Mononoke Hime is a 1997 Studio Ghibli film written and directed by the legendary Miyazaki Hayao. It’s also frequently brought up alongside Nausicaä & Spirited Away as one of Ghibli’s classics. Does it hold up as well as those two films? Let’s take a look.
We open in a small village coming under attack by a demon God, which looks kind of like a boar covered in small, squat tendrils. In order to protect his people, Prince Ashitaka rides into action. He manages to stop the rampaging beast, but its tendrils grasp his arm, leaving a scar that won’t abate and continues to increase in size. He’s told that it’s curse and will eventually claim his life. So, his people send him out into the world to try and find a cure while examining things with unveiled eyes. It doesn’t take him long to encounter a situation where the people of a prosperous little town seem to be at war with the creatures of the forest, including a girl who lives with the wolves as one of their own.
I can’t really criticise anything about the narrative in this film. The pacing is perfect, using slow and atmospheric scenes as well as more tense action scenes effectively while striking a good balance betwixt the two. The major theme concerning humanity and how we interact with the environment is superbly handled, aided by the fact that the opposing sides are both portrayed as sympathetic and as having some validity to their viewpoints. While our main protagonist tries to encourage a balanced approach. The scope itself is also really grandiose, in spite of most of the action occurring in one city and the adjacent forest. The climax is excellent, with a pressing problem and our heroes being very much on a timer, which helps make it a very intense experience. I also appreciate that not everything gets wrapped up. We’re ultimately shown a situation that’s going to require more work but it still ends on a satisfying note in spite of that.
The characters are about as expertly done as you can get. While it is true that the side characters are less developed, they still have verisimilitude. You can very much look at them and see them like actual people. I also do like that all the major characters have sympathetic aspects to them,. They all have things at stake that they don’t want to surrender and there are compelling reasons for them to not just sit down and come to a compromise even though it would ultimately be to their benefit to do so. Having an outsider like Ashitaka as the main focus character allows the film to examine both sides of the conflict and see that balance in a way that the characters involved in it can’t. I also do love San and her lupine family. A lot of works centring around a “feral” child raised by animals will focus on the more beastly aspects but this one shows a lot of the tenderness and love that you see from actual wolves when they interact with their cubs. Which also, in an odd way, lends a very human element to it.
The artwork and animation are fantastic. The world the film creates is lively, vivid and even sublime. The backgrounds are really well detailed. The fantastic creatures of various varieties are fascinating and just have amazing designs. The animals and people are nicely detailed. The action sequences are awesome. It’s just an excellent looking film. Which isn’t all that surprising given that Studio Ghibli is known for their superb artwork. Even the films of theirs that I wasn’t fond of have had amazing animation.
The vocal work was really well done. Ishida Yuriko, Matsuda Youji & Miwa Akihiro in particular just gave outstanding performances. The music composition was handled by Hisaishi Joe, who also worked on the music in Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle & Spirited Away. His work in those was all very well done and pleasant, but this film might have the best I’ve heard from him. The compositions are stupendous and really add to the atmosphere.
There isn’t any. What little romance we get is het.
Mononoke Hime is just fantastic. The atmosphere, story, characters, artwork, music and acting are all excellent. It absolutely deserves a spot among Ghibli’s finest films. My final rating for it is going to be a 10/10. If you want to see a fantasy film with some amazing action & a nuanced approach when it comes to its environmental themes, I highly recommend it. So, that’s it for film festival week. Next Wednesday I’ll return to my weekly schedule with a look at Terra Formars: Revenge.