A Look at Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke

March 2012 Lisette Westerveldt


If I had to summarize Princess Mononoke in one word, it would be epic.

Of course, epic has many different definitions. Used as a noun, it can refer to a legend or a heroic poem, but used an adjective, it is can mean impressive, grand, or courageous. Regardless,Princess Mononoke is all of these things and more.

Set in medieval Japan, the film begins with Ashitaka, a young man who becomes infected by the curse of a boar-turned-demon and is forced to leave his village. He thus embarks on a journey to find a way to free himself from the curse and discover the mystery behind the demonic boar. On his travels, he eventually discovers a fortress-like town called Iron Town, aptly named for the iron that its inhabitants mine from the surrounding mountains. Under the management of strong-minded Lady Eboshi, the citizens of the town are able to use the iron to manufacture crude, but nonetheless effective, rifles, which they then use to drive away the creatures and animals that live in the nearby forests.

Angered however, by the human destruction of the land, the creatures from the forest fight back, waging their own war against the Iron Town population. These attacks are mostly led by a girl named San or, as she is more commonly called, Princess Mononoke. Adopted and raised by Moro, a giant wolf god that lives in the forest, San is the voice of protest against the man-made wreckage and devastation of the forest.

It is during his stay in Iron Town that Ashitaka finds himself in the midst of this battle, dragged into a fight that is not his own.

Horrific yet beautiful, this is not a film for the weak-hearted. Unlike the previous film discussed (Spirited Away), which focuses on the goodness of man and power of love, Princess Mononokeinstead looks at the bad of mankind. Simply bursting with social commentary, this film is brutal in its examination of nature of humans, of war, and especially of man’s struggling relationship with the earth, as industrialization becomes an increasingly dominant part of human life.

But enough with the themes of the film, let’s talk about the animation. The level of artistry in Princess Mononoke can only be described as extraordinary. From the amount of detail in the writhing skin of the boar-demons to the feral grace of the wolves, or even to the depiction of the phenomenal battle scenes, the animation deployed in this movie is simply astounding—managing to be both realistic and supernatural at the same time. Indeed, the artwork in this movie is one of the best I’ve seen. For much of the film, I was held spellbound, sitting in silent wonder at the quality of Hayao Miyazaki’s animation.