Film Commentary [11-10-99]
Anime Epic - - Princess Mononoke
Genre: Anime/action/adventure/epic
Grade = A+

Ashitaka shoots!!!
Princess Mononoke (or Mononke Mime in Japanese) is a mythological epic of a war between beast gods of the forests against encroaching human civilization set in 15th century Japan. The film begins with young Prince Ashitaka (Billy Crudup) discovering that a demon is thrusting its way through the forest toward his village. The demon is a Tatari Gama, a wild boar god covered by a mass of vibrating purplish worms driven insane by a bullet wound. Ashitaka, riding a red antelope-like giant elk, tries to reason with it to bypass the village but, when it approaches three young girls fleeing it he is forced to kill it with his bow. In the battle his arm is struck by the worms which leave a black scar that slowly spreads. As the village wise woman asks Tatari for forgiveness, it curses all humanity for its pain. As a result of killing a god, the scar is poisoned and Ashitaka is cursed to die unless he leaves the village and travels to ask the forgiveness of the Great Forest Spirit for the crime he has committed and be cured.

Leaving his village and family, Ashitaka backtracts Tatariís path. Eventually coming across a village under attack by brigand samurai, he is attacked and kills two with his bow, inevitably saving the life of a monk named Jigo (Billy Bob Thorton) who he meets the next day. Traveling further he reaches an ancient primeval forest and witnesses an attack on a caravan by giant wolves ridden by a young girl called San (Clair Danes). The caravan is led by Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver), which is delivering rice to Iron Town, her fortified iron foundry. They defend themselves with primitive firearms and wound the female giant two-tailed wolf god Moro (Gillian Anderson). However, during the attack several of the caravan ox drivers fall off the cliff into the river and are later rescued by Ashitaka. He leads them through the forest that is the home of the Forest Spirit where they encounter the Kodoma tree spirits, small white figures with large potato-like heads that they click. He safely brings the rescued men to Iron Town where Lady Eboshi invites him in and shows him her foundry. He learns that the people of Iron Town literally worship her. She is the only one that has ever shown them compassion, buying the contracts of brothel girls and taking in lepers. Giving them all worthwhile jobs in her foundry.

He also learns that to get to the iron bearing sands the people have had to clear parts of the forest. The beast gods and animals of the forest respond with total war and are constantly attacking the city and the caravan supplies. The humans and the forest creatures and gods hate each other passionately and blame each other for their problems. That evening, the wolves attack and San leaps into the city bent on killing Lady Eboshi. She fails and is rendered unconscious and surrounded the angry townspeople. Ashitaka, wishing the mend the differences between the forest gods and humans comes to her aid. He rescues her but is accidently shot as they attempts to leave. They flee on his elk into the forest where they are confronted by Moroís giant wolf offspring and apes who wish to devour him for the crime of being human. San persuades them to leave them alone and leads them into the heart of the forest. The Great Forest Spirit

The monk Jigo reenters. It seems he and his men have a commission from the Emperor to take the head of the Great Forest Spirit which the Emperor believes will make him immortal. They learn that the creature that stalks the forest at night (Nightwalker) changes into a many antlered deer god with a human face (Shishi-Gami) on the first rays of the light of morning. This is the Great Forest Spirit. Upon changing into the deer god form, he heals Ashitaka of the gunshot wound, but not of the cursed and poisoned wound of the boar god. Ashitaka then learns about San's past and why she is living with the animals instead of the humans. The two develop a bond as Ashitaka tries desperately to end the constant battle between man and animals in the great forest and at the same time, cure the growing scar on him arm. This eventually leads to the climax of the film and a final battle between the people of Iron Town, the beast gods, Jigo and his men, and a rival lordís army who wants Iron Townís iron for their own.

Directed by Hayou Miyazaki (Kikiís Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro), this film is an example of the heights to which animation can aspire. It is complex, beautifully illustrated and flawlessly animated with a marked fluidity that produces a stunning effect. Not only the characters, but the objects in the film itself seem to come alive. For example, the arrows that Ashitaka shoots don't just soar as they would in other films, but vibrate and shudder as the cut through the air and into their targets.

By far the finest quality of the film is that the main characters are cast in shades of grey rather than the expected blacks and whites. Not all good is good, but most specifically what appears evil to one's side or point of view is not necessarily evil in and of itself. Although the film deals with the confrontation of nature and civilization, it is not environmentalist propaganda. The film paints all the characters as having reasonable motives for what they do. In fact, the "villain" of the film, Lady Eboshi, actually comes across as the most virtuous. Having not just having the ulterior movtive of profit, but bringing employment and worthwhile satisfaction in a job well done to the people at the lowest rungs of society. Ultimately making this a film about people and their struggles rather than just about action. This is something that Disney is incapable of producing in its wildest dreams.

Hayou Miyazaki is the most respected animator in Japan and apparently the world as well. Disney has signed to distribute his films outside of Asia. He has produced several films of critical acclaim that have yet to be released in the US or translated into english. Specificly Kaze no tani no Naushika (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) and Tenku no shiro Rapyuta(Laputa: Castle in the Sky).


Ashitaka on elkback

San and Lady Eboshi in conflict

San and Moro

Princess Mononoke Japanese poster

Princess Mononoke poster 2

Official Princess Mononoke Film WebRing

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