Princess Mononoke (1997): Quick-shot review!

gzlJkVfWV5VEG5xK25cvFGJgkDzWith the relatively recent retirement of Studio Ghibli genius Hayao Miyazaki, I’ve decided to revisit some of his classics. Princess Mononoke (1997) is one of Miyazaki’s most well-known films, famously ranking sixth on Roger Ebert’s top 10 list of 1999 (his review of the film is also required reading).  This fantastical animated film focuses on the conflict between humans’ need for resources to develop their civilisation, and the nature that seeks to protect itself. We follow a traditional warrior named Ashitaka as he navigates between these two walks of life.

My favourite thing about this film is that even though there are clearly-written characters with clear intentions, they are morally ambiguous. No one character is good or evil. Even Lady Eboshi, who seeks to exploit the forest for its resources, does so in order for the survival of the people in her care. The titular Princess Mononoke defends her forest, but at what cost to the humans? Warrior Ashitaka works well as a character that is the impartial guide for the moral compass of the film, as he explores each side of the story – the humans who attack the forest, and the forest that defends itself from the humans. There are no distinct ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. This kind of story has a lot more depth than your classic ‘good versus evil’ animated film.

With a film like this, your eyes are always busy. Even in the corners of a shot, there is something engaging to look at. The depiction of the forest and its creatures is a stand-out for me. It is so beautiful yet quirky and whimsical, and can also be very brutal, all at the same time. The folklore elements are stunning – the little forest spirits (kodama) and the giant forest god whose feet sprout flowers where he walks are such a delight to watch. Likewise, the more action-packed scenes are so intense. The fight scenes are also great. They can be very violent (but not gratuitously so), which makes you appreciate the peace and quiet of the forest a lot more. As with any Studio Ghibli film, the music is a perfect accompaniment to the film and is filled with a lot of emotion. Joe Hisaishi’s scores for Miyasaki’s films are always amazing.

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The dubbed version is quite good, with a wide array of familiar celebrity voices (Gillian Anderson, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Crudup, the list goes on). However, I much prefer the subtitled version because that’s just how I prefer to watch foreign language animated films. If you prefer to watch dubbed animated films, then you won’t be disappointed.

Princess Mononoke is the perfect example of an animated film that is accessible for adults. Younger kids might not really understand the moral ambiguity and might be a bit frightened by the supernatural elements and violence, but I think this film could suit viewers of any age from about 12 years old and up. Whilst it could easily have become preachy with its environmental message, ultimately the film’s message is one of balance and respect between humans and nature. With a bittersweet ending, and an overall message that will stick with you, Princess Mononoke is certainly worthy of its acclaim and status as one of Studio Ghibli’s most beloved films.

4.5/5
Watch the trailer here.

23 comments

  1. I really should watch more animated films, this is one of those I keep hearing good things, but I mean if you like it so much, it has to be good 🙂

    1. You should definitely see it! 🙂

  2. Well, it’s no Porco Rosso… but agreed, Princes Mononoke is a tremendous Ghibli entry. These animations are all such important films!
    Jordan

    1. I love Porco Rosso too! 🙂

  3. Great review! Really need to see this, heard only good things about it!

    1. Thanks! 🙂 I think you definitely need to see this one!

  4. Very nice review. I really feel as if I am missing out. I really don’t like anime so the art style makes it hard for me to get into these. If I could only get past that hurdle…

    1. Thanks! You definitely have to jump that hurdle – pretty much all of the Studio Ghibli films are well worth a watch!

  5. Love the review! Princess Mononoke is one of my favourites from studio Ghibli.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 What’s your favourite one? Spirited Away is definitely my favourite.

      1. I do like Spirited Away. My favourite is probably My Neighbour Totoro though, I think. 🙂

  6. I prefer subtitles too. Great review. I didn’t realise he had retired 😦

    1. Thanks! 🙂 Yeah, I only found out the other day – The Wind Rises will be his last film with Ghibli. But apparently he’s known for dropping in and out of retirement so hopefully it won’t be for long!

      1. Know its cheeky to mention it, but would love to know how you do in this quiz I did ages ago http://alexraphael.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/film-quizzes-anime/

        1. I got all but one – I haven’t seen The Cat Returns yet! 🙂

  7. Great review yo, this is easily in my top 5, maybe even top 3 Studio Ghibli films. The main thing that I will always remember about this film is the presentation, Princess Mononoke is one of the most beautiful animated films I have ever seen and the fluidity of the animation is so slick and smooth that it stuns my eyes every time. You bring up some good points about how younger audiences could miss out on the some of the story elements and I know I did when I first saw this years ago and there are some things I still don’t understand to be fair. Will probably have to give this a watch again at some point. Oh and P.S. rock on for watching the film subbed, in my opinion it is the only way to anime and Japanese film in general.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 This makes my top 3 Ghibli films for sure! Yeah, I started watching subbed anime films when they were the only ones available to watch back in the day, and never really started watching dubs unless they were on television. Sometimes the English voices just can’t get it right!

  8. So glad you’re reviewing this 🙂 It’s really quite amazing. I think that “Howl’s Moving Castle” is more visually stunning, but I prefer the storyline in “Princess Mononoke.” Funnily enough, I just included “Spirited Away” on my list of my favorite films!

    1. Howl’s Moving Castle really was beautiful! My ultimate favourite is Spirited Away though – so I’m glad to see it on your list! 🙂

  9. Great review. Miyazaki goes back and forth with retirement all the time so it ain’t over yet!

    1. Fingers crossed that this is another flexible retirement! 🙂 Thanks!

  10. I really need to watch the subtitled version of this. Whilst the dubbed version isn’t bad i really would like the full Japanese experience of it. I think this is my favourite of the Studio Ghibli films. Nice review.

    1. Thank you! 🙂 The subtitled version is so great. The dialogue hasn’t been changed significantly in the dubbed version, but the subtle changes in phrasing and additional cultural tidbits definitely give you as much of the full Japanese experience as possible for non-speakers!

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