When was the last time you had an enriching experience watching anime? With the plethora of titles which come out every year there is often a sense of feeling overwhelmed and lost in the media which many fans enjoy so much. Through so much consumption of the product fans often forget what they enjoyed in the first place. Often it takes a title which is unique and full of wonderment to truly help fans feel refresh themselves and remember why they keep following the medium in the first place. One of the earliest incidents where such an experience took place was in 1999. Their fans were introduced to a director they had not been able to truly explore named Hayao Miyazaki.
Though his previous works, My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service had made it to American shores, these titles did not garnish the attention they deserved but instead became cult classics which would later be appreciated as gems. It was only when a film which had already been released two years earlier in Japan arrived in America were fans able to feel a resurgence of respect for anime they hadn’t felt since watching Akira for the first time. This was the power behind Princess Mononoke, a film many argue is the director’s greatest achievement.
The story follows a young man named Ashitaka, a prince who is cursed by a rampaging demon with a mark which will eventually overwhelm him. In search for answers Ashitaka leaves his home and encounters the enigmatic Lady Eboshi who he discovers is directly linked to his current condition. Opposing Lady Eboshi and her iron empire is the feral girl San, who Eboshi refers to as Princess Mononoke. Ashitaka finds himself struggling to find a remedy for his curse while being pulled into the worlds and conflicts surrounding these two women.
From a story which could have been a simple hero’s journey in search of a magical cure becomes much more in the course of the film. The plot instead focuses on ideals of rejecting hatred, conserving nature, and finding a way to cohabitate but presents them in a way which never feels forced, tedious, or arduous. Instead the audience is filled with thought-provoking notions which will have you rethinking the way you look at the world.
Miyazaki is at his finest in this film. His characters are deep and captivating. The landscape is luscious and awe inspiring to the point additional viewing is required to truly capture elements displayed on the screen. It must be noted this is one of the few films where Miyazaki is subdued regarding his love of flight. One of the signature aspects of his films is to portray the glory of light in some way shape or form but it seems mute in this film. There are a few birds which fly through the sky but not with the attention he’s shown in other films.
The soundtrack which accompanies this film is phenomenal. It features an orchestral score which finds a way to dig deep and help to move the story through each wondrous setting. Composer Joe Hisaishi is about to manipulate the audience’s emotions through the music alone. It is a feat achieved by a select movie soundtracks but those are scores which should be treasured when they come into the existance.
Both the Japanese and American casts bring something interesting to the table for this film. The Japanese team shines with Yuriko Ishida offering a version of San who isn’t always battle ready but takes moments to be vulnerable. The American cast features Gillian Anderson (X-files) as the wolf goddess Moro which helps to show the character as less intimidating than Akihiro Miwa did in in original. Both casts offer something unique to the production but it should be noted no actor causes the film to be anything less than magical.
Whenever animation critics try to make the case for the superiority of hand-drawn animation over computer graphics this is one of the many examples they run to. This is because every single frame of this movie could be removed, framed, and placed on the wall as a perfect way to brighten up a room. Every scene is a work of art and shows the details and effort which went into the production of this film.
If you call yourself an anime fan yet you haven’t experienced the films of Hayao Miyazaki then you should probably rethink using the title. His films are masterpieces which help to set the bar in animation, not only in Japan but around the world. Princess Mononoke is a shining example of his work and one which should not be passed up.
Luckily there is a new opportunity to check it out in theaters. Fathom Events is figurine a showing in celebration of the movie’s 20th anniversary with the subtitled version showing on January 5th and the English dub being showcased on January 9th. They will also be featuring a music video produced by Studio Ghibli called “On your Mark” by the band Chage and Aska. The music video alone is worth the admission price but considering it allows you to explore the majesty of one of the greatest films ever made it becomes a cherry on top of a delicious cake.