Princess Mononoke Reviews





Review of Mononoke Hime
by Hyla Lacefield

I have seen Mononoke Hime several times on video, both fansubbed and in the original Japanese. This is one film which is so evocative, so passionate, and so well filmed that you can easily follow the story purely on the basis of the quality of voice and body language of the animated actors. There is a certain purity to watching it in Japanese, even if you don't know a single word of the language. The movie touches you on a very primal level that has no need of translation.

This being said I cannot wait to see what has been done with the English adaptation. The Japanese voice actors, ruthlessly directed by Miyazaki San to evoke the most delicate and complex emotions through their voices and the silence between the syllables, cannot possibly be surpassed by any English adaptation. However, the impact of this mythical film, and the full visual impact it has, can only be experienced on the big screen.  By dubbing this film, Mirimax is allowing hundreds of thousands of Americans who would never watch a subtitled film the experience of seeing this masterwork. And it most certainly is a masterwork.

In many ways the themes of Miyazaki San's earlier works: Nausicaa, Laputa, and even Totoro to some degree; are reiterated in Mononoke in a far more elegant and refined way.  There is a distillation in process here, where every unnecessary or confusing element is stripped away and the theme is presented in its most pure and powerful form. Ashitaka is Nausicaa, the princess of the Valley of the Wind, representing the hero who walks between his love for mankind and his love of nature during their violent conflict for domination.  There is a purity about Miyazaki's characters which is seldom reached by any other storyteller. Although conflicted, there is no angst or self-absorption in these characters, their hearts are too pure and their will to do the right thing too strong.

Man is not evil, he is driven by his animal nature to reshape his environment to ensure his survival. It is the way of man. Nature is not beneficient, not some glorified force which forgives man's sins and is ultimately interested in the good of mankind.  Nature is what it is: the order of life and death, growth and decay. Within that order, there is anger, a desire for revenge that will turn one into a writhing mass of corruption. Vengance drives a soul beyond pain, beyond death, but the curse is that no matter how justified the anger, the rejection of the natural order of life and death leads invariably to violence and destruction.

The forest god is not Jesus, saving us for a life everlasting in some noncorporeal heaven.  The forest god gives life and death; it creates and destroys; not because it is good or evil, but because that is the way of life. There are no rewards or punishments; no judgment of any kind. The good and evil is entirely in the choices of the people who struggle so valiantly to destroy or defend Nature. It is this theme which I am most interested to see how American audiences interpret. Miyazaki San is a master of providing a multi-leveled experience, one which may be appreciated by people of any age, any belief system.  I am most interested in how this very Japanese/Shinto story will be taken by an audience trained by Disney to expect that the good shall be rewarded and the bad punished as if the world were as black and white as "Steamboat Willy."

I will enjoy the film anew when I go to see it this Friday, and I am pleased beyond my ability to express that American audiences will have the opportunity to see this film, which is one of the most elegant and wonderful stories ever told as well as one of the most expressive films ever made.

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