- Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
- July 12, 1997
- Ashitaka-Billy Crudup
- San-Claire Danes.
- Kaya-Tara Strong
- Lady Eboshi-Minnie Driver
- Jigo-Billy Bob Thornton.
- Kohroku-John DeMita
- Gonza-John DiMaggio
- Moro-Gillian Anderson
- Hii-sama-Debi Derryberry.
- Okkoto-Keith David
- Nago-John DiMaggio
- Toki-Jada Pinkett Smith
While searching for a cure, a young prince finds himself caught in a war between a mining company and a forest god.
One thing that confused me right away was that there was nobody named “Mononoke” among the entire cast of characters. Before going in it is helpful to know that Mononoke is not a name, but rather a word for supernatural, shape-shifting beings that possess people and cause suffering, disease, or death. Now to the movie…
Princess Mononoke contains environmental themes. It’s clear that the intent by the mining company to destroy the forest god in order to continue their mining is an allusion to companies wanting to destroy the local environment in order to get at whatever resources are under the ground. Carrying tis concept further that destruction is not felt just locally but rather on a much larger scale as indicated by Ashitaka and his infection which causes him to have to travel.
The beauty of this film is that it doesn’t beat you over the head with its message but rather wraps it up in great animation and solid dialogue to get it past whatever mental biases you may have. And that is just good storytelling.
Lady Eboshi, the leader of the mining town, represents the evil corporation. The spirits represent environmentalists taking whatever measures necessary and Ashitaka represents the average person caught in between of them all. One could even see San as a crusading environmentalist.
The animation is absolutely beautiful but would you expect anything else? Princess Mononoke is animation as art. It creates a vibrant, realistic, and most importantly lived-in world that the characters exist in. The story is set in the late Muromachi period of Japan (about 1336 to 1573 CE) and includes fantasy elements and while that bit is utterly meaningless to me, they did not wing it when coming up with things.
This is not a cutesy story filled with characters who over exaggerate. I hate that in Japanese animation. There is nothing so goofy that you are taken out of the story. This is a serious fantasy drama without the stereotypical goofiness that individuals expect to be based off of shows like One Piece or Pokémon. This is a drama with a message and that message is wrapped up in a fantasy world very much steeped in Japanese culture.
Jigo (voice by Billy Bob Thornton) seems like a one-off character, but he abruptly becomes something else entirely. I’m curious if that was some error in translation or something mostly accurately translated that was just poorly handled.
My major beef, and this seems to go with Japanese animation in general, is this film is heavy on exposition. A little explanation here and there is good, but the story should unfold rather than be spoon-fed and that’s what exposition does. It tends to slow down or even stop the narrative but fortunately things pick up again. I know there is some done to explain cultural elements that would not be understood outside of Japan, but other instances feel like they just were too lazy to actually show stuff.
Princess Mononoke is not a kids cartoon but children can certainly watch it. It’s a mature story but not so adult that children can’t view it as well. After all how many cartoons discuss prostitutes being brought to town? But you don’t see any acts of prostitution. What we get here is about as dirty as anything Miss Kitty did in Gunsmoke.
This is a quiet film and the finale with all its build up just doesn’t feel as epic as it looks. It’s good but it’s not big and that’s where the film goes wrong. It doesn’t ruin things but it doesn’t elevate the story as a whole. They decapitate a god and it feels rather mutated.
Princess Mononoke is a good bit of Japanese animation. It’s an interesting story and beautiful animation with the films major flaw not being a powerful enough ending. Still though I think you should give this a look even if I am a little hesitant about that.