VERY different kind of movie from what I’m used to from Miyazaki-san. Really violent & often gross, it’s pitilessly long & kinda confusing.
I had some trouble with this one. It is a very different look and feel to any of the Miyazaki films I’ve screened so far. A much-more action-oriented picture, it’s quite violent and at times it’s frankly gross. (The demonic infestation of people and animals with worm-like tendrils reminded me all too well of the explicit adult-oriented anime that I found seriously disturbing in high school and college.) I honestly sort of wished my daughter missed this one.
Not sure what I’m talking about? Let me lay the story on you:
Gorgeous Studio Ghibli landscapes of Japanese countryside are torn apart as a demon comes to destroy our hero’s village. The monster is a massive boar god that has been consumed by demonic, writhing black and purple tendrils that make the creature look like a disgusting, pulsing spider that burns away everything it touches. Prince Ashitaka saves his village by shooting the beast in each eye with arrows, whereupon it rots and decays nearly instantly, leaving a smoking skeleton. Sound good so far?
I forgot to mention that before killing the beast, the prince’s forearm was grabbed by the creature so he now has discolored scars that are spreading throughout his body as they kill him. He is given a terminal diagnosis, and advised to take his smelly arm west, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear but involve the possibility of a cure. Why they don’t simply amputate said diseased arm is never explored.
Because there is some sort of rule mandating the use of at least one truly ugly human being in all of his films, we are introduced to Jigo, a red-nosed monk voiced in the English version by a horribly miscast Billy Bob Thornton. I really can’t imagine a worse choice. He appears to be there for exposition only, but sadly he will return.
At this point we still haven’t met the titular Princess, but she does finally show up on the road to Iron Town, which is meant to invoke Western mining towns but feels more like something from Mad Max since it’s populated with whores and lepers.
I don’t plan on spoiling the whole story; suffice it to say that before we are done there will be decapitations, shootings, blood spitting, leprosy, god-killing, and worst of all, more Billy Bob Thornton.
You might think by my tone that the violence is my biggest criticism of Princess Mononoke – it’s not. The problem with the story is that the protagonist acts in maddeningly inconsistent ways; it’s never clear whose side he is on or what is his goal from moment to moment. He seems committed to both save AND destroy Minnie Driver’s Lady Eboshi, whose own actions are erratic. She wants to rule the world and fight samurai, whose presence and motives are never explained. But she also wants to kill the Forest Spirit – or is that what Jigo wants? No, it’s what the Emperor wants. Wait, who the hell is the Emperor? When did he get involved with this story?
I know this is the favorite Miyazaki movie for a lot of people and I really wanted to like it. I sure didn’t dislike it. I just really couldn’t get past the muddled story or how long it took for all of these things to happen. There are some truly breathtaking scenes and the action is amazing. With some work this could be the best in its genre.
And maybe this is all just lost in translation. Maybe there are cultural themes here that the story is relying on that I am just missing. But that’s not my problem – you need to make sure it plays to all audiences or why are you releasing it here? Maybe it’s the fault of Miramax, who acquired it. Without an ambassador like John Lasseter maybe it wasn’t handled properly. It’s still worth watching.
The Representation Test Score: B (9 pts)
|Main Cast||Yôji Matsuda Ashitaka (voice), Yuriko Ishida San/Mononoke-Hime (voice), Yûko Tanaka Eboshi-gozen (voice), Billy Crudup Ashitaka (voice: English version)|
|Release Date||Sat 12 Jul 1997 UTC|
|Genres||Animation, Adventure, Fantasy|
|Plot||On a journey to find the cure for a Tatarigami’s curse, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle of a war between the forest gods and Tatara, a mining colony. In this quest he also meets San, the Mononoke Hime.|
|Tagline||The Fate Of The World Rests On The Courage Of One Warrior.|
|Writers||Hayao Miyazaki (written by)|