January 31st: Y’know, For Kids.

40. Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997) #126 in IMDB top 250

Aside from some very sketchy childhood memories of watching Miyazaki’s 1986 film Castle in the Sky I hadn’t watched a Studio Ghibli film until I slotted this into the DVD player on Saturday afternoon. What a pleasant way to spend an afternoon too! Ashitaka is a young warrior-prince who goes on a quest to cure his cursed body when he comes to Iron Town. Here the people, lead by Lady Eboshi, are becoming increasingly industrialised and are decimating the surrounding forest – in doing so they have come into conflict with the magical creatures that inhabit the forest. Ashitaka is sympathetic to both sides, especially to the young girl raised by wolves who fights against Lady Eboshi’s forces. The animation is sumptuous, disarmingly simple, vibrant and kinetic. The story is epic in scope and invites a deeper reading because of the intelligent way it avoids clear partisan delineation between the two opposing forces. Overall Princess Mononoke is a worthy example of an animated film, nominally aimed at children, that deserves greater recognition because of the concepts that it deals with.

I’ll be reviewing three Studio Ghibli films over the next week or two because I’ve decided to help somebody out with their Film Studies coursework on the films of Miyazaki. So to that end, Matt – here’s what I thought to be the main important issues of the film.

First up is the ecological conflict. Miyazaki avoids the simple message that nature = good/industrialisation = bad. Instead he presents the conflict with a remarkably even hand – Lady Eboshi is shown to be an extraordinary humanitarian in her compassion for the lepers whilst the spirits of the forest are, in the case of the boars, foolhardy stubborn creatures. It will be important to discern what the conclusion is saying about the relationship between humanity and nature. Have the humans pushed too far, too fast? Do we need to redefine our method of living to maintain a better balance of interaction with the natural world? Does the conclusion of the film serve as an instruction to the humans?

Secondly, the film has a big feminist message. The titular Princess aside (she’s not that interesting really) there is an industrial enclave being run by Lady Eboshi, a character who is represented as a strong intelligent leader and beholden to none. Her control of the town also represents a degree of emancipation for the other female characters – for whom the segregation seems to be in their favour. This could be a subject for further exploration.

I look forward to watching Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.

2 thoughts on “January 31st: Y’know, For Kids.”

  1. Princess Mononoke is fantastic and I’m glad you liked it. Spirited Away (Jonathan Ross’ favourite anim√©) is better but it is close. Both are really great, though. The animation is sublime and the stories make a bit more sense than the usual Japanese fair (no amnesiac psychic children in THIS film).

  2. The English dub in Mononoke is great, as are Spirited and Howl’s. The reason I asked about Mononoke is that some of the changes made by Neil Gaiman to the script have altered the meaning of the original Japanese. This specifically relates to the fate of the shishigami (Forest Spirit). If you ever do watch Mononoke again, I’d say go for the Japanese dub as the English subtitles in that are direct translations.

    If you’re helping someone with their film studies, it’s worth noting that Princess Mononoke is the only Miyazaki film not to feature a flying sequence and it shares a environmental theme with Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind, Miyazaki’s second and Ghibli’s first film.

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