Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, or should I say “Warriors of the Wind” may have been the first Miyazaki film I ever saw, but Princess Mononoke was the first where I became aware of Miyazaki as a director. Since no Americans I knew saw it in theaters, I clearly remember people like my older sister’s friends or my dad’s friends saying, “You have to rent Princess Mononoke.” Kind of crazy to think there was a time where you had to rent something from Blockbuster or else you couldn’t see it. I heard this film’s praise for years until I finally gave it a shot two years ago. Did it live up to the hype? Definitely.
Ashitaka is a proud young warrior, after fighting an enraged giant boar he becomes infected with a deadly demon curse. To save his life, Ashitaka travels to seek help from the Spirit of the Forest in the far east. Ashitaka’s journey gets harder when he becomes involved in a battle between the humans of Iron Town and the magical creatures of the forest. Ashitaka also finds himself obsessed with a girl named San, who was raised by the wolf gods and despises humans. The results are a fierce battle with the potential to destroy all of the forestland and those who thrive off of its power.
Whereas Miyazaki was releasing films like rapid fire back in the 80s, by the 90s he had slowed down a bit. There was almost a five-year gap between Porco Rosso and Princess Mononoke. Though Miyazaki had done conceptual artwork for Mononoke all the way back to the 70s and spent years trying to develop a story. Finally, in the early 90s, Miyazaki started working with animator Masashi Ando to develop the film’s setting and aesthetic. Regarding the story, Miyazaki drew inspiration from John Ford, using his westerns to create the misfit characters that populated “Iron Town”. The rest of the film painted a somewhat over-the-top portrayal of medieval Japan brimming with magic and darkness. The resulting project is one of the most compelling and beautiful animated films ever conceived.
Princess Mononoke may be Miyazaki’s most visually alluring film. The animation brilliantly captures both the beauty of the forest and the horrors of war. The violence in Mononoke is unlike anything in any other Miyazaki film. It is intense but rightly so, the images only become that much more powerful. It is clear that Miyazaki has a great passion for nature and Princess Mononoke strikes at that with such fearlessness and boldness, it is truly something to behold.
Many say Princess Mononoke is Miyazaki’s best work, what about me? I’m not sure. Mononoke is certainly the best I’ve seen thus far (for this list), but we have a big one coming up. See you when I’ll be Spirited Away to my next review.