Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Fans of Studio Ghibli could be forgiven for thinking that most films by the Japanese animation studio follow a similar theme of growing up and family. Generally speaking, they are able to convey this sweet and innocent message without the use of any violence or death. Then, there's Princess Mononoke.

When Ashitaka is cursed by a demonised boar god, he is sent west to find a cure. There he finds himself caught in a war between the forest spirits, led by the wolves and their adopted human daughter San, and the human mountain miners, led by Lady Eboshi.

It is relatively early into Princess Mononoke that you realise it is not a typical Ghibli film; if the terrifying, tentacled boar god isn't obvious enough, then Ashitaka gruesomely removing several samurai limbs and heads definitely hammers the point home.

So, if Princess Mononoke isn't a cutesy family film, where and how exactly does it fit in in Ghibli's catalogue?

While it isn't based around manga, which as typical a source for Ghibli as European fairy tales are for Disney, Princess Mononoke is steeped in Japanese history and plays out more like a Western epic than a Japanese anime.

It was released at a time of increased interest in Japanese culture in the West, and follows a theme extremely similar to that of Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which was released a year later.

Curiously, in its battle of nature v human, Princess Mononoke opts not to pit "good vs evil" and leaves this to the viewer to decide. While nature is the obvious force for good, the wolves are often depicted as savages, and while the humans seeking to destroy the forest is on the face of it evil, Lady Eboshi shows great compassion for both lepers and women who had previously been employed for prostitution.

This moral ambiguity is initially disconcerting as it is difficult to predict which "good" will ultimately win out, but it also results in a film that is compelling and enthralling in equal measure.

Ultimately, Princess Mononoke isn't for everyone. It isolates its core fanbase, in a genre that is not hugely accessible for the masses. But, what this results in, is a highly-recommended momentous anime epic.

4 stars

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