Studio Ghibli’s 11th film, released in 1997,was a passion project for Hayao Miyazaki. He had spent close to 16 years working on its development. An absolute favorite of animation lovers in Japan and all over the world, Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫 ) , when it was made into a stage play in 2013, sold out in just 4 hours, 9 months worth of tickets! The iconic image of Princess Mononoke standing fierce next to her wolf family is now one of the most easily recognizable images in world cinema. So let’s take a closer look at this magnificent film which unleashes the fury on nature on an arrogant human race.
In many ways, Princess Mononoke retreads several themes that are close to Hayao Miyazaki’s heart- the role of nature in our lives, the clash between humanity- who always tries to subjugate nature- and the natural forces-who resist, the loss of age old traditions and knowledge as a consequence of our accelerated technological progress and affection for the culture of old Japan. However, what makes this movie stand out is that Miyazaki turns up the amplifier on this one. He unleashes on his audience breath taking action and flights of fantasy – sometimes occurring at break neck speed.
The protagonist of the story is Prince Ashitaka, who suffers from a curse. He roams the country searching for a cure and during his voyages encounters San- the Princess Mononoke- who has been reared by wolves. San is engaged in a no holds bar war against the Iron City, which represents the ugly side of modernity. The Lady Eboshi of the Iron City has sworn to destroy the neighboring forest and its denizens who stand in the way of her city’s progress. Ashitaka has to fight to find a way of making these two warring sides come to an understanding, while trying to find a cure for the curse which is slowly killing him.
The world of Princess Mononoke is one where ancient spirits cohabit with humanity. The perfectly constructed story makes the spectator witness the destructive power of human progress. Just one person, who has decided to progress at whatever cost, can destroy at will anything that crosses her path- even ancient spirits. The spirit of the forest-which oversees the well-being of all the creatures who live in it- is manifested by the kodoma – small creatures that live in each corner of the forest with startling neck rotational ability.
Also, Princess Mononoke has an unforgettable pair of protagonists that makes the movie all the more endearing. San, the Princess, is a heroine who breaks every stereotype. She is the head of an army and there is nothing that is simple or delicate about her- unlike the hundreds of princesses that animation movies have so far thrown at us. She is not there to motivate a set of men to achieve objectives. She believes in her own ideals and fiercely fights for what she believes in. Ashitaka provides the idealistic, peace loving counterpoint to San.
The soundtrack for Princess Mononoke also deserves mention. Created by Joe Hisaishi, and with two songs featuring lyrics by Miyazaki himself, the soundtrack elevates the films action sequences as well as its more introspective ones. It complements perfectly the beautiful colors and scenery that look absolutely real in their painstaking detail.