Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke anime movie cover art
Princess Mononoke

Movie Overview

Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime / もののけ姫) is the best Studio Ghibli movie I’ve seen so far. To be fair, the only others I’ve seen are Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro. But I think Princess Mononoke is much better than both of those.

Before I watched this movie, I would always have to clarify to people that Mononoke is one of my favorite anime, not Princess Mononoke. But now I can just say that I like them both. I might even like Princess Mononoke more. I’m not sure about that yet, though, so I won’t commit to saying it.

So, what do I like about Princess Mononoke? Basically everything. The characters are all good, the art’s good, the animation is great, the music is nice, and the story is mostly interesting. I don’t rewatch anime very frequently, but I’d rewatch this.

As for complaints, I only have one that’s worth mentioning. At 2 hours and 13 minutes, Princess Mononoke is a long movie. Sure, movies today seem to regularly exceed 3 hours. But I tend not to watch movies, and I think this is still long for an animated movie.

20-30 minutes probably could have been cut and the movie wouldn’t be any worse for wear. Specifically, I’d remove that from the climax of the movie. I know that might sound odd. But the climax was actually the part of the movie I was the least interested and invested in.

Now, to be fair, I started the movie at 9:40 pm and so didn’t finish until nearly midnight. So, I was tired by the time the climax came around. But even if I wasn’t tired, I don’t think the whole Nightwalker portion of the movie would have been any more entertaining.

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Main Characters

(Former) Prince Ashitaka is the protagonist of the movie. At the start of the movie, his village is attacked by a demon boar (Ganon, anyone?), which Ashitaka slays with his bow. However, Ashitaka is inflicted with a deadly curse during the battle and so sets off on a journey to find a cure.

San is the other main character of the movie. She’s a human girl who was raised in the wilderness by wolf spirits who protect the domain of The Forest Spirit. As such, the title Mononoke Hime (literally Spirit Princess) refers to San.

Eboshi Gozen is arguably the main antagonist of the movie. You could also say Bou Jiko is the main antagonist, I suppose. But, anyway, Eboshi is the militant leader of an ironworks outpost in the mountains. By her order, the forests have been cut down and the local spirits driven away or killed.

San and Moro from the anime movie Princess Mononoke
San and Moro

The first of the three spirits I want to mention is Moro, the wolf spirit who took San in. San was abandoned by her parents when Moro scared them away as they were destroying the forest. While she’s protective of San and views San as her own child, she doesn’t care what happens to any other humans.

Okkoto is a white boar spirit who fights back against the humans of the ironworks for their part in the destruction of the forests and corruption of Nago. Nago was the boar spirit-turned-demon who was killed by Ashitaka at the start of the movie.

Lastly, we have The Forest Spirit. By day, The Forest Spirit resembles a many-antlered deer with bird-like feet and a primate-like face. By night, it turns into the Nightwalker, a giant, gelatinous monster. The Forest Spirit is a god of both life and death, able to give life and to take it away.

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Main Theme

The main theme of Princess Mononoke seems to be balance. This main theme is also split up into smaller offshoots, with the most important and obvious being the balance between the natural and industrial worlds. Everything bad that happens in the movie is the result of industrial society encroaching on nature.

Now, for most of the movie, I didn’t think that balance was the main theme. I thought it was a story about industrial society being a negative. After all, as I just mentioned, industrialization is what caused everything to go wrong, starting with the corruption of Nago.

However, at the end of the movie, I finally realized that I was wrong in my assumption. After Ashitaka and San return The Forest Spirit’s head, San opts to continue living in the wild and Ashitaka opts to live apart from her at the ironworks.

The Forest Spirit from the anime movie Princess Mononoke
The Forest Spirit

I thought it was strange that after everything that happened, Ashitaka would want to live at the ironworks. But, it makes more sense once you look at it from a “balance” perspective. With Ashitaka and San living in those two opposing worlds, they can prevent those worlds from clashing again in the future.

The other balance sub-theme I noticed was of life and death. This is physically manifested in the form of The Forest Spirit. But, it shows up throughout the movie, as well. At the start, Ashitaka kills a spirit. And by the end, Ashitaka is protecting spirits.

There’s also Ashitaka’s curse. While The Forest Spirit initially revives him, it doesn’t remove his curse. That only happens after Ashitaka and San save the life of The Forest Spirit itself. And this question of why The Forst Spirit chooses to save creatures from or condemn them to death is also raised by Okkoto in reference to Nago’s fate.

Conclusion

Princess Mononoke is a 9/10. It’s a bit long and I think the climax with the Nightwalker wasn’t as interesting as the rest of the movie. But it still excels in pretty much everything else it does. I think it’s going to be hard for another Studio Ghibli movie to top this one.

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