Princess Mononoke (1997) もののけ姫

Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Running Time: 134 minutes
Starring: Yōji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi
Theme: Culture (Anime)

Ratings: IMDb.com: 8.4/10 | Metacritic: 76/100

Film Festivals:

Awards:
2001 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films: Saturn Award
1998 Awards of the Japanese Academy: Best Film, Special Award
1998 Blue Ribbon Awards: Special Award
1998 Mainichi Film Concours: Best Animated Film, Best Film, Reader’s Choice Award

Nominations:
2000 Annie Awards: Outstanding Individual Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature Production
2000 Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards: Sierra Award for Best Animated Film
2000 Golden Reel Award (Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA): Best Sound Editing – Animated Feature
2000 Satellite Awards: Golden Satellite Award for Best Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media
2001 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America – Nebula Award for Best Script

The main reason I chose this animation movie for one of my 50 films is because it would definitely be severe injustice to the huge cultural movement that surrounds anime in Japan if the genre is left out. Princess Mononoke (1997), to sum it up in one word, is epic, and that comes from someone who is not even an anime fan to begin with. The film is directed by animation visionary Hayao Miyazaki, who later went on to direct Spirited Away (2001) that clinched an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2002, and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) that was nominated for the same award in 2005. His latest work is Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008). The prolific manga artist and prominent film animator has nearly five decades worth of experience, and this shines through in the sharp pacing and crisp imagery of the film, that also had a 1999 English-dubbed American release.

Princess Mononoke combines both historical elements—being set in the late Muromachi period of Japan—with the paranormal as supernatural beasts and spirits take centerstage here, much like all of his later works. The titular character is otherwise known as San, a human being adopted by a pack of wolves when she was abandoned by her parents as a baby. The self-righteous character is against the industrialization of the nearby Iron Town, run by Lady Eboshi, an authoritarian feminist leader who renders the men slaves and the women her aides. Feminist lines such as “Women are more intelligent than men” are reiterated throughout the show, for instance. The development of Iron Town means the forests have to be cleared to make way for more factories and buildings. Meanwhile, the forests are full of (very cute) diminutive tree spirits and a Forest Spirit that adopts the form of a deer reigns.

Miyazaki avoids moral simplifications as he opts not to take a stand for or against industrialization versus environmental protection in this struggle for triumph. His sympathies switching between both sides in a rather convoluted manner that would perhaps be clearer in a more straightforward story thread. The protagonist is Ashitaka, the “Chosen One” brought to the area because he was wounded and poisoned by the boar god whilst fending off the enemy to protect his hometown. He becomes the middleman between the two parties as he tries to seek a compromise between the environmental perpetrators with the industrialists, and is the ultimate victim of the hard-wringing battle for supremity between the two. I’m not sure whether the release of this movie has anything to do with the lead-up to the Kyoto Protocol that was released the same year, or was it sheer happenstance. But the environmentalist messages against global warming and the emission of greenhouse gases that started taking prominence in the 1990s make the release timely. Miyazaki also succeeds in not making Ashitaka the typical hero, revealing in an interview that, “Ashitaka is not a cheerful, worry-free boy. He is a melancholy boy who has a fate. I feel that I am that way myself, but until now, I have not made a film with such a character. Ashitaka was cursed for a very absurd reason. Sure, Ashitaka did something he should not have done – killing Tatari Gami. But there was enough reason to do so from the humans’ viewpoint. Nevertheless, he received a deadly curse. I think that is similar to the lives of people today. I think this is a very absurd thing that is part of life itself.” (Toyama, R., 1997).

The movie is ranked 6th on seminal film critic Roger Ebert’s Top Ten movies of 1999 (apparently he only managed to catch to English-dubbed version). He writes, “Animated films are not copies of “real movies,” are not shadows of reality, but create a new existence in their own right. True, a lot of animation is insipid, and insulting even to the children it is made for. But great animation can make the mind sing.” (Ebert, 1999). The critical and box office acclaim garnered by the movie is significant because it marked a shift away from the Disney monopoly into the other ancillary markets of Japanese anime, and other animation films by the up-and-coming studios of Pixar and Dreamworks.

References

Eberts, R. (1999, October 29). Sun Times: Princess Mononoke review. Retrieved on November 1, 2010, from http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19991029/REVIEWS/910290303/1023

Toyama, R. (1997). An interview with Hayao Miyazaki. D. Goldsmith [Ed.] Retrieved on November 1, 2010, from http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/interviews/m_on_mh.html

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