I’m guessing that the majority of you will not have watched this film yet, so a little background is probably required. Princess Mononoke is the creation of director Hayao Miyazaki from anime film production company Studio Ghibli and was released in the late 90s. In short, Google it.
With minimal spoilers (because you should definitely watch it if you haven’t already), we follow Ashitaka, a cursed prince, as he seeks his cure in the lands to the West. He discovers that the mark of the curse stretches further than the symbolic swellings on his arm, as he begins to see evidence of hatred and suffering in all the settlements and people he encounters. When he stumbles across Iron Town and its enigmatic enemy, the beautiful Princess Mononoke, Ashitaka realises that he has reached the epicentre of the struggle between harmony and hatred. He realises that he must fight for peace.
If you’re relying solely on my summary, then I imagine you’re not overly impressed. It sounds pretty fantastical, right? Well, it is. It’s anime. But wholly abandoning a sense of reality seems easier then selectively ignoring it when necessary. We must remember that while films are art, they are also a form of escapism. So, step with me into this fictional world where gods walk the ground as giant beasts and spirit-apes plant trees in the dead of night.
There are so many aspects of this movie which are just plain great. Firstly, as a girl, I have to say my love of the little tree spirits, the Kodama, is akin to my adoration of the Ewoks in Star Wars VI. They’re too cute! But, to more important issues: you can’t argue with the genius of the animation. I confess my ignorance on this matter, but it’s always the little touches that make the total effect, and Miyazaki clearly has an eye for it. Be it the entwining and elongating organs we can see faintly in the beheaded and vengeful Night Walker, or the individual anatomy of each adorable little Kodama, Miyazaki draws us in while drawing his themes out to unmistakeable proportions.
That is perhaps my favourite aspect of the movie – the obviousness of the ideas being explored, without a hint of overkill. Points about ecological harmony and the nature of humanity are clear to the most inobservant of viewers, but these don’t jolt because the entire movie is overstated. It is probable that I’m missing some major subtleties here; they certainly exist in the film. But, when comparing Princess Mononoke with other Miyazaki creations such as Nausicäa of the Valley of the Winds (which in general is strikingly similar in plot and purpose) it’s clear that the obvious ideas are the important ones.
So, essentially, give it a go. There’s little point in explaining it all when you can investigate for yourself. It might be completely different to anything you’ve watched before, but sit back, relax and enjoy the pure fantasy of it all.