There were rumblings this week Studio Ghibli’s animation machine could be back and whirling in action after a minor hiatus. The company’s creative genius Hayao Miyazaki may have retired, but Studio Ghibli showed its world class with the Tale of Princess Kaguya in 2013. If they want any further inspiration, they need only look back to Princess Mononoke from 1997, a sweeping masterpiece of the highest order.
Thusly, on this merry Sunday we’re taking a look at what we consider to be one of the best films of all time. It’s certainly one of the best animated films ever (Studio Ghibli use traditional hand drawn animation to this day) and features complex themes such as war, environmentalism, alienation, honour, courage, and the nature of the human spirit. Simply put, it’s a film you must watch. That’s an order, not a suggestion!
Japanese animation took a while to catch on in the West, but in 1997 Princess Mononoke triggered off a craze which would ultimately lead to Studio Ghibli’s following effort, Spirited Away, winning an Oscar in 2003. Princess Mononoke is the better film, in our opinion, but its legacy now appears to be how it created appreciation for Japanese film making amongst Western audiences. We’re here to remind everyone’s it’s also an incredibly good film.
We don’t do spoilers here at Professional Moron, but we will hint at the complex plot to whet your movie going appetite. The plot focuses on young warrior Ashitaka who is wounded and cursed to an early death. Accepting his fate, he nonetheless sets out from his home village to seek a cure. Eventually he comes across a manufacturing site which is being besieged by divine powers – deities such as enormous war hogs and wolf gods, the latter of which have a feral woman called San in their number. She is determined to end the destructive industrial action which is destroying the landscape, with the two forming an unusual, but deeply human, bond in the process.
It’s a sweeping masterpiece and, culturally, we’d class it as highly important. We recommend it as vital viewing for all ages – older children will find its mix of fantastical images, pulse pounding plot devices, soundtrack, excellent voice acting, and dark themes particularly compelling. However, Princess Mononoke stands as a fine example as to why animation isn’t “just for kids”. This is grown up time with difficult concepts and harsh realities laid bare for all to comprehend.
One of the most striking features of Princess Mononoke are the kodama (木霊 or 木魂 – not being able to read Japanese either one doesn’t make any sense) who feature throughout. In Princess Mononoke they’re represented by stoic, mute little white dudes who communicate by clicking their heads.
It’s one of those small yet almighty touches which Studio Ghibli sprinkle onto their films to turn them into magical experiences. Indeed, watch the film and you’ll want to own a kodama. Tough, they don’t exist! You’ll have to buy a hamster instead.
Soundtrack and Animation
We once read a review of this film saying the soundtrack was poor. What?! We’d like to redress this matter right here by saying the soundtrack is quite fantastic. If anything it’s a little unusual in how its structured, but it’s nonetheless a fine piece of work and inspired.
We’ll mention the animation alongside this as it’s one of the most memorable and spectacular films in Studio Ghibli’s canon, and that’s saying something. Hand drawn, it’s really the pinnacle of its art and after almost 20 years it looks incredible. Whether it’s the spooky but adorable kodama doing their thing, the raging battle scenes, the background scenery, or the character animation, it’s Studio Ghibli on top form and its one heck of an achievement.
We’ve covered everything already but if you’re still nonplussed about Princess Mononoke, do remember it’s received widespread critical acclaim. Some may baulk at critical assessments, but we still consider it a fine indication of whether a film will at least be enjoyable. We may be morons, but we like to think we can understand a classic film when we see one – here is a perfect example. Go and buy the DVD, you fools!