With the rise of the Iron Age in feudal Japan, man and nature grow increasingly at odds. As mankind infringes more and more into the kingdom of the beasts, many of the elder animal gods begin to succumb to their rage, cursing themselves as they lash out at rural and urban settlements alike. When a young Ashitaka, hero of his village, is imparted with one of these curses after slaying a crazed god, he forces himself into exile to prevent further harm to his village. As he ventures out into the world, however, he discovers just how dire the straights have become - with man and beast ready to break into all out war, his curse becomes the least of his problems. As both sides teeter dangerously on the side of outright slaughter of one another, Ashitaka sets his own problems aside and, using his charisma and honor, seeks to quell the hatred before it gets beyond repair - but will he be in time or is he simply delaying the inevitable?
StoryFor me personally, there's but one single event that makes Mononoke Hime stand so firmly as a classic in the anime world. No, it's not Miyazaki's brilliant capturing of the eternal struggle between man and nature, nor is it the heroic telling of a young warrior destined to save the world through both boundless passion and vicious strength; hell, it's not even the gorgeous soundtrack or timeless animation. On the contrary, it's a much more subtle and refined moment that really captures the heart and soul of mankind - our hero pulls a move between two women that would put even the best of players to shame.Yet, best of all, this unintentionally comic trait is but one of many assets that make Mononoke Hime's characters, and subsequently its story, so great. At its core the tale is profoundly epic, tracing the journey of a young boy, Ashitaka, as he fights to save both his village and himself from a curse borne by a possessed boar. His struggle, of course, expands to encompass samurai warlords and gods of death, and his quest to abolish his curse becomes one to abolish evil. While this might sound terribly cliché, it plays out as anything but; the movie's full two hours are enthralling and captivating all the way through. Ashitaka's quick and decisive nature prevents the story from stagnating, and the events from start to finish take place is in an orderly, coherent, and captivating succession.Unlike most other Miyazaki movies, Mononoke Hime cedes its standard youthful charm for a more mature and tense environment. While the man versus nature conflict is not too entirely serious in and of itself, the movie comprises a surprising amount of bloodshed - arrows manage to take off arms and heads on more than one occasion, and both man and beast slaughter each other in droves. The film is driven with tantalizing action and intensity instead of heartwarming nostalgia, and overall this tradeoff works quite well. Despite carrying, like all entertainment flicks of its kind, a rather straightforward and linear plot, it's hardly predictable; though many of the twists in the story or not expected, they end up neither shocking or surprising. Overall the level of mystique around the characters and the overarching is kept minimal, allotting enough material to work with effectively but scraping off any excess that would close the film with uneven ends - the film is decisively powerful.AnimationWhile the animation is noticeably dated, by no means is it bad or even sketchy. Astounding graphics are replaced by very streamlined framerates which, while limiting aesthetic appeal, provide for very fluid action sequences. Ashitaka's numerous displays of his skills in archery, for instance, rival modern day animation in terms of alacrity and precision - just by watching you can feel the drawing of an arrow, the snap, and subsequent vibration of the bowstring as he fires. Despite being drawn the characters carry a lifelike charisma, and this certainly spills out through the screen.Perhaps the film's only flaw is its general lack of detail in characters beyond the main cast. However, given that the film shows seemingly fifty to one hundred people at times, I'd hardly call this a major flaw; it'd be exceptionally easy to find worse cases of placeholder faces in just about any modern production.Oh yes, and one other thing: the deer god looks freaking retarded - its like like a deer with goat shit plastered all over its face. SoundFor those familiar with the more recent Seirei no Moribito, the soundtrack carries a remarkably similar feel. Most musical tracks easily feel as if they extracted directly from the era in which Mononoke Hime takes place, and all are brilliantly placed. In many ways the music acts as a sort of choral narration to the story, contributing quite substantially to the epic feel the movie strives so adamantly to portray. Indeed, with solid voice acting to boot, Mononoke Hime's audible performance is nothing to scoff at; the musicians who worked on the movie knew exactly how to bring the story alive.CharactersThough beyond the context of the story the characters are rather shallow, in terms of their places in the movie they all fit their roles remarkably well. Ashitaka is the brave, courageous champion of the human world while San, his counterpart and compatriot, is a vicious, feral warrior of who serves the beasts of nature. If nothing else, the duo form a classic union of two enemies who have come together to serve a common cause, and both earn their respective titles as heroes of both man and wild. Though not particularly three dimensional, their one dimensional personality and characteristics are what really drive the film as powerful; they are developed exclusively through their actions. Still, as I mentioned briefly before, I found one of the most amusing aspects of the movie to be Ashitaka's charisma with women. At the beginning of the film, after being cursed and willingly exiled from his village, he receives a pendant from a girl who is deeply in love with him as a sign of their eternal bond. Later on, however, toward the latter half of the film when the expected romance between Ashitaka and San begins to blossom, he passes the pendant along to her as proof of his love. The fact that the pure-hearted hero pulls off a likely unintentional one-two move like that is boundlessly amusing, and definitely makes for one of the more memorable moments in my near decade of anime viewing experience.OverallThough I've had cordial debates with friends arguing whether or not Spirited Away is the true Miyazaki classic, my experience has left me a bit undecided. While Spirited Away certainly has its charms, the fact that Mononoke Hime strives to be a more lofty, grand venture leaves me with slightly more respect for it; ultimately, while it's certainly debatable, I must settle my qualms and herald it the epitome of Miyazaki splendor and greatness. For anime fans looking to bridge a friend or family member into the anime world, this movie is a spectacular pick - its universal appeal makes it an undeniably solid choice. Miyazaki's legacy is certainly not to be underestimated, and for fans and skeptics alike, Mononoke Hime is the proof.
The spiritual successor of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke is Hayao Miyazaki’s take on the same subject but under a different light. And it was about time to get another epic because I was getting fed up with his cheery settings and simplistic stories. It is far more violent, angrier, and lacks flying machines, something Hayao loves to add in all his works. We can say it is his darkest work ever, as his protagonists are more anti-heroes, selfish and full of hatred, unlike his usual positive and idealistic ones. At the same time the antagonists have far more understood reasons for all the damage they do to its other, unlike the rather obvious to be wrong from the start ones from Nasicaa. Also, the setting is almost like it takes place in Japan’s feudal era, and even shares its mythology of spirits. It is thus far easier to feel a connection to a seemingly historical period; even more if you are Japanese yourself. That allowed for this movie to not feel as a rehash, but as an interesting variation, far more plausible and sympathetic to the average viewer. The production values are top notch as always, with everything feeling alive, ever moving and ever feeling like they are there for a reason. The contrast between the war-like human fractions, next to the equilibrium state of the forest spirits is depicted very successfully. It also has some semi graphic scenes of violence that for some may not be suitable for children or family in general. But anyways, the story is about two nations being at war, their actions resulting to the destruction of the surrounding forest and creating uproar from the spirits, as some of them are poisoned by the charcoal and the gunpowder. The protagonists are Ashitaka, a prince who looks for a cure by a curse inflicted by the war, and San, a human girl raised by wolves after she was abandoned as a baby. Both of them intervene in the war for rather selfish reasons and the whole deal does not play out as morally clear ecology-pro as it did in Nausicaa. Both parties need to maintain their way of life because otherwise they will be annihilated. There are many scenes that make their motives understood and even sympathized. The premise is again about nature getting angry with mankind and its constant wars and one could easily label this film as again nothing but anti-war propaganda for tree-huggers. The same excuses I mentioned in my Nausicaa review apply here as well; being a family-oriented film is just fine and expected to have that and it is not black and white kiddie stuff either. I was also impressed to see Hayao’s usual character archetypes to have a far more selfish, complicating and violent demeanour. I also liked the action scenes, which being earth-based and mostly based on classic means of warfare meant for a far better feel of realism and choreography. They sure feel more real and exciting than any shonen show ever did. Another thing of notice is the conclusion itself, which feels almost like a bad ending of sorts. Although the basic disputes are solved, the characters are left before an unknown future, away from one another, hoping to rebuild their worlds as better places. It is not for certain if they succeed or even if they meet each other again as friends. It is again left to speculate anything the viewer feels like would happen. That allows for some food for thought even after the movie is over. Princess Mononoke is more mature, complicating, and greyer than Nausicaa, a movie that was already all that in comparison to most other family oriented films. In fact, it might even not be for families at all because of some really nasty violent scenes. I consider it an equally, if not a bit higher, good feature; yet I must point out that the Nausicaa manga version was better for being long enough to make you see various aspects of the world, as well as watching them long enough to like them. That does not make Mononoke any less significant and I still recommend it as a very good feature.
Like Grave of the Fireflies this is one of Studio Ghibli's darkest films - the film is very creative and the story, for what it is, is quite engaging, however what I really don't understand is why do the humans want the head of The Deer God? It doesn't explain what they are going to do with it or why they need it, it just seems like that woman is endagering the humans for no reason and hey they give it back to him and everything goes back to normal, so that whole sequence seemed abit pointless - that's my major problem with the film and the story, but everything else before that was perfect: More in video review http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ev85oTpBmlU BBFC rating - PG for moderate violence, mild language, threat and scary scenes
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