Film Review: Princess Mononoke by Studio Ghibli
A prince, Ashitaka, from the far east regions of a mystical land, is forced to venture west after being branded by a fatal curse from the touch of a demon, wherein he finds an ongoing war between humanity and the forest gods, whose home is threatened by the humans’ industrial progress. He is enthralled by a princess, San, who is raised by wolves, biologically human yet warring against her industrial kin.
What makes Princess Mononoke so special is how, like all the best pieces of art, it ties so closely to real life, whilst being utterly absorbed within its own world and creation. So much audio-visual space within the film is given to the dense and, simply put, living scenery created that it seems as if its main characteristic is the forest. The characters and plot feel tied to their surroundings in their own respective ways, yet they are all utterly varied, complex, intriguing: human. There are moments of utter silence so powerful that it feels as if the film itself is holding its breath as you do, yet violence and blackness and anger and hubris fill and shape the narrative. At the same time, we are shown every side to every shape, and the film acknowledges so entirely the viewer’s human emotional intelligence that it allows us to formulate ourselves each individual’s positives, often appearing as a result or in hand with their flaws.
"The film is an epic fantasy poem, an ode to its genre..."
The protagonist, Ashitaka, is held back by inaction and a fixation on objectivity, yet this allows him ‘to see with eyes unclouded by hate’ (one of, if not the most important, central themes of the film), a notion placing him as the perfect arbitrator between the warring sides of human and forest. San is stubborn and hot-headed, but she is as a result passionate and empathetic and caring. Even the closest character to what we may call the antagonist, Lady Eboshi, despite being held back by her views of capitalistic greed and self-interested industrialisation as a site of greater importance than any natural beauty or ecosystem, is a beautiful and powerful woman of progress. We see her caring for and giving jobs to lepers who otherwise would be without homes, as well as taking sex-workers out of the abusive, corrupted brothels that they’d become systematically trapped in and giving them a fresh start with new work, putting them in positions of deserved power and respect within her microcosmic new society, something she forces the men to abide by too, with violent reprimands otherwise. Although I found that my moral sympathies rested most strongly with the forest gods and their wish for peace and uncorrupted unity, these characters are – much like the workings of nature itself – violent, distrustful, resolute: cold and unempathetic.
The protagonist is a perfectly placed alien to the warring, inhabited world, coming from a cast-away bloodline of peoples residing far away to the East, sent away from his home to find a cure for the burdening curse he has been infected with. However, as he seeks this cure, we realise that to fix himself he must first help unshoulder the similarly burdening curse inhabited by all the forest and peoples so delicately and lusciously purveyed throughout the film. We are also never given a prettily packaged ending adorned with any bow, no perfect cadence, but instead a far realer establishing of hope for the future through compromise and emotiophysical understanding, a powerful message in any era of any society.
The film is an epic fantasy poem, an ode to its genre, which also celebrates beauty in and through art; the world; people; grandeur and the metaphysical. I recommend it to anyone with the patience to watch a movie longer than an hour and a half!
Author: Jake Rix
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