In order to grow your audience, you must betray their expectations. – Hayao Miyazaki
Note: This review contains spoilers.
Before viewing Princess Mononoke for the first time, I (and I am sure many people before me who viewed this film) had no idea what to expect. The word “princess” in the title made me imagine characters like Ariel or Belle or any other princess from the Disney franchise.
I was familiar with the director, Hayao Miyazaki, and had seen some of his films prior to Mononoke including Spirited Away and Ponyo. With gorgeous animation and interesting stories and characters, he is celebrated as one of the best animators and directors in the world. Needless to say, I quickly became a fan.
Many viewers called Princess Mononoke (1997) his best work, so I thought I would give the film a watch. Any expectations or predictions of how I thought the movie would be were extremely wrong, and I am so happy that they were.
The film’s main focus is on Ashitaka, a young prince who is struck with a curse after protecting his village from a demon, which was in actuality a boar god that was shot with a firearm. After being banished by his people, he sets off on a journey to try to lift his curse.
On the way, he stumbles upon a conflict between the spirits of the forest and humans that live in Irontown, a village led by Lady Eboshi, the main antagonist, who manufactures and uses firearms as weapons. An interesting thing to note with Eboshi, as well with most of the characters in the film, is that both the heroes and main villain are not completely “good” and “bad.” Despite being the main antagonist, Lady Eboshi takes in lepers and prostitutes and hires them to work in her town. It is clearly seen that she deeply cares for the residents of her town.
However, this does not mean that she is without her faults. The conflict between her town and the forest is a result of the town razing parts of the forest to build Irontown. She also took some of the forest’s resources to make iron. Eboshi even wanted to kill the Forest Spirit so the creatures of the forest would revert back to being beasts and not get in the way of her expansion.
Then there is San – “Princess Mononoke”, the adopted daughter of Moro, the wolf goddess of the forest. Ashitaka first sees San is when she is removing blood from Moro’s wound (she’s definitely no Ariel). After Ashitaka greets her, San promptly leaves with her mother and brothers and coldly shouts “go away” which leads to Ashitaka having feelings for her. He really knows how to pick them.
San has a strong yet understandable hatred towards humans, especially Lady Eboshi. With a strong passion for the forest, San fights figuratively and physically to protect it at any cost. She can be brash and cold if need be. I think one of my favorite San moments is when she has head-to-head combat with Eboshi in Irontown. Both women during the scene hold their own, neither breaking a sweat. However, San does show acts of kindness when it is needed, especially towards Ashitaka when she is nursing him back to health after a harrowing event in Irontown.
The one thing that I love about the women in the film is the fact that they are not defined solely by their gender. The women in the film are competent and, hold their own, whether in a conversation or in a one-on-one fight with an opponent. I did not even bring up characters like Moro, San’s adopted mother, who is protective of her daughter as well as the forest with a dislike of humans, and Toki, the leader of Eboshi’s women who gives her husband a hard time while still loving him dearly.
After finishing the film, I quickly sought out more of his films and it is safe to say that I am anticipating Miyazaki’s and Studio Ghibli’s future works. I definitely recommend this film as a great way to start introducing oneself to Miyazaki and his world of interesting and compelling characters.
Janelle Smith is a TV & Film writer at Girls in Capes. She is a junior at Ohio State University majoring in film studies and minoring in studio art.