Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 film Princess Mononoke is widely considered to be one of the best Japanese animated films of all time. It’s a fantasy set during the Muromachi period of Japan, that’s filled with incredibly imagination and a surprising amount of gore, while also telling a story that deals with the environmental theme of conservation.
The animation is beautiful, even for a Studio Ghibli film this is stunning. Every character, every moment, looks absolutely great. It’s one of those films that completely takes you away to another world filled with wonder and amazement. Ghibli are normally excellent at creating that feeling and even though this is a lot more mature than most of their work they manage to create it masterfully.
This is a very gory film, surprisingly so when you compare it to other Miyazaki films. There are brutal fights, body parts being shot off by arrows, and animals being brutally and slowly murdered. It’s not filled with blood, and none of it is done for shock value, but it’s still dark. It’s probably better suited to a teenage audience compared to something other Ghibli films. All the way through It’s a brutal story, right from the beginning with the main character being cursed and the rest of his village considering him dead as soon as he leaves. He has to give up everything to find a way to survive, and the world is just as harsh outside the village.
The story deals with the idea of man vs. nature, with naturing fighting back as humans destroy the forest. Conservation is the main theme, with a village it’s leader looking to destroy the nearby environment which will be devastating for the animals that live there. The main character Ashitaka is stuck in the middle, wanting there to be peace in the land, but that’s not always possible when others are hellbent on war and won’t take an alternative.
Despite the bleakness of the world created, there are moments of hope, and some of the more light-hearted things you’d expect from a Ghibli film, but those take a back seat to the brutality of the world in the film. The tree elements that help guide Ashitaka through the forest the first time are cute, and friendly. They’re a stark contrast to the horrors of the rest of the world around them.
Overall Princess Mononoke is a hard hitting environmental parable. It’s message is powerful, and while it’s very similar in theme to another Ghibli film that came out three years prior, Pom Poko, it manages to explore it in a very different way. The fantasy elements may put people off, but it’s one of the more striking and unique Ghibli films all the same.
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