Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke

princessmononoke2Princess Mononoke starts with a young man named Ashitaka encountering a boar covered in worms. It’s on a rampage of his village and goes to attack his younger sister. He is wounded in the fight, but eventually kills it. The wound he has been dealt is a complicated one, for that boar had become a demon and now Ashitaka bears its curse. Forced to leave the village in order to look for a way to free himself of the course, he sets out to discover why this boar had become a demon.

Ashitaka’s journey leads him to a fortress-like town called Irontown. The people in there are under the rule of Lady Eboshi and have been mining iron from within a nearby mountain. With this they are manufacturing rifles – crudely built, but still devastating. As a result of all this mining, the surrounding forest that once covered the mountainside is slowly being destroyed. The creatures of the forest are none-too-pleased with this development, and being driven from their homes has made them angry. The angriest is Moro, a giant wolf god, and her adopted daughter, San. San has been attacking Irontown and trying to drive them away. Ashitaka has always believed that humans and animals can get along peacefully together – and it is this opinion that gets him landed fair and squarely in the middle of all the conflict.

princess-mononoke-12At first glance this story looks like a typical approach to the human versus nature clash, but Princess Mononoke is one of those multi-layered films that you know you’re going to have to watch more than once to get all the meanings. There’s no outright ‘evil’ portrayed here, as even Lady Eboshi, who is responsible for most of the destruction of the forest, shows a lot of compassion for other humans – taking in the old and frail and giving them a place to work and live. Jigo, although self-absorbed, is still very human and helps out Ashitaka to begin with. And then there’s San herself, who is relentlessly trying to protect her homeland at the risk of her own life. Whilst she sees herself as the enemy of humankind, she is only trying to save the place that she calls home.

mononoke-1This is certainly one of the deepest Studio Ghibli works that I have seen, showing multiple conflicts that pitch humans against humans, humans against nature and, at times, nature fighting against itself. The fights are so intricate that it’s difficult not to be satisfied with the outcome. The feature shows itself capable of brilliant story-telling on multiple levels without falling for any obvious cliches or repetitive dialogue.

The setting of this wondrous tale is full of lush forests, expanses of landscape and rich vistas. Just watching the localities and how they blend together is a delight in itself. The fantastic creatures that inhabit it are works of art full of incredible detail. From the terrifyingly twisted boar to the diminutive and bizarre kodama, every creature has its own magical presence and contributes visually to the already impressive backdrop.

princess-mononoke-16As you may have guessed already, it’s the visuals of Princess Mononoke that really set it apart here. The animation quality, as usual, is top notch, with painstaking detail and subtle nuances that really make the story something vivid and wonderful.

Teeming with imagery and metaphor, this is not a film that you can completely absorb and process with just one watch. It takes a bit of thought and a different view to really enjoy all that is has to offer – a real feast for the senses.