Review: Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke, 1997)

This is the final Miyazaki review you will ever see from me, unless he releases another film, please let him release another film!

Written By: Hayao Miyazaki
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

There’s an urge when discussing a Hayao Miyazaki film to get right into the fantasy, the pure wonder and joy at the worlds he creates. It’s an easy thing to do, because each and every time I watch Mononoke-hime I spend the entire time with a giant cat eating grin plastered on my face. I’m going to avoid going that route for a few paragraphs and talk about a couple of different people instead. I like to be eccentric from time to time, sue me.

The first person I’d like to talk about is Muchihiro Ito, who I believe was in charge of the sound effects on Mononoke-hime. This is a film that is alive with sound, and Ito never failed to impress me. In particular I was amazed at the way he was able to handle the sounds of an arrow whizzing through the air or of Ashitaka gripping something. I know, I know, this must sound very weird to all of you, but when you’ve seen a movie as many times as I have seen Mononoke-hime you begin to look deeper into all aspects of said movie. This time out I paid more attention to the sound and I was impressed with the amount of texture and realness the sound added to the experience. All the credit in the world goes out to Ito for his splendid work on Mononoke-hime.

The next person I’m going to talk about I have talked about before, he is a Miyazaki regular after all. Joe Hisaishi is always impressive, and while this is a bit of hyperbole that I have no doubt contradicted at one time or another, and will probably contradict in the future, his work on the score of Mononoke-hime is perhaps his best work. It evokes dread, hope, fear and anger, and it does so without missing a beat. Hisaishi has put together a big score, the type of score that acknowledges that the movie you are watching is attempting to be epic in some way. Perhaps my favorite piece in Mononoke-hime is the entire opening sequence, it sets the tone for the ominous atmosphere that is to follow in the rest of the film.

But, let’s get back to what you all really want to hear about, the sense of wonder that is found in Mononoke-hime. There are certain films that draw you into their world so completely that you become enraptured by what you are seeing. Mononoke-hime is such a film, it is a film that no matter how many times I watch it leaves me staring at the screen in awe of what Miyazaki is presenting to me. Miyazaki does this through world design, through the characters he creates and through the beauty of his animation. If ever there was a director who I would equate to a painter it would be Miyazaki, and my lord does he wow with his brush.

It may surprise some people with what I think Miyazaki is saying with Mononoke-hime. Miyazaki is viewed as a very forward thinking and eco friendly director and while I think that is true, I don’t think that is the stance he takes in Mononoke-hime. I would have never thought to describe Miyazaki as Herzogian, but the more I think about it the more Mononoke-hime fits the bill of Herzog’s view on nature. Miyazaki isn’t pushing for the environment in Mononoke-hime, he is presenting the environment as a very harsh mistress. The environment in Mononoke-hime is one that pushes back when it is being pushed around, and Miyazaki doesn’t present that as some sort of glorious thing. Rather he presents it as a fact of life, just as humans roam the Earth so does nature exist, and just as we encroach on nature’s territory will nature always be there to enact its vengeance on us in some way. It’s a never ending cycle, and while Miyazaki presents a clear message of hope for some sort of peace in Mononoke-hime, that shouldn’t overshadow the harsh reality of the existence of our planet that he presents in a way that would make Werner Herzog proud.

It’s sad for this to be the last paragraph I write on a Hayao Miyazaki film. Sure, he supposedly wants to come out with a few more films but I’ll believe it when I actually watch those films. Mononoke-hime isn’t my favorite Miyazaki, nor do I think it is his best, but as is fitting for the greatest director cinema has ever known, it is a master class in film making. I have seen Mononoke-hime many times and it gets better with every viewing, and I loved it the first time I saw it so who knows how high it can climb. I shouldn’t have to sell this effort from Miyazaki to you, if you like Miyazaki then you will like Mononoke-hime. That’s all there is to it, and that’s all I have to say about Miyazaki, for now, hopefully.





5 responses to “Review: Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke, 1997)

  1. Thank you, Bill, for pointing out some of the lesser-noticed aspects of Miyazaki. They all deserve credit.

  2. I think more than the sense of wonder, what made me interested in Mononoke so much was the surprisingly developed and mature storytelling at work. Sure, the wonder pulls me into Miyazaki’s work for sure, but I’m always surprised by how thematically dark and complex Miyazaki’s films are.

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  5. Steve – No problem man, glad to be of service.

    James – He really does give credence to the fact that animated films aren’t just kiddie stuff, and can be just as adult as any live action film.

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