Princess Mononoke Review
Regarded as one of Studio Ghibli’s as well as Miyazaki’s best works, Princess Mononoke truly lives up to and exceeds this high standard. Its beautiful design and impactful message are only enhanced by the film’s superb English voice cast.
The film follows Prince Ashitaka (Billy Crudup) as he goes on a journey to find a cure for a curse placed on him after battling a dark and evil beast. He eventually finds himself traveling through a mystical forest and runs into a small mining colony, Tatara, run by Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver). She, along with a mysterious hunter named Jigo (Billy Bob Thornton), are caught in a war with San (Claire Danes), a legendary warrior and friend to the forest gods, for deforesting the area for mining progress. Seeing he is caught in a devastating war, Ashitaka now must find peace between the two factions before too much blood is spilled.
Right off the bat many viewers will notice that Princess Mononoke feels different compared to other films the studio has made. It’s a little more adult than other entries and definitely is a little more violent. Limbs fly off, blood spills, and these characters have more adult mindsets and themes attached to their stories. For me, this made the film much more enjoyable and memorable as the actions and consequences of certain decisions felt more visually real.
Ashitaka is also one of the most unique protagonists, not just in Studio Ghibli films, but in the medium as a whole. He fights for honor and keeps his morality in check even in the toughest of situations. Instead of choosing a side and making one seem more evil than the other, he attempts to make peace and lets both sides know that he understands them. Not to mention, he showcases some incredible prowess with his bow as he catches arrows with his bare hands and decapitates enemies with a single shot.
He is also very strong in imploring the major themes about human impact on the environment. Rather than choosing whether or not preserving the environment or progressing humanity is more important, Princess Mononoke perfectly lets both sides have the spotlight and share their thoughts. For viewers this will come off as a nice surprise as the film never tries to shove any sort of political or social message down their throats. Instead it gives its viewers each side’s thoughts and opinions and lets them decide what is right.
Now, you can’t have great characters without a solid voice cast and Princess Mononoke nails this aspect. Crudup brings Ashitaka’s strong and confident personality to life make him one of Ghibli’s most memorable characters. Driver and Danes show San and Lady Eboshi’s passion and grueling dislike for one another, creating excellent dialogue between them as well as nail-biting tension. Thornton, along with Jada Pinkett-Smith, round out the cast and add some much needed comic-relief and fun with their characters.
Mononoke also brings some great action sequences that add an incredible tenseness to the film. Many will notice that during big action sequences the film does not have much score or soundtrack leading to the sound effects being heavily relied on to set the pace. I found this to be incredibly successful as the sound effects really add something to each scene and are probably the best I’ve heard across most animated films.
Where Mononoke shines the most, though, is in its stunning animation and creature design. Each character feels unique and the design of each animal add to the mystical nature of the world. Not to mention that these creatures are very original and audiences will have unique feeling with each one that comes on-screen.
Princess Mononoke is truly an undeniable masterpiece and its messages still hold up strongly today. Its memorable characters and creatures are only made better thanks to the impactful story-telling and perfect voice-cast. Even if you’re not a fan of anime, Princess Mononoke is a definite must-see.