When we think about Studio Ghibli, we often dream about wacky lovable characters in a fictional setting. Or cute creatures that we hope to hug when we sleep. And when we get used to that feeling we start to forget that behind those childlike creatures lies a story that is more serious than we think.
There has never been a Studio Ghibli film that is angrier and more emotionally driven than Princess Mononoke. If you have watched Nausicäa of the Valley of the Wind, this is the angrier version of it. And it really doesn't hold back. It doesn't give you a chance to breathe, it keeps you on your toes and most importantly it locks you up to the importance this movie brings.
This is the legacy of one of the best Studio Ghibli films of all time, Princess Mononoke.
The movie starts when Prince Ashitaka's village was attacked by a demon. Although he was able to kill the attacker, he was wounded in the process and got cursed. They discovered that it was a boar spirit that got corrupted. To seek a cure to his curse, Ashitaka ventured west as advised by their elder. Along the way, he met Jigo a monk that told him he needs to look for the Great Forest Spirit that looks like a deer during the day and a Night Walker at night. Meanwhile, while herding a group of men led by Lady Eboshi from the Iron Town repelled an attack by a wolf pack. Riding a wolf was San, a human girl who was raised by one of them. Ashitaka encounters San and manages to rescue several men. He then arrives at the Iron Town. There he learned that the residents of the town were either outcasts or people with disabilities that provide labor to create weapons out of iron. He also learned that the town was built and sustained by cutting the nearby forest which disturbed the spirits and made them angry. Lady Eboshi reveals that San or the one called Princess Mononoke hated humankind for their actions. San soon infiltrated the town and while she and Lady Eboshi were fighting, a villager wounded Ashitaka. Despite his wounds, he was able to carry San to safety. She decides to trust him after the Forest Spirit heals his wounds. The boar clan plans to attack Iron Town while Lady Eboshi and Jigo set out to kill the Forest Spirit. The war ensues and Lady Eboshi and Jigo were able to capture the spirit's head. While its body bleeds, it oozes deadly liquid that disintegrates whatever it touches. Both San and Ashitaka recovered the head from Jigo but the spirit dies. Its form washes over the land healing it as well as Ashitaka's curse. The movie ends with him promising San to meet her again as Lady Eboshi promises to build a better town.
If there would have been a certain film that stamped Studio Ghibli's legacy, I believe Princess Mononoke is the one. I wasn't able to watch this back in 1997 but for me, it is the one that really drove the whole organization forward. Both animation and story-wise made this movie one of the best that has been created ever. I mean seriously, one does not simply mention Studio Ghibli without ever speaking about Princess Mononoke. It is legendary.
The central theme of this movie is once again focused on nature or the environment. And once more, it was humans who made it happen. The character of Prince Ashitaka may not be your typical heroic prince but rather an outsider who is suddenly forced to choose between two sides. I think the film does a wonderful note here that sometimes a third party will view perspectives differently. The movie may have defined that the connection between the environment and the people is maintained but it also showed that both sides have something they want out of the other. It feels like in reality one cannot live or survive without the other. To me, this is one brilliant way to showcase that theme.
But who is right or wrong? Is it Lady Eboshi who rescues immobilized people and outcasts while providing them a place to live or San who wants to save the spirit's homes? I am no expert but I really do think that whenever someone chooses to solve things by war it won't really solve anything. So I believe that both Lady Eboshi and San are on the wrong side of things. It was Prince Ashitaka who all along wanted to solve the issue peacefully I think is right.
When I mentioned that the movie doesn't hold back, it really did. There was some gory animation that may not be suitable for young audiences. It's not too graphic though in my opinion. The movie itself presents conflict after conflict. It somehow feels like it doesn't stop. It keeps escalating that really felt like a very huge rollercoaster ride. I am not against that idea because it really keeps you on your toes the whole time.
San might not have been your typical childhood princess-like character but she is still nonetheless adorable in her own way. Someone who will do everything to protect the ones she loves, even if it means betraying her own blood race. Ashitaka on the other hand is like a typical prince that got caught in the crossfire. His innocence and willingness let him see clearly the things that are happening around him.
The world-building here is really terrific. The Iron Town, the spirits, the forest, and even some politics involved were all well-made and well-presented. This is really the bread and butter of Studio Ghibli films when it presents a large-scale environment.
Hayao Miyazaki once again delivered one of the best-animated films of all time and this I believe really cemented his legacy. No matter how many times I say it there is really no doubt that he is legendary.
I really hope this film did not just impact us viewers but also others as well. The message it brings is something that is important even for years to come. It is an animated movie but what matters most is its importance. And it is important that we learn not only to take care of our environment but to maintain its balance as well.
A very solid 5 out of 5 stars.
P.S. If a prince tells a lady she's beautiful, no matter what happens she always gets stunned even if she wanted to kill him.