Blinsided by PRINCESS MONONOKE – Review

~ Princess Mononoke is the Blind Spot entry for October. Full listing here. ~

Princess Mononoke is a unique, fantastical, heart-warming tale where heroic mediation prevails over greed, toil and confliction.

Hayao Miyazaki has carved a name for both himself and Studio Ghibli with his stunning imagination, appreciation for Japanese folk fantasy, and deft storytelling that touch the heart and soul of every viewer. Princess Mononoke is no different and is largely considered his finest work in a long line of impressive pictures.

From the off Princess Mononoke establishes itself as something wholly different from anything Miyazaki produced before and since. An epic tale that finds its humble roots in a small Emishi village.

When the boar god, Nago falls victim to a plagued demon, his rampage leads him into the path of Prince Ashitaka. Defending his village with a fatal shot from his bow and arrow Ashitaka successfully brings the beast down just outside the village gates but at a devastating cost. Cursed with the demon that plagued Nago Ashitaka must leave the village and seek a cure far to the West before the demon inside destroys him.

Travelling far away from his homeland Ashitaka witnesses the far reaching hand of the warring shogun and soon discovers that his cursed spirit possesses superhuman ability, capable of decapitating bandit samurai with a fatal shot from his arrow. This marks the first real venture of Ghibli into darker, gorier territory showing the great power of the evil that now controls Ashitaka’s temperament.

Along Ashitaka’s travels he meets Jiko, who tells him of a great roaming forest spirit to the West that may help him in his quest to overcome the demon that grows within him. Following Jiko’s suggestion Ashitaka’s path leads him to Lady Eboshi’s Irontown via a chance encounter with two injured members of her village following an attack by the wolf Goddess Moro and her wolf clan, including San, the Princess Mononoke.

Stunned by the visceral bloodiness of San’s loyalty to the wolf clan, with whom she now roams, Ashitaka mirrors the audience reaction to Ghibli’s journey into bloodied pastures. Shocked. But Miyazaki continues as though this is the norm and the film is all the better for it. There is an unerring appreciation of the finer details and the necessary details. In order to convey the touching message of mediation and sacrifice that Ashitaka’s journey adopts these bloodier details are a necessary evil. The stunning beauty with which they are shot only serves to maintain the Ghibli reputation.

Smearing the blood of Moro’s wounds across her face San refracts that familiar pastel coloured Ghibli world through the mind and heart of a lost child caught in the destruction of innocent worlds living in conflict through the wants of greed and control.

This is Ashitaka’s first glimpse at the harrowing mystery behind the origins of his curse. Fuelled by intrigue Ashitaka sets off in pursuit of San and the great Forest Spirit that may alleviate his cursed wounds. Lugging the injured victims through the forest Ashitaka is accompanied by his loyal elk companion Yakul and curious little tree spirits, Kodama until they emerge on the frontiers of Lady Eboshi’s Irontown fortress.

It is here that Ashitaka discovers the intentions of Lady Eboshi. To destroy the Forest Spirit and claim the mountain lands. Ashamed at her greed Ashitaka intends to leave Irontown and find the Forest Spirit to heal his curse but when San flies into Irontown intent on killing Eboshi, Ashitaka is forced to intervene and prevent any more bloodshed between the forest and the humans, for he knows first hand the knock-on effect of their conflict.

Princess Mononoke employs the strongest and most recognisable Miyazki trademarks. Two young protagonists with mysterious histories, strong references to environment conservation, and a laudable promotion of peaceful reconciliation. But while Miyazaki coats Mononoke in recognisable Ghibli tropes it differs somewhat in it’s admonishment of black and white characters.

In this exploration of humanity Miyazaki conjures one of the most striking images of the film. Deflecting Eboshi’s sword with one arm and keeping San at bay with the other Ashitaka puts himself between their conflictions and points out the flaw that dilute the heroic acts of each character. Each heroic figure has their demons and Ashitaka indicates to Eboshi that “there is a demon inside you. And in her [San].”

Channeling a “deep humanism”, recognised by Roger Ebert, Princess Mononoke is a phenomenally emotional and beautiful appreciation of the limitless potential that animation offers cinema. Animation complements the fundamental philosophies of the physical world and instils them with life that rivals lumbering live-action counterparts.

Crisp storytelling, stunning visuals, beautifully coloured, and emotionally stirring Princess Mononoke is a Brilliant exploration of the limits of animation and it’s ability to tell fantastical tales that take the viewer on a journey through lands unknown and into emotions untouched.

* * * * *

~ May the Force be with you ~

An exploration into the wonderful mind of Paul Thomas Anderson next, with Magnolia.

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