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Film Review: Princess Mononoke
In 1997, Hayao Miyazaki released Princess Mononoke, which starred Yoji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yuko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi, Masahiko Nishimura, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Akihiro Miwa, Mitsuko Mori, and Hisaya Morishige with Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, John DeMita, John DiMaggio, Gillian Anderson, Debi Derryberry, Keith David, and Jada Pinkett Smith providing English voices. The film grossed 14.5 at the Japanese box office and was nominated for the Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature Production. It won the Mainichi Film Award for Best Japanese Movie, Best Animation and Japanese Movie Fans’ Choice and the Japan Academy Award for Best Picture.
During the Muromachi period of Japan, the Emishi people have been conquered and driven into hiding in the remote corners of the eastern side of the country. In one village, a demon attacks and their last remaining prince Ashitaka is mortally wounded. However, the demon curses the people and Ashitaka’s wound will kill him in time. He is made to travel west in search of his destiny before the curse takes full possession of him and he destroys the village.
A wonderful film that’s part of the fantastic Studio Ghibli filmography, Princess Mononoke gives a good portrayal of a world in constant conflict, where greed, war and hatred corrupt nearly every character in the film while man and there is no balance between man and nature, with the latter is losing the struggle to remain habitable for nonhumans. However, while the moral concerning nature and the environment is an important one, the film notably deconstructs it by showing that the idea of a conflict where it’s all of humanity fighting against the entirety of the force of nature doesn’t work and only furthers the conflict with neither side coming out victorious. At the same time, it shows that technology tends to pollute and corrupt nature. But on the other side of that deconstruction, the idea of man vs. nature is reconstructed by showing that it’s possible for man and nature to live side by side in harmony without there being conflict and when it comes to technology, it also allows people to thrive and grow. When it comes down to it, the film seems to bring about the message that humanity and nature able to coexist and should do so.
What’s interesting is that, in going with the aforementioned deconstruction, the film doesn’t make caricatures out of the humans and humanizes them. As such, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who is completely to blame for the conflict as they all have their own reasons for getting in the fray. Take Lady Eboshi. While she sets out to kill any god and animal who gets in her way, it’s because she has a genuine desire to help people and the lepers state that she is the only one who has ever looked at them as human while she gives homes and work to women originally from brothels. What’s more is that her arrogant and antagonistic nature are due to the constant threat on all sides, one threat being the animal gods who want to keep Iron Town from growing and the other being the warlords who just want to wipe them out. Even then, she’s not resistant to growing as a person and after seeing what happens when she tries to kill a god, Eboshi makes it a point to rebuild Iron Town while making room for nature.
Then there’s Ashitaka who consistently tries to maintain a voice of reason and peace between the humans and the denizens of the forest. Throughout the film, he continually works to maintain pacifism but is shown as not being able to as he keeps being kept from living out his ideals as he resorts to direct and violent methods when he absolutely must. Yet, he’s the quickest to go right back and work out his ideals.
San is a good complement to Ashitaka as well, being brought up by a god in a place of magic. But where Ashitaka is trying to broker peace between everyone and is seen as having no genuine hatred, San hates humans despite being one, though it’s justified considering how she was raised. But even she has standards, seen when telling the apes that their plan to eat Ashitaka in order to become as strong as humans would make them worse than humans. As the film rolls on, when it becomes clear that the humans are growing as people and committing to make it so they can coexist with nature, she has her own character growth and lessens her hatred.
There is also a really great aspect to the relationship between Ashitaka and San. Though the two recognize that they have feelings for each other, they know that it’s impossible for either to give up their present life so they part ways. However, the film demonstrates that they’ll never be completely apart as the promise to see each other every now and again.
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