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Princess Mononoke

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The view swoops over the lush trees of the forest; it dips down into the deepest part of the forest, where white spirits, forest beasts, and animal-gods roam from place to place. Among the giant wolves is San, a human girl who was adopted by the wolves and has been battling against humans to protect the forest ever since. Now the scene switches to the Iron Town. There, the humans are preparing to destroy nearby forests once again, so that they could make charcoal and weapons. The stark contrast between these two worlds, no less than the beautiful and mysterious portrayal of the spiritual side of nature, instantly alert moviegoers that Princess Mononoke (1997) is special, and that it is more than just a typical animated film.

Almost all of director Miyazaki Hayao’s animated films focus on the theme of humanity’s connection to nature. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), one of Hayao’s first films, tells a story of Princess Nausicaä, who fights to stop people of the Tomeikia kingdom from killing the Ohmu (giant insects). His more recent films, such as Ponyo (2008) and Spirited Away (2001), also blend fantastical elements with nature as well. Princess Mononoke is not an exception. The captivating plotline, characters, and setting all come together to portray the interaction of man and nature and suggest the possibility of peaceful coexistence.

One of the elements that make Princess Mononoke so great is the fact that it, unlike most films about nature, does not lay on the environmental message too much. Many movies, including the animated film FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992), tend to force its message upon the audience. In contrast, Princess Mononoke delivers the theme subtly; the story continues to move on at a fast, interesting pace, while the ecological message remains at the background. The captivating characters are also a plus. Unlike most other animated films, in which the protagonists have bright, two-dimensional personalities, the characters of Princess Mononoke are strong and well-developed. For example, Ashitaka, the protagonist, is not the typical happy and powerful hero. As Hayao has said, “Ashitaka is not a cheerful, worry-free boy. He is a melancholic boy who has a fate.” San, or Princess Mononoke, is also an impressive character with a unique background. Even the minor characters, including Jigo (a wandering monk), Lady Eboshi (the manager of the Iron Town), and the wolves, are very interesting.

With these elements, Princess Mononoke sticks out from all Japanese animated films, even from Hayao’s other highly acclaimed films. It is not just a simple, meaningless animation that one simply watches for entertainment, but a brilliantly crafted masterpiece, which keeps the audience hooked throughout the entire film, yet lets them leave the cinema with a new lesson engrained in their mind.



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