I had the opportunity to see Princess Mononoke in theaters tonight for the film’s twentieth anniversary and to celebrate Hayao Miyazaki’s birthday. Seeing this movie on the big screen was a marvelous experience. The colors popped right out of the screen and the epic score echoed throughout the theater. I was truly blown away by the visual beauty and giant scope of the film, and it really is a grand event. If you ever get the chance to see this film in theaters, do yourself a favor and experience it. The current January, 2017 event will continue for one more night on Monday, the 9th, so seize the opportunity if you can.
Princess Mononoke is packed with everything I love about the fantasy genre. It has action and adventure and romance and magic and, most important of all, a vast and immersive world. The world-building aspect of fantasy films is one of the biggest things that makes the great ones so great to me. Watching this film, I felt swept away in its world and surrounded by the environment that was presented. Much of this vastness is portrayed in the jaw-dropping landscapes and locations that make everything feel huge and expansive.
There are otherworldly creatures and magical beings everywhere in the world of the film. From the giant wolves and boars, to the creepy apes, to the Kodama, the tiny spirits that live in the forest. It’s interesting to see so many strange creatures, but none of it feels implausible. This world feels real and lived-in, and as an effect, the characters that inhabit that world feel like people that we can care about as an audience. A sense of wonder is felt as we are exposed to these otherworldly people and ideas. The amount of detail put into every aspect of this universe makes it seem epic and about as believable as a fantasy world can be.
I was on the edge of my seat at times because the action in this film is exciting and extremely well done. It’s animated with such care and attention that it feels just as thrilling as the action in live-action films. The music gets intense and we get long takes of fluid, beautifully drawn battle scenes. There are also a few quick moments of danger that keep the pace up, and they are all just as excellent. Princess Mononoke is one of Studio Ghibli’s more violent films, but it’s never over-the-top with gore. The action is displayed in a fashion that feels brutally realistic, but still has an edge of fantasy that fits it in perfectly with the world of the film.
The character of Princess Mononoke, or San, is one of the best “princess” characters in animation. Many fans adore her character for being strong, sharp, and courageous, and not really princess-like at all. I highly admire those aspects of her, and I think it makes her very interesting to watch (especially during action scenes), but her strongest feature as a character is her internal struggle. When she is found by Ashitaka, a boy searching for something that she doesn’t want him to find, she is immediately conflicted. As she gets to know him, she begins to care deeply for Ashitaka, but she is firm in her belief that humans are her enemy and she continues to fight for her forest. She says to him, “Ashitaka, you mean so much to me, but I can’t forgive the humans for what they’ve done.”
Ashtika, the other leading character with whom the film starts out, is also not only an interesting and a relatable character, but one that goes on a journey similar to that of San’s. He learns to appreciate the nature around him as San tries to accept the humans, and the lessons they learn go hand in hand by the end when they agree that “it’s time for both of us to live”. The themes present in Princess Mononoke and the dynamic characters make for a rich emotional experience in the midst of all the exciting action. The visuals are amazing and the scope of the film is epic and mindblowing, but the personal side of this film is what makes it stand out from any other fantasy story.
— Camden McDonald