Review: Princess Mononoke (1997) Anime | My Reviews 07 FEB 2014

princess mononoke anime 1In a remote mountain village far away in Northern Japan, Ashitaka, the last young warrior of the dying Emishi clan, is forced to kill a monster to protect his village. Too late, he discovers that the boar-like creature he killed is a protector-god of the forest. The god had been driven insane by a small iron pellet, found deep inside of its body. Although the villagers immediately lay the body to rest, they cannot escape the dying creature’s words. The day of the human is coming to a close.

In killing the demon boar, Ashitaka has brought upon himself a curse, its sign a twisted scar on his right forearm that is slowly spreading. The village elders can do nothing for him, and the only chance Ashitaka has means he has to be banished from his village, never to set foot there again.

Ashitaka journeys to the land of the iron forging Tatara clan where he hopes to uncover the mystery of the curse before it takes his young life. Along the way, he becomes involved in the bitter fight between two warring factions of humans and a race of forest-gods trapped in the middle.

During one battle, Ashitaka sees San, the Princess Mononoke, a young woman raised by wolves, who is prepared to die to defeat the humans. She and her wolves will stop at nothing to kill the Tatara village leader, the regal Lady Eboshi. Against his will, Ashitaka is drawn into the struggle between man and nature, trying to persuade the two sides to find another way, one that will halt the endless circle of killing. He seeks a middle ground where forest creatures and humans can live in the world in peace together.

But man’s greed truly knows no bounds.

Princess Mononoke is perhaps one of Hayao Miyazaki’s strongest pieces of work. An epic tale, Princess Mononoke details the ongoing struggle between nature and mankind. The central character Ashitaka serves to try and show us that perhaps there is a way in which nature and humans can co-exist without destroying each other. Moral lesson aside, the storytelling in Princess Mononoke is nothing short of superb. It is a simple story, but crafted so elegantly and potently, that one cannot help but receive the message put forward by Miyazaki.

The animation is lush and vibrant, with the characters and locations all colourfully rendered. The movements are very fluid, and the attention to detail is astonishing. The designs of the forest spirits are very well conceived, something we have come to expect from Miyazaki.

The soundtrack is filled with hauntingly beautiful classical music scores, which adds beautifully to the unfolding story. The voices are spot on, and the sound-effects for the various creatures is nothing short of superb.

Seeing Princess Mononoke’s success in Japan, the second movie to ever break $150 million at the Japanese box office (the other being ‘Titanic’), Miramax Films decided to release a dubbed version to Western audiences. The film was very well received and paved the way for such future cinema releases of Japanese animated feature films.

Overall, Princess Mononoke stands out as my personal favourite piece of anime of all time. I cannot find any fault with it at all. The story, art and soundtrack are sublime. This is anime at its zenith. If you have not yet seen Princess Mononoke, then I suggest you make a plan to see it as soon as possible.

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(Historical Note: This was written back in June 2003. Thankfully my writing has improved greatly since then.)

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About Craig Lotter

South African software architect and developer at Touchwork. Husband to a cupcake baker and father to two little girls. I don't have time for myself any more.