Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Princess Mononoke (1997)

TOP 100 FILMS: #53

After a demon boar infects his arm, Prince Ashitaka, the last remaining royal heir of a tribe wiped out by the emperor, sets off on a journey to find his destiny. Along the way he finds himself caught in the middle of a war between the animal god Moro, her human child, and an ever expanding Iron Town which seeks control of the forest.

"What exactly are you here for?"
"To see with eyes unclouded by hate."

Early in the film, just after having been told his condition is irreversible where he now lives, the town elder tells Ashitaka that now all he can do is rise to meet his fate. To accept the path his life has taken, and go off to seek his destiny. Perhaps that is what is most earth shaking about Miyazaki's 1997 masterpiece (says me). The movie, no matter how you slice it, is the ultimate combination of everything Miyazaki had worked to create up until that point.

A movie about man's desire to control nature, it's desire to repel us, and the work of one to show them how they can find a middle ground. The notion of living in harmony with the earth so prevalent throughout his work, finds itself at the forefront of this visual art. And art is what it is. Using tons of textures, and amazing images Miyazaki created a world as rich as any he's created before, and since (though Spirited Away still takes my #1 spot).

To get this Miyazaki pushes his narrative into realms far darker than he had ever traversed before. Princess Mononoke deals with the most rash, and dark, of animal instincts: hate. And when you combine hate with greed, you can destroy everything pure. It's something each character in the film must rise to face. Everyone loses when you can't let go.

In showing us this, Miyazaki takes the time and effort to develop all of his characters. We see multiple sides to them. Their dark ambitions, and their saving graces. None of the leads are left too simple, straight, and each falters along the way. Breathing life into each scene, they become as deep as the forest itself. Rich with layers, and mysteries to solve. Each new scene with something to offer the viewer to chow down.

Ashitaka provides heart, and morality. San (the human child) provides perspective. Eboshi (female leader of Iron Town) offers us the future, with sympathy. Monk god-hunter Jigo the cost of greed. While the Gods Moro and Okkoto giving us experience and depravity. So much richness, with beautiful lines to deliver. And when you have such amazing voice work in both Japanese (Yoji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yuko Tanaka, etc.) and English (Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thorton, Mini Driver, Billy Crudup, Claire Dames, etc.), it's just a sight to be had.

Not to mention the action. Easily becoming Miyazaki's most violent film (for a PG-13 animated film there sure are a lot of decapitations). But in that violence Miyazaki builds character. A rarity in cinema these days, where violence is used for quick shots of entertain. Here it combines both to create something more. And for that the viewer gains a wondrous story to absorb.

The kind of story that's morals stick with you. The kind of story you can revisit anytime. Because it is so deep. Because there is so much too it. A new treat for each visit. A rare film that exceeds any genre by being a bit of all genres. One I highly recommend you check out any chance you get.

Princess Mononoke is the rare kind of animated film that reaches beyond all genres, creating a life unto itself. A story packed with heart, depth, and life you can't help but be absorbed by it. While the performances and writing are there each step of the way to match Miyazaki's ambition.

6 better thoughts:

Film Intel said...

Based pretty much solely on your constant recommendations, I recently added SPIRITED AWAY to my rental list. It'll be my first experience of Miyazaki and if I like it then this was the one I had tagged as next on the list. Enjoyed reading your review.

SugaryCynic said...

I love this movie so much. Miyazaki always adds a bit of anti-war or environmental messages to his films but sometimes they stick out, or do nothing to aid the plot. In Princess Mononoke they are the main focus and you can tell how deeply he feels about them by obvious love that was put into this film. The characters, the dialogue, the visuals, the ending that defies typical conventions (ok, I'm babbling) it's easily one of his best

Castor said...

@ Film Intel: Enjoy! Great film

You know, I have been meaning to see this movie again to review it as it's been so long and I saw it only twice. Excellent review and definitely not far behind Spirited Away imo.

Univarn said...

@Intel Awesome! I can't wait to hear what you have to say about it.

@Sugary Oh definitely. There's something to be said for the way it's so perfectly integrated here. It just works.

@Castor Out of curiosity have you ever seen Grave of the Fireflies (not Miyazaki, but still)? I love Spirited Away but that's a close #2 in the anime realm of film. Princess Mononoke is a solid #3 for me.

Castor said...

Yes, I have seen Grave of the Fireflies, I reviewed it like a couple months ago. Outstanding one too, it would be my #3 lol

Ross McG said...

criminally, this is one of the few films Ross McD has seen but i havent, must get on it.

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