Should I Watch..? 'Princess Mononoke'

Updated on March 31, 2020
Benjamin Cox profile image

Ben now has a Twitter account for this blog - follow him at @shouldiwatch2 so you can stay up to date with all his latest content and more.

Film's poster (English)
Film's poster (English) | Source

What's the big deal?

Princess Mononoke is an epic animated fantasy film initially released in 1997 and was written and directed by the widely respected Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. Produced by Studio Ghibli, the film depicts an alternative vision of Japan's history and sees a warrior embark on a perilous journey to distant lands to rid himself of a deadly curse. In the process, he unwittingly finds himself caught in a conflict between the forest gods and the industrious humans using the forest's natural resources. The Japanese voice cast features Yōji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi and veteran actor and drag queen Akihiro Miwa. The film eventually received a limited release outside of Japan in 1999 courtesy of Disney and Miramax where the film's success helped establish Studio Ghibli as one of the greatest and most respected animation studios in the world. Since its release, the film has earned more than $159 million worldwide and is widely recognised by critics as one of the best animated feature films of all time.

Unmissable

5 stars for Princess Mononoke

What's it about?

In medieval Japan, a remote village is attacked by a rabid demon possessing the body of a giant boar. Ashitaka, the last prince of his Emishi people, defeats the demon in battle but is sorely injured after his arm is caught by one of the creature's dark tendrils. According to the village wise woman, the curse will eventually kill Ashitaka although it will also give him supreme strength. They discover that the boar that attacked them was the boar god Nago who came from the distant lands to the west and that the source of corruption was a small iron ball found in the body. Rather than face his impending death, Ashitaka begins a journey into the west in the hopes of lifting the curse upon him.

On his travels, Ashitaka meets a wandering monk called Jigo who tells him that his only hope may lie with the Great Forest Spirit - a reclusive deer-like creature by day but a terrifying 'nightwalker' once the sun sets. Eventually, Ashitaka arrives in the community of Irontown ruled by the benevolent Lady Eboshi which has been stripping the forest of its natural resources and relies on weapons of metal and gunpowder. Standing up to her is the wolf-goddess Moro and her adopted human daughter San, determined to end Eboshi's destruction of the forest. As he finds himself drawn into the conflict between man and nature, Ashitaka's curse begins to slowly take over...

Trailer (English version)

Main Cast

Actor (Japanese cast)
Role
Yōji Matsuda
Ashitaka
Yuriko Ishida
San
Yūko Tanaka
Lady Eboshi
Kaoru Kobayashi
Jigo
Masahiko Nishimura
Kohroku
Tsunehiko Kamijō
Gonza
Akihiro Miwa
Moro
Mitsuko Mori
Hii-sama
Hisaya Morishige
Okkoto

Technical Info

Director
Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay
Hayao Miyazaki *
Running Time
134 minutes
Release Date (UK)
19th October, 2001
Rating
PG
Genre
Adventure, Animation, Fantasy
*English translation by Neil Gaiman
The film is another incredibly imaginative fantasy setting with sights and characters completely unique - it is the very lifeblood of Studio Ghibli themselves.
The film is another incredibly imaginative fantasy setting with sights and characters completely unique - it is the very lifeblood of Studio Ghibli themselves. | Source

What's to like?

Even if you are accustomed to the beautiful, hand-drawn animation seen in Studio Ghibli films (and if you aren't, you should be), Princess Mononoke stands out as a picture of exceptional quality. From gorgeous scenery to detailed characters full of life, it is easy to see how accomplished Miyazaki and his army of illustrators have become since the charming My Neighbour Totoro barely a decade earlier. Amid the stunning visions of life and death in ancient Japan are creatures and monsters of such originality that their appearance is initially unsettling, so alien are they to our formulaic imaginations. A film like this could only come from the mind of Miyazaki who once again provides such a rich and deep setting to reinforce his pro-environment rhetoric although it's worth noting that the screenplay, in a masterstroke, is more nuanced than that. It poses questions of both its characters and the audience, wondering how important it is that nature and humanity must coexist for the benefit of both.

The film also feels more grown-up than much of Ghibli's output. The film contains scenes of almost shocking violence with decapitations and limbs getting hacked off in battle, although these are thankfully brief. What I love best about these films is how organic and believable the characters are and this is also true of Princess Mononoke with child-like protagonists discovering the cruelty and harsh reality of the wider world around them. Even minor characters such as Kohroku's wife Toki not just provides some humour into the film but also still feel fully fleshed out in their own right, as though they have their own stories to tell amid such a chaotic backdrop. But this is such an imaginative world that it would be impossible to make in a live-action film and you can only watch a film like this and admire it for its scope, inventiveness and sheer beauty.

Fun Facts

  • The film was intended to be Miyazaki's swansong which may explain why the man himself is said to have worked on more than 80'000 individual cels out of the 144'000 used in the film. At the time of its release, it was the second longest animated film in history (it's now the fourth) and the most expensive animated film of all time. After the film's success, Miyazaki reversed his decision to retire and continued making films for many years afterwards.
  • According to Japanese mythology, all wolves are considered male-voiced regardless of their actual sex. This is why the wolf mother Moro is voiced by a male actor in the Japanese version - Akihiro Miwa. In the English language dub, the voice is provided by X-Files actress Gillian Anderson.
  • Having been upset by the western cut of his earlier film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Miyazaki stormed out of a meeting with then-Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein when he suggested making cuts to Princess Mononoke in order to make the film more marketable to western audiences. Days later, Miyazaki's colleague and producer Toshio Suzuki sent a katana sword to Weinstein's office with the words "No cuts" embedded on the blade. Possibly in retaliation for the stunt, the film was released uncut but in a much smaller number of cinemas than originally promised.

What's not to like?

It's worth noting that this film is much darker in tone than other Studio Ghibli films like Kiki's Delivery Service or the aforementioned My Neighbour Totoro so anyone expecting a family-friendly fantasy film in the same vein as those might want to thin twice. Personally, I'd have given the film a 12 rating instead of PG - not just because of the violence but also because of several swears dropped into the dialogue and the apocalyptic atmosphere the film generates. Thematically, the film also feels a little ambitious at times - of course, the usual Miyazaki messages about the environment are in there but so too are messages about gender equality, rights for the disabled, social justice, individualism and conformity. This is heady stuff for what is supposed to be a family-friendly cartoon, something that no Studio Ghibli film should be dismissed as such.

I can remember a conversation I had with a work colleague after I watched Toy Story 3 at the cinema. I was talking about how you genuinely felt for the characters, fearing for them as their apparent doom seemed at hand and the sadness that overwhelmed you when it felt like you were saying goodbye for the last time. She expressed doubt that "a simple cartoon" could evoke such emotions from its audience but she couldn't have been more wrong. All animation has a way of getting under your skin in a way that live-action simply can't and each Studio Ghibli release feels like a wonderfully different experience, a dream-like journey through alien worlds with otherworldly characters. It's the perfect antidote to films we've become used to without realising it. Films with good and evil instead of shades of grey, films with a standard narrative instead of a story with a purpose or meaning. Films like this remind me why I love movies.

The characters offer a variety of motivations and feel as conflicted as we do witnessing the battle between man, beast and deity.
The characters offer a variety of motivations and feel as conflicted as we do witnessing the battle between man, beast and deity. | Source

Should I watch this?

Without question, this is not just one of the best animated films ever made but also one of the best films - full stop. Princess Mononoke is an astonishing blend of fantasy, parable and beauty that will bowl over viewers new to anime as well as those used to the medium. It's also a testament to the genius of its creator Hayao Miyazaki, an animator who is as visionary and talented as the likes of Walt Disney himself. No wonder many animators now cite Miyazaki as an inspiration, thanks to wonderfully epic pictures like this.

Great For: cinema lovers, Miyazaki's reputation, Japanophiles, Greenpeace activists

Not So Great For: anyone who struggles with subtitles (haven't heard the dubbed version but given the quality of the English language cast, it should be good), people who processes things literally, anyone without Netflix

What else should I watch?

Studio Ghibli have carved themselves a beloved niche in the hearts of animation fans all over the world since they emerged in 1986 with Castle In The Sky. With Miyazaki the driving force behind the studio, they have an enviable back catalogue of films like My Neighbour Totoro, Grave Of The Fireflies, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. Such is their dominance of anime in Japan that six of the top ten grossing animated films are theirs. As for Miyazaki, he has been in semi-retirement ever since The Wind Rises in 2013 but he is rumoured to return later in 2020 with the much-anticipated How Do You Live?, although no official release date has been confirmed.

I find it sad that, when you compare anime to more western animation, Studio Ghibli don't really have a counterpart. Yes, Disney still produce animated movies when they aren't buying up every intellectual property they can snaffle up but in truth, only Pixar can come close and even then, they have to be in the mood for it. While they still produce box-office busters like Cars or Brave, they can also produce some genuinely groundbreaking cinema. Up is a genuinely heartbreaking adventure with a widowed pensioner literally drifting away from his problems but my all-time favourite is WALL•E, a gloriously uplifting sci-fi adventure that also contains powerful messages about climate change and the dangers of over-consumerism. That such a film was distributed by Disney did strike me as ironic.

© 2020 Benjamin Cox

Soap Box

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)