Overview: Miyazaki’s 75th Birthday has me nostalgic for a personal favorite, Princess Mononoke. Toho; 1997; Rated PG-13; 133 minutes.
In A Feudal Japan Far, Far Away: I’m not the biggest fan of Japanese animation, though I respect the medium, as there are a few examples that pique my interest and rise above the typical anime fare. But there was a time when I wouldn’t give the medium the slightest time of day. That all changed after I watched Princess Mononoke. It made me more appreciative of the style as a whole and served as a thought provoking entry into the world of Hayao Miyazaki. Though Princess Mononoke takes place in Feudal Japan, it’s not our Japan. It’s an amalgamation of feudal Japan, the industrial era, and western fairytales, all drawn beautifully by Hayao Miyazaki. The seemingly endless landscapes of employs classic western themes with a modern fairytale: The lone hero, the goofy supporting characters, a beautiful princess. All these familiar threads tie together to tell a tale of man vs nature, but a cautionary tale of greed, man’s place in the world, and the environment. Is nature helpless to man’s greed? Can a few good seeds salvage a civilization? Can man and nature live together in harmony? The film never shies away from asking the big questions, no matter how dark the answers might seem.
Nature Versus Nurture: It’s easy for a movie exploring these themes to choke on its own sanctimony by falling into the familiar trappings of, “Man, evil. Trees, good.” Thankfully, Hayao Miyazaki is understanding enough to let both sides be heard. Characters such as Lady Eboshi, leader of Irontown, is slotted into a position of villainy early on, but once we see how she cares for her people, it’s hard to dislike her. She just wants what’s best for her community, regardless of the impact it has on the spirits and creatures living in the surrounding forests. Speaking of which, the animation work Studio Ghibli produces is always going to be unparalleled. I have no qualms with computer generated imagery, but traditional, hand-drawn animation will always have a texture to it that just can’t be matched. It also takes longer and is more expensive than computer animation. You win some, you lose some. If the rumors of Ghibli ceasing future animated production are true, then maybe it’s a lose, lose situation.
Overall: Princess Mononoke inspired my love for Miyazaki and showed me the benefits of Japanese anime. Too often Western animation is aimed specifically at children for the sake of it being just animation. Princess Mononoke might be too violent for younger viewers, but it is a must-watch for more than just fans of anime but fans of storytelling in general.