Director: Hayao Miyazaki. Japan 1997. 133 mins.
“One of the most visually inventive films I have ever seen,” according to Roger Ebert, PRINCESS MONONOKE was (until TITANIC – now overtaken by SPIRITED AWAY) the highest-grossing film of all time in Japan.
Set in the Muromachi era (1338 – 1573), this magnificent epic traces Japan’s move from the Middle Ages to modernity with a breathtaking artistry that first brought Miyazaki to the attention of Disney, who distributed the film in the USA.
From the opening sequence onwards, it is packed with memorable images.
Out of the woods leaps an extraordinary beast, a gigantic Boar God writhing with snakes, causing death and mayhem on its rampaging way. Young Prince Ashitaka slays the beast, but receives a wound in his arm and becomes infected with the same sickness that had enraged the Boar, a sickness stemming from disharmony between humans and nature.
Ashitaka sets off to find a cure, travelling westward through the forest, where he encounters Mononoke, a human girl raised as a wolf who now leads the battle between forest gods and the encroaching settlement of iron miners – who themselves are under attack from a group of samurai.
The intricacies of this world make for a refreshingly complex moral order, and all choices are hard ones. It’s a story with depth and force, leavened with generous touches of the utterly unexpected – a convocation of head-wobbling forest sprites, for example.
In a reversal of the usual formula, this is an adult animation that children aged ten and over will also enjoy.