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Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke
Year: 1997
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki, without doubt, is a legend. And many people see Princess Mononoke as his best film. While I don't think it's his Magnum Opus, it is certainly a masterpiece, a towering giant in the field of animation that is one of the most powerful and moving films ever made. It is certainly important, along with films like Akira and My Neighbor Totoro, in that it helped bring anime to a larger audience. With Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki took a step further in his storytelling as well. This film was his first rated PG-13, which shows in the often violent and mature themes.

The environment has been a key - or at least a part - in almost every one of Miyazaki's movies. In Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind it's as blatantly obvious as in Princess Mononoke; the film is literally about nature and the environment. Films like Castle in the Sky and Kiki's Delivery Service are more subtle, but they'll touch on environmental films. Same goes for Spirited Away, which uses the river spirit Haku as a symbol for pollution causing rivers and natural landmarks to be destroyed and "forgotten." But in Princess Mononoke his themes cannot be mis-interpreted (at least his environmental themes). This movie chronicles the story of Medieval Japan in which a young prince, in search of a cure for a wound by a cursed boar, stumbles across an ongoing war between nature and civilization.

What I think I like most about Miyazaki's style is his way of putting depth and ambiguity into his characters. Take Lady Eboshi, the strong leader of Iron Town who seeks to destroy all nature on the mountain top in order for humans to prosper. At the beginning, she is portrayed as a ruthless seeker of power, and a lust for wealth. But as we explore more, we also discover more facets to her personality. The townspeople fiercely defend her, and she is not only a good leader, she is also kind to cripples and the injured. She makes sure everyone is provided for and she gives everyone fair jobs. While she has a huge flaw - her need for destruction on the mountain - she clearly has good sides too.

That is only one example. San, or Princess Mononoke, is another great example of Miyazki's excellent character writing. San is a girl raised by wolves and taught to hate mankind. Her intentions are good - she seeks to preserve nature and the environment as humanity tries to take over. However, her often ruthless killing and blind stereotyping (of Prince A****aka notably) make her a very flawed character. So we have two major characters (both female, interestingly) on different sides of the conflict which are portrayed in a very similar ways - as a mixed bag of good and evil.

That's how the world is, correct? 99.999999% of the time there is a mushy in-between of good and evil. There are bad decisions made by good people, and good decisions made by bad people. This, essentially, is the carrying force of Princess Mononoke. The Prince's role is almost symbolic in that he brings together these forces into an entity that can work together. And the film does, as a matter of fact, end with optimism. After all the death and fighting, we are presented with the option that we can work together, and coincide - we meaning nature and human civilization.

But those examples are just some of the many intricate layers and themes of this amazing film. It is truly "epic," a fantasy that slowly unfolds like a Bach Choral Piece or Wagner's Ring Cycle. It has wondrous sights and fantastical story lines. It is complex, endlessly watchable, and in the end, simply a masterpiece. Is it as good as Toy Story? Nah. However, it also probably would land a spot on my top ten animated movies of all time.