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Top 20: 'Princess Mononoke'

I can't 'Ghiblieve' it.

By Conor HuftonPublished 6 years ago 2 min read
It's nothing like Star Wars - apart from the possibly bland protagonist. Sorry, Ghibli. Also sorry Star Wars, I like you, too.

On his travels to cure himself of a supernatural curse, a young man becomes embroiled in a conflict between forest dwellers and industrial workers. We’ve all been there. A complicated, meaningful, and non-alienating premise in which commitment and care are constantly evident.

As can be expected from Ghibli, the animation is stunning, with detailed character designs, considered costumes and finessed movement, engrossingly shaded scenery, and impeccable handling of fantastical imagery that through sheer commitment fully engrosses viewers.

I’ve only ever watched the English dub in which strong and well-suited performances from Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett, and Keith David appear all-natural and emotionally invested. The story is unique and well thought out, with several gripping action sequences meeting complex and conflicting ideologies that are all given developed justification. This is helped by the rich nature of the characters themselves; the cast is endlessly three-dimensional and all show hidden depths of compassion, ruthlessness, and capability. A sense of empathy is exuded even from characters who could arguably be interpreted as villains. There is even satisfying presentation of the animal characters like the baboons, boars, and wolves. It’s disappointing that a later released, acclaimed film involved a singing ape voiced by Christopher Walken. The societal issues of Princess Mononoke were almost a warning of the future issues with animal film characters. While the film clearly isn’t aimed at younger audiences, any potentially younger audience members are not patronised or pandered to with censorship. Likewise, adult audiences are not subjected to needlessly mature themes or presentation; all dark or mature content perfectly complements the story and ultimate message.

Miyasaki’s writing ingeniously intertwines clear, relevant political messages with vivid and logically placed fantasy elements. Reality and fantasy are masterfully measured, with neither taking priority nor devaluing the other. In this world of enchanted talking animals, manual labour and technical restrictions still exist to ground the story in a more relatable environment.

The attention to detail in the creation of worlds is one of the major reasons this film is so successful. Focus is given to several vastly different landscapes that thanks to the character development and storytelling seamlessly combine into a coherent piece of cinema. Action sequences are striking due to often visceral presentation, meticulous display of varied skills and styles, and a controlled willingness to showcase a necessary degree of brutality. This is yet another area where attention to detail is noticeable. Thanks to the focus on damage and jeopardy exemplified through visible injury and tarnished clothes and faces, the amount of drama the filmmaker aims to present is met.

Even justifiably acclaimed films aren’t without lesser points though. While it’s barely noticeable thanks to the overall power of the story, Ashitaka (who’s more the protagonist than Princess Mononoke) is arguably two-dimensional, his mannerisms are somewhat nondescript, with very few obvious personality traits beyond his heroism. The characters surrounding him who are given less narrative focus show more compelling traits and developed personal histories. This, however, was probably intentional and the complexity of other characters causes the film to feel more actualised. This being said, he does at least serve an obvious purpose in the story and proves himself capable in several scenes.

The film gracefully and intuitively delivers a timelessly relevant message. Potentially distracting moralistic delivery is averted. Princess Mononoke is visually captivating, strongly characterised, carefully plotted, and excitingly gripping with a measured sense of committedly absorbing fantasy. While there are several amazing films from Ghibli, some of which (e.g. Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle) are arguably superior, the sense of focus left a more personally striking impression.


About the Creator

Conor Hufton

getting better at this writing thing (aka slowly learning the alphabet, learnt how to use pen). Spanning critical writing, fantasy, parody and sci-fi (ruining all of them in the process).

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