Review: Princess Mononoke

by MW Cook

Princess Mononoke
Most people discount animations. It’s too bad, because some of the best films out there are animations. You should give them a chance.
One of our favorite animations is the Japanese film, Princess Mononoke. It was written by Hayao Miyazaki, who also made Ponyo, which I’ve mentioned here before.
I’ve heard it said that Princess Mononoke was Hayao Miyazaki’s best. And it’s easy to see why. The film blew my mind.
A remote village in feudal Japan is attacked by a massive boar demon. The last prince of the village, Ashitaka, manages to save the village and kill the creature. Unfortunately, he is cursed for doing it. The curse will surely kill him, the elders say. But there is a faint hope if he abandons his people and sets out on a quest to the strange lands in the west. The story is all about his quest and the war he becomes entangled in while trying to find a cure.
Princess Mononoke stands out among films for a ton of reasons. One is the way the film starts off looking like one of those epic battles between good and evil. But as it goes on, you see that it’s not that at all. The hero is good, yes. But not perfectly. The bad guys are, well, just on the other side, really. One of the themes is the constant battle between Man and Nature. In every story Nature is always the good guy and Man is the bad guy. Not so in Princess Mononoke. Both are good to their own. Both are bad to each other. Both are real.
Stories with this realistic view of good and evil really resonate with me. I think that’s because in real life there are very few (if any) pure Good vs. Evil situations. Look through the Bible, even, and you’ll see that every hero is a little bad and every villain is a little good. Life is complicated, and so are our conflicts.
Another great aspect is how completely character-driven the story is. Like with any decent story, I find myself caring about the characters’ goals, not because I actually want those goals realized, but because I’ve fallen in love with the characters and want them to get what they want. Heck, I find myself wanting some of the ‘bad guys’ to get their goals, because they are so real and sympathetic, that I love them, too.

Tiny spoilers ahead:
One of my favorite aspects of the film is how it refuses to resolve. Most popular movies have a very satisfying ending that ties up every loose end. The bad guys dies, the hero gets the girl, the annoying character get punished in some funny and satisfying way. No such resolution in Princess Mononoke. This annoys some people, of course. We are used to resolutions, which is funny, really, because we don’t have any in real life. Until you die, of course. So it seems to me that a story that doesn’t resolve mirrors real life better than a story that does. It makes it more raw. More real. Very tasty.
Spoilers over.

If you like rich stories with wild scenes and deep characters, this is a movie for you. If you like epic fantasy that breaks the mold of what epic fantasy usually is, this is a movie for you. Don’t mind that it’s a cartoon. It’s still epic. There’s nothing childish about it. In fact, I don’t think I’d let my kids watch it. It’s closer to 300 than it is to Scooby Doo.