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Movie Review

Princess Mononoke

Reviewed by: Ben Berntsen
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Genre:
Animation
Length:
2 hr. 30 min.
Year of Release:
1997
USA Release:
1999
Cover Graphic of “Princess Mononoke”
Featuring: voices of Yoji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yuko Tanaka, Kaori Kobayashi, Masahiko Nishimura
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Toshio Suzuki
Distributor: Miramax

Disney’s tight grip on the Animation industry seems to be coming to an end. “Prince of Egypt” was the first “Disney killer,” followed by “The Iron Giant,” and now “Princess Mononoke” (a.k.a. “Mononoke Hime”). I’ve been following these “animation wars” with great interest, and after seeing this film I think I’ve found the winner.

“Princess Mononoke” takes place in ancient Japan. The movie opens to see the hero, Ashitaka, saving his village from a “demon”. After defeating it, he discovers a gruesome scar on his arm. He is told by the Village Elders that the scar is a curse, and will grow and infest his whole body, and to keep it from spreading to anyone else, Ashitaka is banished from the village. Thus, he sets off to find a cure for his curse. Before long he arrives at an Iron-mining town, ruled by a nature-abusing woman. From this point on, the plot gets so thick it’d be hard to write about it, and ultimately climaxes with a war between Man and Nature.

The animation is all done in the Japanese style of “Anime”, so it has quite a different flavor than Americans are probably used to seeing. The animation is “sharp” if that’s the right word, but it surpasses Disney in every way. In this movie, things like fog, rain and forest looks so real you could reach out and touch them, and the characters are incredibly well-animated—far better than anything I’ve seen in North America. This is also the first animated film I’ve seen that makes brilliant use of cinematography, and you’ll be amazed at the brilliance of the scenery in this film.

Content wise, let me say this straight off: the film is not for children. There is more action-related violence in this film than in all the Disney films combined, often resulting in many dismembered limbs and sometimes beheadings. On top of that the plot is very advanced, and it’ll fly right over kid’s heads, so it’s really not worth it to let them see the film at all. Sex wise, the Iron-mining town is filled with former prostitutes who are now honest workers, and there are one or two mild phrases related to that. Language-wise there are very few foul words, and twice God’s name is taken in vain. On the other hand, the main character is an excellent role model, as he never swears, never has sex, and is blatantly opposed to killing (he fights only when innocent lives are at stake).

There is some New Age concepts in the film (gods and demons, etc), but it’s not as bad as you might think. Immature Christians may be confused by this film, but others shouldn’t have any problems.

To date, “Princess Mononoke” is the best animated film made. I would recommend it to anyone 13 or older. The film’s message (that we make use of nature without destroying it) is good, but as with ANY movie, make sure to bring your shield along.


Viewer Comments
This is a folk tale movie, created in the traditions of the far past when most (if not all) Japanese believed in Polythesism (sort of like the Romans). However, it has a strong message. The core theme of the movie is about Environmental Pollution. The Forest Gods represent Mother Nature and the Iron Village the advancement of Man. The pollution created by the village as well as the clearcutting of trees (to heat the iron furnaces) shows that the progress of man has less and less linked (or related) to the environment, and the forest gods are Nature’s defenses to Man’s destruction (such as natural disasters). While it would be easy to fault Lady Eboshi, who owns the town, but the director smartly portrays her as sympathetic to the crowd (as a savior to societies unwanted). This reminded me of the fight of loggers vs Greenpeace activists. I found this movie has a strong message that is a little diluted at the end, but it was a stunning movie to watch. My Ratings: [4/4½]
—Casualsuede, age 28
Overall, it’s a very good film with excellent animation. The story is fairly well written and complex, though I thought the ending to be somewhat unsatisfying and unresolved; perhaps as director Miyazaki intended it to be. Many themes are touched on such as: man vs. nature, modernism vs. primitivism, hate, tradition, etc. I thought it was interesting that there was no real villain in the movie, I think I remember reading somewhere that the director remark that most “villains’” conflicts arise out of them wanting to do good. For example, the town’s Lady Eboshi wants to clear out the forest for her people. The Lady is also a humanitarian, who made a refuge for prostitutes and lepers. Yet, the forest and its “gods” stand it her way. Unfortunately, besides the short instances of graphic violence, I think its the “gods” part that would offend most people. However, we do see that these “gods” are actually mortal since they can be killed. These “gods” are more portrayed like guardians of the forest. I think the “gods” portrayal is no more offensive than say the mythological “gods” portrayal in Disney’s Hercules. As the PG-13 rating suggests, its not a movie for kids under 13 to watch unless they are strong in their faith and don’t let the movie affect them (strangely enough, I’ve read that the director has said that he thought children probably understand the movie better than adults, maybe he was talking about another movie?). To wrap up, a pretty good epic movie to watch unless you’re easily offended or biased against “cartoons” as kiddie happytime stuff. My Ratings: [2½/4½]
—James M., age 20
Although I understood only about 80% of this movie (Japanese, with Chinese subtitles, NO English version YET) it was easy to see that the plot was VERY complex. This is not an average cartoon movie. It deals with very heavy issues. The anime is wonderful, the colour is brilliant and the scenery spectacular. The main character is excellent as he doesn’t do anything bad at ALL, which is a very good example for teens (children should not see this movie). The violence though, is outstanding. My friend and I were quite appalled at the detail they paid to blood and gore on the film. It is very visual, as bad as seeing the real thing. There is a lot of gods and demons in this film, which contrasts to the Christian belief of only one God. The gods seem to act quite badly (except for the most powerful god, the deer like creature) towards each other, which was a bad display of character. Also, the most powerful god had the power to give dead people life, which was disturbing. But at the end, all the humans seemed to learn their lesson and respect each other and nature, so that was good. If you can accept that all the gods and demons are just part of the story, and to be accepted (like Disney’s Hercules’ gods and demons) then see this show. But if you are disturbed by violence and can’t accept the fact that there are no Christian values in this film whatsoever except for the ending and Ashitake’s character, then skip this film. My Ratings: [2½/4½]
—NK, age 15
No sidekicks. No music by Elton John. No direct-to-video sequels. No Happy Meal. No Equal. An animated film where no one sings, where the villians are as noble as the heroes, where the truth and the facts of inevitiablity are not ignored or blunted. Not a film for children, as the reviewer states. For that, I would suggest two other masterpieces by the same director, Hayao Miyazaki. Both are availible in the US: “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “My Neighbor Totorro.” The latter recently beating out Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” in polls as the best Japanese film of all time. They are a truly unique vision. My Ratings: [2/5]
—Joe Foster, age 21, non-Christian