Princess Mononoke was released in 1997 and was directed by the globally recognized master of animation, Hayao Miyazaki.
Hayao Miyazaki is widely known for the memorable and incredible films he has released over the years. Many enthusiasts regard him as the ‘God of Anime’. And with the success of all his work so far, Miyazaki undoubtedly lives up to his title.
In 1985, he founded Studio Ghibli, and helped set off a new wave of emphasized quality in animation and storytelling that lead to the global rise of anime in the 90s.
He subsequently released a string of movies that are now regarded as animated classics that have received global recognition and prestige.
However, many of these movies did not receive a global release until Disney formed a partnership with Studio Ghibli to internationally distribute their films in 1996. This coincided perfectly with the timing of Princess Mononoke in 1997, which became the highest-grossing film in Japanese history until Spirited Away was released in 2001.
The film saw an international release in October of 1999, and along with subsequent re-releases, Princess Mononoke has grossed more than $194 million as of 2020 at the box office. This puts it in the list of top ten grossing anime films of all time.
Studio Ghibli has also sold millions of copies of the movie on VHS, DVD, Laserdisc, and Blu-Ray. All of this brought Studio Ghibli into the international spotlight and set the stage for later releases such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.
Although Princess Mononoke may not be everyone’s favorite Studio Ghibli movie, it’s easy to see why it deserves credit for establishing Studio Ghibli as an international filmmaker.
Therefore, the following is an examination of the key aspects of the film that impacted Ghibli’s global presence.
Ethereal Yet Relatable Characters
When compared to other Ghibli titles, Princess Mononoke’s lead, Ashitaka, is a more complex and complete character. The dynamic presented by the movie indicates the protagonist’s role as the narrative’s moral center. Portraying an elegant display of his silent demeanor, he struggles to find a balance between nature and mankind.
Moving on, as the story progresses, Ashitaka comes across a human girl named San. Interestingly, San has spent her entire life with forest spirits, making her a fearsome warrior of nature. As the two characters fight and overcome their obstacles, Ashitaka begins to develop feelings for San.
What we see with Ashitaka and San goes beyond the norms even for Studio Ghibli. In Spirited Away, for example, Chihiro is a well-written and fascinating character. However, her personality lacks the dynamic observed with the Ashitaka and San. Chihiro plays the role of an ordinary girl without any unique qualities, and although her adventures are bedazzling, her interactions and reactions are rather stale.
In other words, unlike Ashitaka and San, her presence does not contribute much to shaping the narrative of the film.
Stunning Yet Fitting Visuals
Studio Ghibli’s first movie in 1985, Castle in the Sky, was widely acclaimed as a revolutionary animated movie in every aspect. And the visuals for Ghibli movies only improved with time.
Studio Ghibli is not known for flashy and extraordinary animations and visual effects like a company such as Ufotable. But they do maintain a high standard of quality in their animation and seemingly adopt the style and tone to the film’s theme. As such, Princess Mononoke’s clean aesthetic and graphical nature simply resonates with the theme Miyazaki wished to convey.
Similarly, when compared to Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke lacks new and more fluid animations. However, when delving deeper into its theme, the rough-around-the-edges quality seemingly fits the visual style and projected timeline of the story. Since it heavily revolves around Japanese mythology in Japan’s Muromachi period, it is hard to imagine how the art style and animation could have been any better.
Complex Yet Intelligible Narrative
Princess Mononoke delivers a very unique tale of conflict between mankind and nature. Prince Ashitaka embarks on the quest to cure himself of a death curse, making his way through different people and regions. His adventures put him amidst a conflict between humans, led by Lady Eboshi, and the spirits of the forest, led by San. While the concept seems rather clichéd on paper, Miyazaki’s genius forces viewers to reconcile this notion.
The predominant theme of the movie displays the plots’ complexity right from the start. Miyazaki shows both sides of the conflict, presenting the differing values between the humans and the affected ecosystem. Having portrayed the situation from both ends, Studio Ghibli forces the viewer to think and examine the conflict.
Initially, many viewers are likely to side with San and the spirits of the forest. However, as the story continues, viewers come to draw a mutual conclusion; neither side would benefit from claiming victory over the other. Instead, coexistence would be the most advantageous outcome.
Though Ghibli films have undeniably well-written narratives, the brilliance and sophisticated nature of Princess Mononoke remains unrivaled. Where the likes of Spirited Away drown beneath random plot origins, Princess Mononoke delves deep into the complexities of our community and nature.
Likewise, Spirited Away projects a conclusion with Chihiro somehow emerging out of a fantastical world. Whereas Princess Mononoke concludes the tale by restoring balance to mankind and nature. Having viewed both movies, one can clearly distinguish the difference in impact, scale, and structure, thus, cementing Princess Mononoke’s as a trend-breaking marvel.
Princess Mononoke’s Influential Theme
Miyazaki’s formula for his state-of-the-art story-telling is comprised of a problem frequently overlooked by most of us. These issues can be either on a personal level or heavily affect a single community. However, the beauty of Princess Mononoke lies within its overarching theme that targets a problem the entire world faces, yet remains unaddressed.
We have heard of mankind going up against nature as its adversary, but it is difficult to name a story that refines the idea to near perfection. Princess Mononoke sprinkles a pinch of drama and eastern philosophy to the mix, distinguishing itself from all similar tales.
Miyazaki firmly emphasizes the importance of maintaining a balance, depicting the good and bad for both ends. The forest spirits have remained generous and compassionate throughout history. Nevertheless, Princess Mononoke displays the effects of human greed and the darkness caused by it, while simultaneously presenting Lady Eboshi’s lust for iron.
On the flip side, Miyazaki expresses Lady Eboshi’s care for the individuals reputed low amongst the society; prostitutes and outcasts. Therefore, evoking the idea of the narrative in the form of eastern philosophy; Yin and Yang, good within evil and evil within good. It is this type of thematic complexity that helped Studio Ghibli earn the recognition it has today.
Ultimately, all Ghibli films are special and memorable in their own way. They have taught us life lessons and show the beauty our world holds. Studio Ghibli undoubtedly gained the respect of viewers through Princess Mononoke, which helped open the door to their whole library of timeless and classic movies.
Given this, it is evident that Mononoke Hime revolutionized not only Ghibli movies, but also shaped the anime industry. And if there is one thing we can all agree upon, it is the genius of Miyazaki and the magnificence of his work.
Princess Mononoke is one of our top movies of the 90s, click here to see more of our favorites!