Classic Review – Princess Mononoke (1997)

Prince Ashitaka and Princess Mononoke

Prince Ashitaka and Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Voice work by Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Claire Danes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gillian Anderson, Keith David

Review by Jordan

Until Titanic was was released later in the year, Hayao Miyazaki‘s 7th feature film as director was the highest grossing film in Japan of all time as well as the country’s submission for the Best Foreign Film award at the Academy Awards. This may not appear strange given it’s epic nature and gorgeous design, together with its glowing reputation and sense of adventure, but with startlingly unsubtle environmentalist undertones it does linger as unique that it remains so universally loved  by all…

Perhaps politics takes second place to immersive storytelling and imagined environments? If so, I’m not about to complain.

Princess Mononoke tells the story of the young Prince Ashitaka, the last of the Emishi people, who, after being attacked by  Boar God Nago who has been corrupted by an iron ball lodged in his body, is cursed with the same hatred and must travel west in order to meet his fate. Eventually he arrives in the developing Irontown, a frontier settlement where the women are strong and their endeavor is admirable, where he earns the respect of it’s strong-willed founder Lady Eboshi and becomes caught in the middle of her ongoing war with the inhabitants of the bordering forest, including our titular princess and her clan of wolves and the very spirit of the forest itself.

Able to empathize with both sides, Ashitaka is viewed as a traitor to the two parties but must battle to keep both the girl he loves, and the woman he respects alive whilst also searching for a cure to the curse that will soon destroy him. His lot is a harsh one, but he is strong, courageous and determined enough to overcome it.

Labelled “The Star Wars of animated features” by the New York Post and often heralded as a landmark motion picture and the best in Miyazaki‘s career, it’s apparent that time, even a relatively small amount, has done what can still confidently be called a classic no favors in a narrative sense. The grandeur still remains, with pictures so mesmerizing and powerful they sometimes feels like a mild form of hypnosis (the Spirit of the Forest is a truly wonderful creation, elegantly gliding through the frame and spreading its beauty) but the battle between the conservationists and the developers, and the want for a treatise so that both ideas can co-exist to save the destruction of either, is too obvious and hampers the sense of escapism in pivotal moments. The character of manipulative Monk Jigo so clearly represents the greedy nature of man that would see the world crumble for his own riches he is at times a blight on the action.

Despite its flaws however, Princess Mononoke is animation of the highest order and in it’s best moments representative of Ghibli at its finest. Adored by its legions of fans and currently sitting at #72 on IMDb’s top 250, it is a visually stunning journey into a magical world that will elicit as much excitement as it does wonder, and for a minority viewership looking for something darker, the demons of hate and the severed arms and heads have you covered.

4 wolves out of 5

17 responses to “Classic Review – Princess Mononoke (1997)

  1. Great review Jordan. Yeah the environmental message is a bit heavy handed but maybe thats more because of the times we live in. In 1997 the message was probably more fresh. I love the whole opening part with Ashitaka chasing the boar

  2. The finest from Miyazaki or Ghibli as a whole, in my opinion… Was an astounding experience that left me speechless for a day or two before I could write its review. Wonderful write up, Jordan.

  3. Mononoke changed my life. It’s quite a long story, but the TLDR version is I watched it twice in one day. I had waited weeks to see it and it didn’t disappoint. Definitely in my top 5 Ghibli films.

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