No 488 - Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke)
Director - Hayao Miyazaki
So, I started the day with a tricky little decision, and I think I chose the controversial choice when i sat down to watch this film with the English dub. But.... I have my reasons and let me explain them.
1) The subtitle translation on my DVD is a bit weird and obscure at times.
2) The English dub was written by Neil Gaiman, and whilst this may only be a rewriting, rather than an original story, the man is still a fucking legend and one of the great fiction writers of our time. The fact that this is a film about man trying to advance forward and negate the work of the ancient Gods is also a very Gaiman idea.
The film is set a very very very long time ago and is about the early settlements of Japan - how they had to clear the forests to make way for their lives and how this affects the spirits and Gods who reside in the forests. I love the spirituality of the Studio Ghibli films and how, although they're all set in different worlds, they share this beautiful history and fantasy. The idea of man coming and disrupting the ancient spirits is something that Ghibli had visited earlier with Pom Poko. Although Princess Mononoke is a lot more serious.... and has less magical scrotums.
But I digress.... war is breaking out in the woods as Iron Town has been creating more and more efficient rifles in order to kill of the Gods and giant beasts in the woods. As they kill off the Gods, the giant beasts become smaller and dumber - more like the beasts of today. But, it also fills the Gods with rage and turns them into demons. This is where we fall into the story.
If there is one thing Ghibli do especially well (and they do a lot of things well) it is creating weird gloopy fluid monsters. They appear in enough films to be a bit of a Ghibli theme:
What I love is the attention to detail. The way that each little slimy tendril moves independently, the way that the grass and plants burn and die as the tendrils touch. It is a massive beast made of thousands of little parts - and it must have been a bitch to animate. Our protagonist - Prince Ashitaka - gets cursed by the demon as tires to defend his clan. He is subsequently, reluctantly, banished into the woods in order for him to find a cure from the great Spirit of the forest.
Ashitaka gets roped into the battle between man and spirit and is generally mistrusted by everybody by his crazy hippy views that they can all get on together. During this war we are introduced to a lot of characters who have a lot of little subplots which aren't vital enough to discuss but which all help drive the story of this central battle.
There are some great flourishes, you can see the spirits becoming less powerful: by the end of the film the apes are essentially normal apes, the boars are getting more dumb, more brutal - it is only the wolves who have managed to survive. Even then there are only 3 of them, but they introduce us to San - the titular Princess Mononoke (Mononoke is a type of Japanese spirit - one of the Yokai) - a girl who has been raised by the Wolf spirits, and - despite her human for - who considers herself one of the wolves.
As San and Ashitaka look about the same age (I'd say mid to late teens....) it is only natural that they fall in love. In fact, even when he is 90% he still has time to tell San that she is beautiful. It is his love which helps drive him on on his quest for good and which helps show the humans (and the spirits) the error in their ways.
Life can be less destructive and more beautiful.... as what is the point in waging a war on nature itself?
The film is long for a cartoon, and it can occasionally feel a bit too serious. It lacks the joyousness of My Neighbour Totoro, but it is still a fascinating watch.
You get to enjoy the mysticism of Japanese culture but also get the grittiness of War in feudal Japan. And there is grit. This may be a PG rated cartoon but arms and heads get lopped off and fly about with remarkable abandon.
But, we do have the lovely little tree spirits who are quite cute in their weird gormless way. Look at them.