Ever since its foundation in 1985, Studio Ghibli has only enriched the world cinema with some of the most memorable & imaginative works of animation over the years and today is widely regarded by critics & viewers alike as one of the most influential, acclaimed & honoured film studios of all time. It was only earlier this month when I started watching, enjoying & admiring their works but it wasn’t until I bumped into this anime that I was left completely speechless & overwhelmed by the incredibly dense cinematic experience it provided from start to finish. Because Princess Mononoke isn’t just one of the strongest feature films put out by Studio Ghibli but, in my opinion, is a landmark in the world of animation whose quality story, thematic elements & breathtaking on-screen execution sets a benchmark so high that it makes typical animated flicks from Disney or DreamWorks look like the works of amateurs.
Set in the early centuries of Japan & infused with elements of fantasy, Princess Mononoke (also known as Mononoke-hime) is a period drama which concerns a young prince named Ashitaka; who after saving his village from a rampaging boar god-turned-demon gets stricken with its deadly curse & is left with no choice but to journey to the west to find a cure. But as he enters the forest inhabited by animal gods, he finds himself involved in the war between these supernatural guardians who’ve resided there for centuries & a relatively new-formed village led by Lady Eboshi, whose people are greedily consuming the land’s natural resources. Ashitaka sees the good in both sides & tries to find a common truce between the two in order to stop both communities from shedding more blood & live in harmony but instead is seen by each as supporting the enemy. The film title, however, refers to a brave young girl named San who was raised by the wolf-goddess & has a strong hatred for mankind.
Written & directed by one of world cinema’s most respected & renowned artists, Princess Mononoke is arguably the creative height of Hayao Miyazaki’s legendary film career & presents the master storyteller in complete control of his craftsmanship. Although his films generally have recurrent themes like humanity’s relationship with nature or technology, strong female characters & subtle or strong statements about current world issues (political or ecological), what Princess Mononoke mainly deals with is the effects of industrialisation on environment, the shift in ecological balance due to deforestation, futility of war & man’s greed knowing no bounds. Each frame from its opening moments is meticulously detailed & gorgeously rendered on the film canvas while the hand-drawn animation is simply breathtaking, truly evocative, aesthetically pleasing & absolutely beautiful to look at.
Princess Mononoke also marks a significant shift in Miyazaki’s narration style from his usual light-hearted stories providing a childlike sense of wonder to subject matters possessing a much more serious, mature & complex tone. From its human characters or fantastical creatures to even the forest or village, every single element is vividly imagined & carefully drawn. The Japanese casting choice is pretty much spot-on & each one of them have done a fabulous job in voicing their given roles, especially those who voiced the animal gods. Visually, this anime is the most striking & colourful of all Ghibli films plus it’s virtually impossible to not be impressed by it. Cinematography seamlessly captures the film in all its beauty & wonderment while editing makes sure each segment is relevant to the plot. And last but not the least, the background score by Joe Hisaishi elegantly moves the story forward & features some truly magical tracks.
On an overall scale, Princess Mononoke is an expertly crafted, deftly envisioned, exquisitely photographed, swiftly paced & masterfully composed work of art & entertainment which effortlessly manages to transcend the confines of its genre by providing an emotionally dense & unique cinematic experience with the help of its intriguing plot, multi-dimensional characters, adult themes, unadulterated violence & strong statements concerning environment. A standard of 2D animation that’s in a league of its own & a treasured gem of world cinema that exhibits the remarkable strength of animation when it’s used as a medium to tell a story rather than be seen as a genre that’s simply aimed at kids & family, Princess Mononoke is arguably the pinnacle of Studio Ghibli’s creativity & imagination and is strongly, extremely & one hundred percent recommended to each & every film lover around the world.