23 May 2015
My Thoughts on Princess Mononoke (1997)
Let me preface by saying this is my first Hayao Miyazaki film and that I typically stay clear of animes.
Animated in the nineties, nearing the end of the hand-drawn animation era, Princess Mononoke is a hybrid of animation. Like many of its time, most is hand-drawn, but some of the more complicated pieces, such as the worm-like demon flesh, is computer animated. This time period interests me because I love hand-drawn animations, but they sometimes lack the ability to have special effects such as this. For example, in The Lion King (1994)–the scene in the gorge with the wildebeest stampede–every wildebeest was computer animated. The lions and everything else, however, were not. It was a brief window in time at the twilight of hand-drawn animation that really harmonizes with me.
My general complaint with animes is that there is usually an obvious laziness to their animation, including but certainly not limited to the lip asynchronicity, which is weird to see because I watch foreign films exclusively in their original audio track with subtitles. Thus, said laziness I believe spreads to other areas of the film such as plot, character development, purpose, etc. There seems to be, from what I’ve observed, a general preference of quantity over quality. I know it is likely due to the money shoved into a film for production. I know I am spoiled by Disney and the amount of money they put into movies; I am trying not to be.
In any case, this movie was different than most animes I’ve seen. There was an obvious passion put into the animation and into the artwork. The animations were smooth and not the typical flat-faced expressionlessness I’m used to in animes. The backdrops and stills were gorgeous and immediately sucked me into their world. There was something about a boy riding through vast, green, wind-swept fields on an antelope that was captivating and that brought out a strong sense of freedom and adventure.
The film takes place somewhere between the 12th and 16th century, which is during an age of mythology when primitive forms of modern weapons and industry are beginning to take form. Stories from this time period reveal countless mention of mythological beasts and spirits. I looked them up. Every “supernatural” being in the film can be categorized into ancient Japanese mythological creatures or spirits. Supernaturality in films generally annoys me, but mythology does not. In this case, I was intrigued to learn a piece of Japanese mythology while watching. It is also important to note that the end of mythology (the end of forest spirits and gods among us) comes with the ultimate industrialization of the human race. This is a clear theme throughout the movie, said literally by Jiko-bo near the end:
“The thirst to possess both heaven and earth is what makes us human.”
There are also no clear agents of good or evil, which adds realism. Lady Eboshi is presumed evil, and indeed she is the antagonist, but really she is acting as any leader of people has or will. Her people respect and adore her, she cares for the diseased and defends her town from attacks by country samurai and gods alike. Ashitaka doesn’t set out to save the world, he sets out to save himself. Miyazaki does not want him to be portrayed as an obvious hero. Even the Deer God, mostly perceived as apathetic just like the forest (and in a macro sense the natural world), gives life and takes it away. There is a profound deepness to the film because of that, which I loved.
Although Princess Mononoke is meant as a warning, the film ends on a somewhat high note. Eboshi realizes only after shooting the Deer God’s head off that Irontown should start over and be a “good village.” Everybody gets peace and presumably harmony between Irontown and the forest, which is what everyone was really fighting for, ironically. We really want Ashitaka and Yakul to join San and the Moro clan, or vice versa, but he has his life and she has hers. Being together would mean that one of them has sacrified who they are. Perhaps occasional visits, romantic or not, is best.
— Dan Imhoff, 2015