attempts to bring peace and tolerance between both realms of existence.
The feud between San and Lady Eboshi has been going on even prior to Ashitaka’s arrival. The curse of the Boar God now spreads to his upper arm. Upon meeting Lady Eboshi for the first time, his accursed arm attempts to strike her down. The attempt, however, was unsuccessful.
Iron Town has numerous clashes with the beings of the forest. Lady Eboshi is the leader of Iron Town. Within their wooden fortress, the people manufacture firearms. Eboshi is determined to conquer the neighbouring forest and defeat San and the Wolf Gods in the process. Ashitaka finds himself undertaking his own personal quest within the forest. He seeks the guidance of the Deer God to release him from his curse. He is not the only one seeking the Deer God. Possessing an ulterior motive, the villain of this film seeks the head of the sacred Deer God in order to possess its power.
Princess Mononoke is a prominent example of the might and wrath of Mother Nature. The Deer God giveth and the Deer God taketh away. He has the power to restore life or to claim life from any being in nature. His awesome powers are put on display later in this film.
Will man ever learn to live side by side with nature? Is mankind even capable of doing so?
Princess Mononoke is a film about tolerance, understanding, love, and compassion. It is meant to be enjoyed by older children and adults alike. No matter what your age, this movie’s powerful message will plant itself in your spirit and grow like a young seedling in the forest!
Princess Mononoke is an uninhibited exploration of nature’s divine spirit! The mythology explored within this film runs like an historical river through a vast landscape of Japanese culture. Hayao Miyazaki’s love of humanity shines brighter than the sun in this inspiring epic! Already considered a modern classic, this anime staple will likely be a topic of discussion for many centuries to come!
Written by Carl W. Zeigler