Film, Go To

GO TO: Princess Mononoke (1997) dir. Hayao Miyazaki

Screens 5/28 and 6/2 @ The Brattle


There’s something about summertime that makes me want to watch Studio Ghibli movies, and this year is no exception. While we haven’t officially reached the first day of summer, the recent sweltering temperatures make me want to curl up on the couch with a good movie and the air conditioning on blast. In lieu of air conditioning, I’ll gladly settle for the movie.

If you read my recent write up on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, it’s worth noting that Princess Mononoke is its clear spiritual successor. The conflict between humans and nature is an ongoing concern for Miyazaki, but in this film, characters’ motivations are more complex.

Prince Ashitaka is one of the last of the Emishi, a people relegated to life in the far Eastern reaches of Medieval Japan. When a boar demon attacks his village, Ashitaka prevents disaster, but suffers a curse in the process. He consults with the village wise woman, learning his wound will cause great pain and death. The only option for Ashitaka is to leave his home and seek out a cure in the West.

Cast out from the only home he knows, Ashitaka meets a gregarious monk and a mysterious wolf-girl during his search for healing. Told to abandon his search by the wolf-girl, San, Ashitaka winds up in the midst of an epic battle between nature and mankind. At the center of this battle is the enigmatic Lady Eboshi. The Lady makes a compelling villain. She earns our sympathy as a friend to lepers and outcasts, giving them jobs in the growing Iron Town. It’s hard to stay on Eboshi’s side for long, though, after learning the price paid for the town to exist.

The curse that prompted our protagonist’s quest loses importance as we see the lengths humans are willing to go to to survive and prosper. Throughout the film, characters remark that the world is cursed, and Ashitaka’s fate is nothing worse than that which everyone bears.

In Princess Mononoke, animals often possess a stronger moral backbone than their human counterparts. A wolf spirit, who has dreamed of chomping Lady Eboshi’s head off for the duration of the movie, instead uses the last of her strength to save her human daughter. Even the end of the film leaves you with the distinct impression that humanity is indebted to the kindness of the forest spirit they’ve spent most of the story trying to destroy.

Like most Miyazaki films, the visuals in Princess Mononoke are spectacular. Miyazaki is known for personally checking over animations, even redrawing cells when they don’t meet his standards. For this film, scouting took place in the ancient forests of Yakushima and the mountains of Shirakami-Sanchi. At the time of its release, Princess Mononoke was the most expensive animated movie ever made in Japan.

Growing up on Ghibli films, I didn’t fully appreciate the meticulous grandeur of Princess Mononoke until recent years. After rewatching it for this article, I have to admit: Mononoke may just be my favorite Ghibli movie to date. It hits all the usual notes, and the way it mirrors our current environmental crisis simply can’t be beat.

Princess Mononoke
dir. Hayao Miyazaki
134 min.

Screens Saturday, 5/28, 12:30pm & Thursday, 6/2, 8:30pm @ The Brattle
In Japanese with English Subtitles

Part of Reunion Week 2022

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