★★★★★/★★★★★ Princess Mononoke written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
“In ancient times, the land lay covered in forests, where, from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of the gods. Back then, man and beast lived in harmony, but as time went by, most of the great forests were destroyed. Those that remained were guarded by gigantic beasts who owed their allegiances to the Great Forest Spirit. For those were the days of gods and of demons…”
When I first saw this magnificent piece of film, I was in awe at the beautiful art and masterfully crafted story, which left this as my favourite anime film, not only by Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki, but of all time.
This is a historical tale based in the Muromachi period( ( 1338 to 1573 ) of Japan, with fantasy elements added, as it recounts the story of a forest, animals and the humans that inhabit it. It follows Ashitaka, the last prince of the Emishi tribe, who gets cursed after saving his village from a demon. This curse, although makes him strong, will kill him in the end, so he goes into the forest to try to encounter the Great Forest Spirit, in the hopes it will cure him of the curse. I am very glad they did not make him into the melancholic hero that can only say how much he is not the chosen one, and people should keep moving. He is not chosen for anything, except to die, and the least he can do is leave this world with eyes open to the true nature of what he will be leaving behind. On his journey, he encounters a girl that was raised by wolves and spirits of the forest named San, most commonly known by the villagers as Princess Mononoke (spirit or monster princess), who seeks vengance for what is happening to the forest (her home). This village has been deforesting, and using the land they take to build their town and mine iron under the guidance of Lady Eboshi, who would do anything to save the town, inadvertently harming the creatures living there. Lady Eboshi is the embodiment of a developing society without any desire for preservation.
“Cut off a wolf’s head and it still has the power to bite.”
The score here is perfect. It was composed and performed by Joe Hisaishi, who oftentimes works with Miyazaki, and I adore his work whenever he does. Every song fits splendidly with the scenes, adding to the building tension. Whenever a film has such an amazing score, we are able to transport ourselves more into the story, we feel more of what the characters are feeling, and in doing so, are able to understand them more.
This movie, has an art that can stand against any animation made today, even if this is over fifteen years old. There are series and films done today that lack the perfectly drawn characters and backgrounds, generally only doing good animation for the front speaking individuals and leaving the background to stand with little detail. This ones does not do that. It shows alluring images often followed by gory ones, and even though it could have done more when it came to the characters’ physicality, I forgive it.
The main themes of this anime is the environment, industrialization and human development. Lady Eboshi is doing all she can to keep her village safe, but in the process is destroying the environment around them. The animals are upset, because their home is being taken, and in turn attack the humans. We are then left with the struggle of species to survive in a changing environment, where there has been no shown desire of a give and take between the inhabitants. This would play quite well with the current state of environmental change. Someone should show this film to climate-change deniers, maybe they might get something through their thick skull.
There is also the showing of inclusion in this community of outsiders where the humans live, to show the moral ambiguity of humans. Lady Eboshi built the community as a place for equals, where lepers and prostitutes have the same standing, and no man is greater than the other. She uses distribution of labor and militarization of men and women to keep the community safe, at a time when it was unheard of.
Japanese animation is a truly magnificent art, and this one fits perfectly with the genre. I hope everyone will give it a chance and be able “To see with eyes unclouded by hate.”