Reel Reviews

Film Reviews by a Real Person, Not a Critic

Mononoke Hime

Title: も???姫 (Princess Mononoke)
Year: 1997
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Voices: Yoji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yuko Tanaka (Japanese version); Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver (American version)
Rated: PG-13

Reel Reviews Rating:

Unlike the cute and cuddly Tonari no Totoro, Mononoke Hime is much darker and carries a serious message about the delicate but strained relationship between human technology and nature.

The story takes place in ancient Japan. When Prince Ashitaka (voiced by Matsuda/Cruddup) saves his village from a cursed, rampaging boar-god, he himself is infected by the curse. Desperate to find a cure before the curse kills him, he leaves his village. Unfortunately, the young prince winds up caught in a battle between a human iron mining town and the animal gods of the forest. Because he is an outsider and tries to help both sides, neither group fully trusts Ashitaka and pay little heed to his warnings.

Ashitaka’s role as mediator becomes more difficult when he meets and falls in love with San (voiced by Ishida/Danes), a human girl raised by wolves. San is obsessed with killing Lady Eboshi (voiced by Tanaka/Driver), the leader of the mining town.

(NOTE: San is the title character’s name, not Mononoke. The title translates to something like “Princess of the Spirits”.)

At first glance, Mononoke Hime seems like the typical anti-technology film that features human technology destroying the environment. Not quite. What’s interesting about this film is that the humans aren’t portrayed as stereotypical, one-dimensional bad guys. Lady Eboshi cares about the people in her town -which include outcasts such as lepers and hookers- and only wants to protect them from neighboring lords who want to control it. In return, the townspeople care a lot about their lady and would do anything for her.

This film is a classic. It perfectly embodies the elements that make a Miyazaki film special: beautiful scenery and artwork; rich, in-depth characters; and an important message in the plot that doesn’t sound too preachy but simply causes the audience to think.

It has been said that Miyazaki didn’t like the way that Kaze no Tani no Naushika ended and considered Mononoke Hime to be an improvement over that earlier film. I can see that. It has very similar messages and themes as Naushika, but the plot is more complex and the characters are more well-rounded. No one in Mononoke is perfect. Both San and Lady Eboshi are caring and defensive towards their own families, but are bloodthirsty murderers when it comes to fighting their enemies. Ashitaka, hard as he tries, is simply overwhelmed at the task of mediating between the two groups.

Note that Mononoke Hime is rated PG-13; there are some scenes not for very small children (i.e., limbs get chopped off). Older children and teens (and adults!) will just think it’s cool 🙂

I highly recommend watching with subtitles. The first time I watched this, it was in the dubbed American version, and I felt distracted by the celebrity voices. I also didn’t think they did a good job with the American dubbing. I especially hated Gillian Anderson’s voice acting of Moro, the head wolf god. She delivered her lines in a bored, monotone voice, as if she didn’t care what she was doing. Fortunately, this weekend I got to watch the film in the original Japanese, and I have to say that it sounds better without the American dubbing. Whoever did Moro’s original voice was way better than Anderson’s half-assed work.

Mononoke Hime is an excellent film; definitely a must see for those new to Miyazaki’s work.

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February 13, 2006 - Posted by | Action, animation, Fantasy, Foreign, Miyazaki Films, Social Commentary

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