Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime) (1997)

I’m very glad to say that “Princess Mononoke” was my first real experience with Hayao Miyazaki’s amazing cinematic contributions. After its Oscar buzz in 1997, I sought out the film, and was shocked at what I’d been missing from the master director. “Princess Mononoke” is probably Miyazaki’s broadest film, but one that also conveys a meaningful alllegory about the sanctity of nature, and how the wars of men can taint the sacred lands. It’s an action packed and incredible morality tale that will win over fantasy buffs instantly. “Princess Mononoke” is set in the Muromachi Period of Japan where a local village is attacked by a vicious amorphous demon. The bow and arrow wielding warrior Ashitaka, comes to the rescue of the village, fending off the demon and defeating it after a horrific battle, but the demon manages to corrupt his body with its vile darkness.

Infecting his arm, Ashitaka is given immense strength which allows him the upper hand in combat, allowing every shot of his arrow and swing of his swords swift blows to his enemies that often results in lost limbs. One shot of an arrow yards away even takes the head of his enemy off. But the infection is spreading throughout his arm and threatens to consume his entire body. Discovering the demon is actually a board God named Nago, Ashitaka has to venture in to the lands of Nago to find a cure before he dies. Through his travels, Ahitaka learns of a massive environmental war occurring throughout the land, as the more industrial villages are being ravaged by gods of the forrest retaliating with their own beings. “Princess Mononoke” becomes not only a fight for survival with prince Ashitaka, but he also has to find a way to keep the industrial and polluting humans from destroying the vengeful gods of nature, all of whom are merciless in their forces.

He tries to spare innocent human beings, but discovers that human greed and spite far outweigh anything that that Gods can throw at civilization. The protagonists of “Princess Mononoke” are mired in the natural world, and owe a lot of their existence to the deities of the wild. As with all of Miyazaki’s tales, the monsters and various ghosts he introduces are awe inspiring and absolutely horrifying. From the boar God Okkotonushi, to the rattling Kodama tree spirits of the Forest Spirit, every corner of the world in “Princess Mononoke” has a surprise for our heroes and has a stake in the increasingly violent war. Miyazaki’s talents for transforming the open skies in to their own amazing world are unparalleled, and here he uses those skills to make turn ancient Japan in to an open and magical land where environment is fragile, especially as humanity begins to rely on machinery.

“Princess Mononoke” is one in a library of incredible animated masterpieces from Miyazaki; it’s a fantasy film with elements of horror and science fiction, as well as a very important commentary about preserving the world and respecting our environment. It’s a masterpiece, and a perfect introduction for potential Miyazaki fans.