I spent pretty much the entire month of October reviewing gory horror films. Well, frankly, that became kind of repetitive after a while. Trust me; you’ve seen one bloodied corpse, you’ve seen one hundred. So, for November, I needed a change.
That is why I am reviewing a violent, gory animated film. See? Completely different?
Actually, Princess Mononoke reminds me of something important that animation is supposed to do; create a world that could not exist in our reality. Most people in the west think that animation is ultimately meant to be light and distracting rather than deep. Usually, the average animated movie can be accomplished in live action. This is completely wrong; those are two different mediums. Why not acknowledge it?
Few films in the last twenty years have. Wall E is one. Princess Mononoke is another.
In some ancient time, a prince named Ashikata (voiced by Billy Crudup in the English version….I know, I have committed a cardinal sin by watching a foreign film dubbed, but I did, so I am going to give credit to the English cast) manages to kill a wild boar that has turned into a demon after being shot by one of them newfangled iron bullets. The boar touches him, thus cursing him to become a demon himself. He wanders to find a cure, eventually hearing that a forest god may be able to help him. But first, he finds a village known as Irontown lead by Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver) which is under constant attack from a wolf God named Moro (Gillian Anderson) and her adopted human daughter San (Claire Danes). Ashitaka becomes involved with a battle between the wolves, boars, the forest spirit, the monk who wants to take the forest god’s head and thus become immortal, or maybe he wants to give it to the emperor……
OK, I have to admit, the plot is fairly abstract and hard to follow. That would be my one complaint about the film. But then, the plot of Star Wars is also convoluted. Seriously, try reciting it to yourself and see how far you get.
The main strength of the film is the world that it manages to create. The forest god could not be achieved with real world trickery. He is wholly the product of animation. In fact, those sequences with him are among the most breathtaking ever. Why? Because they are so rich and detailed. They FEEL real, even if they are not.
That is what was so important about animation to begin with. The best ones from the classic era managed to convey feelings of reality and depth. People forgot they were looking at ink. The film conveys a sense of depth and reality. What is weird that, whenever most western animated films achieve this, they shy away from it. Princess Mononoke embraces its world.
Now, it is possible to become blinded by the message of the film. And frankly, the message is kind of muddled. The actual themes sort of become a high minded episode of Captain Planet. The whole idea is that the gods are angry at the civilizations of man encroaching on the forest. It is kind of bizarre, made more so by the fact that the animals are just as eager to kill humans as humans are to kill animals. You know, as in how nature actually works. I have always been skeptical whenever the theme of a film is that human is the most vicious animal of all. We are the only animal who cares about the survival of other speeches.
But then, that theme is not aggressive or politicized; if anything, it feels more like an examination of the Japanese culture’s relationship with nature. I still felt as though I learned something, which is just as important as anything else.
I did enjoy myself far too much to condemn the film, and sometimes, that is enough. It is a film that I went away from wiser, with a feeling that I had truly witnessed something important. That feeling is becoming increasingly rare these days, so I must treasure those moments when they happen. The film is not as good as Miyazaki’s later Spirited Away, but it is still a fine animated film that more Western companies should strive to achieve.