Princess Mononoke (1997)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)
Alright, let’s deal with the elephant in the room, shall we?
I watched the dubbed version.
マウスの死亡! (Death to Mouse!)

マウスの死亡!
(Death to Mouse!)

Yes. Yes. Yes. Illiterate. Ignoramus. Buffoon. Yada yada yada. Look, to a certain degree I sympathise. When it comes to live action movies, I cannot STAND dubbing. Der Untergang is one of my favourite films and if you ever suggested watching it in anything other than the original German, I’d accuse you of being the first person to ever talk about Der Untergang who was actually worse than the main character. But that’s for live action. Animation is slightly different. One of my big problems with dubbing over live action is that even when the characters are outside in a forest or whatever the voices coming out of their mouths always sound like they’re in a recording booth. Which of course, they are. Also, you just can’t make the lip movements synch up, it’s just not possible. With an animated film, however, everyone, original voice actors and unwashed gaijin alike are in a recording booth anyway so it doesn’t matter. It’s also easier to make the lip movements more closely approximate the new language in animation. So basically, when it comes to animé, subbed or dubbed, I’m easy. For Princess Mononoke I’m reviewing the dubbed version for the following reasons:
  • It is a phenomenal dub. Great cast, fantastic performances, wonderful adapted script by Neil Gaiman, just amazingly well done.
  • Miyazaki himself prefers his movies to be watched rather than read and supports his films being dubbed into foreign languages.
  • I don’t want subtitles clogging up my screencaps when I’m makin’ mah dick jokes.
  • It’s easier for me to come up with jokes for the American voice actors. “Perhaps I wasn’t clear, I’m Hisaya mother fucking Morishige” doesn’t quite have the same ring.
  • Watching the subbed version means I don’t get to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice. I want to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice. Why don’t you want me to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice? Try and take it away from me and see what happens. Just. Try.
I’m not arguing for the superiority of the dubbed version over the original Japanese, or vice versa. What I’m saying is; it doesn’t matter. Watch either. Watch both. This movie is so damn good it will not make a lick of difference.
Monoke-Hime “The Spirit Princess” was released in Japan in 1997 and almost immediately became the most successful Japanese film of all time against a budget of 2 billion yen (aka around $20 million dollars or a third of what it cost to make Foodfight!). Following that, Miramax, a tentacle of the vast Disney octopus, purchased the rights for distribution in the West. Now, it’s a tired old truism that the big difference between animation in Japan and in the West is that here, animation is seen as being “just for kids” and I really hope we can put that one to rest finally. No, animation in the West is no longer seen as being children’s entertainment. The most successful television show in American history is The Simpsons. The airwaves are full of animated series specifically marketed towards adults. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncutwas one of the biggest grossing movie musicals of all time. It’s done. Grown ups watch cartoons now. War is over.  If you want it. Having said that, it’s certainly true that animé can be…well, pretty shocking to Western audiences used to animation being almost totally comedic. Animé is into some messed up shit quite frankly, and I’m not even talking about their lax stance on schoolgirl/tentacle relationships. There is an intensity to the violence and body horror in animé that’s like nothing you’d see in Western entertainment. Which, of course, is why it’s so popular here. Even Miyazaki, who is about as far as you can get from Fist of the Northstar, can serve you up some pretty disturbing imagery and Mononoke is probably the darkest movie in his filmography (I’ve heard Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is even darker but I haven’t seen it yet). We got decapitations, monstrous transformations, severed limbs, giant bleeding boars turning into worm monsters of pure hatred and all kinds of dark horror that Disney just doesn’t do.
Ahem. Anymore.
HELLO!

HELLO!

So legendary Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein wanted to make heavy cuts to the movie to have it more in keeping with American expectations for a full length animated film. Studio Ghibli’s response was simple and eloquent, sending Weinstein a katana sword with a note saying “NO CUTS!”. It’s my blog, so I will add to the story that it was delivered to Weinstein’s room in the dead of night by a ninja weeping a single tear as he crouched silhouetted in a window while behind him, cherry blossoms fell in the moonlight. But of course, the sword was probably just delivered by some FedEx guy (ah, the days before 9/11). Weinsten got the message and the film was released without cuts, thereby ensuring that Studio Ghibli did not have to take things to the next stage.
Horsehead
Miyazaki may well be the greatest animation director who has ever lived. Princess Mononoke is widely considered his greatest work. Just how good is that? And can I actually make any jokes about a movie this excellent? And will you actually laugh at them?
"Why start now?"

“Why start now?”

Let’s take a look.

We open with an absolutely stunning vista of mountains wreathed in white clouds.
Mountains
Now I know a lot of you are expecting me to put up the Jodie Foster “No words, should have sent a poet” gag and frankly I’m insulted. I’m a professional, guys. I knew going in to a Miyazaki movie that the visuals would be jaw dropping which is why this time I came prepared. This time, I DID send a poet. Lord Byron, your thoughts?
"Holy fucking BALLS that is gorgeous like just WOW!"

“Holy fucking BALLS that is gorgeous like just WOW!”

Well said. The opening narration solemnly sets the scene for us:

In ancient times, the land lay covered in forests, where, from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of the gods. Back then, man and beast lived in harmony, but as time went by, most of the great forests were destroyed. Those that remained were guarded by gigantic beasts who owed their allegiances to the Great Forest Spirit. For those were the days of gods and of demons…
STONEHENGE!

STONEHENGE!

We begin in the village of a tribe of people called the Emishi. The Emishi were a real historical group who came into conflict with the ancient Japanese and…well, it’s called “Japan” and not “Emishiland” so you can probably guess how that shook out. Ashitaka, the prince of the Emishi, rides his red elk, Yakul to a sentry point on the outskirts of the village. The village wise woman has warned him that something is headed towards the village but can’t say what. As Ashitaka and the sentry watch, a huge, writhing….thing comes bursting out of the forest and makes a beeline for the village.

now you just showing off

And Hayao, c’mon man. Now you just showin’ off. The demon is both a masterclass of creepy and inventive character design and just insanely complex animation. Every inch of this damn thing is moving, it’s literally a monster made of writhing worms. Ashitaka rides  desperately in front of it calling out “Whatever you may be, god or demon, please leave us in peace!”

Is…is that really up for debate?

Ashitaka begs the thing to stop being a dick but it keeps charging on and almost kills Ashitaka’s little sister.

Shit just got real

Ashitaka is probably the most purely moral hero of any movie I’ve reviewed. He’s utterly selfless, kind, compassionate, fearless, unprejudiced, polite, respectful to both men and women and only uses violence as an absolute last resort. He sounds like he should be as boring as a workaholic mole but he’s actually a very compelling protagonist thanks to Miyazaki’s skill as a storyteller and also the fact that the dude is a STONE COLD BADASS. Yeah, I said he only uses violence as a last resort. But when he does, shit gets resorted, yo (I don’t know what I’m talking about).

Anyway, Ashitaka realises that this is one insane worm monster that won’t listen to reason and shoots the creature in the eye. The demon lashes out and burns a mark onto his arm. Ashitaka manages to fatally wound the thing and it’s revealed to be a gigantic boar god under all the writing black worms. The wise woman arrives. There are two things you must know about the wise woman. Firstly. She is wise. And second, she is a woman. She approaches the dying boar, bows solemnly and says: “Oh nameless god of rage and hate, I bow before you.” Pro tip: Great way to introduce yourself to your future mother in law. The boar god curses them, saying they will soon know his hate and suffer as he’s suffered and then dies. So on the downside the whole village is now cursed.

pork chop

Plus side; EVERY night is now pork chop night.

The village elders have a pow-wow and the wise woman asks Ashitaka to show everyone the mark that the demon burned into his flesh.

Sick tat brah.

Sick tat brah.

The wise woman tells him that the curse will progress, slowly rotting his flesh and bone and driving him mad before he dies in unspeakable agony because she’s the wise woman, not the break-it-to-you-gently woman. She tells him that he must leave the village forever and go into exile. Ashitaka takes this with the stoic resignation of a man who’s been asked to go to the shops for a packet of smokes.

"I suppose I should be upset. Theres just one problem. Im a man."

“I suppose I should be upset. There’s just one problem. I’m a man.”

One of the old men says that the Emishi have been driven from their lands and their numbers are dwindling and now their young prince has been sent in to exile. He says that it feels like the gods are laughing at them. And frankly, that’s just not the case. The gods are giant boars covered in worms who are trying to kill them. Which is honestly, much, much worse. This scene really shows off just why Miyazaki is a such a master. Ashitaka cuts his hair while the elders watch in silence. Now, as a Westerner, I don’t really have much context for the significance of that, or why it matters, but the scene is so expertly staged that I am in no doubt as to the gravity of what’s going on. There’s one old man, visible over Ashitaka’s shoulder who buries his face in his hand when he begins to cut his hair.

this guy

In that second of screentime, I understand what that man is feeling. His body language is so clear, so expertly rendered, that I instantly understand the grief of this man as he watches his future and the future of his people go off to meet a certain death. I empathise with this nameless, voiceless old man more than with characters who I’ve watched for two hours or even more. That’s what Miyazaki does, he creates worlds that are populated with full realised characters, even when you only glimpse them for an instant. The wise woman tells Ashitaka that they recovered an iron ball from the boar’s stomach, and that’s what caused him to turn into a demon. She tells him that there is evil at work in the west and to go sort that shit out.

 Ashitaka rides for several days before coming across a village that’s being ransacked by samurai. He tries to defend some of the villagers and discovers that the demon’s brand has given him super strength when, instead of knocking a samurai’s sword out of his hand, he rips his arms clean off.

disarmed

"Hm. I guess that attacker was...disarmed."

“Hm. I guess that attacker was…disarmed.”

Ashitaka escapes and arrives at a village to stock up on potions and burn heal and tries to pay with a lump of solid gold. The merchantwoman raises a stink until Jigo, a passing monk, explains to her that Ashitaka has just paid her in solid gold and just SHUT UP AND TAKE THE GOLD LIKE JESUS GOD! Jigo and Ashitaka travel together for awhile and Jigo explains that he saw what Ashitaka did to protect the last village from the samurai and wanted to pay him back. He also reveals that he’s figured out that Ashitaka is one of the Emishi but promises that he won’t tell anyone. The Emishi were sent into exile by the Emperor hundreds of years ago and are all supposed to be dead. Jigo gives Ashitaka a lead on where he might be able to get the curse lifted, saying that where the Great Forest Spirit dwells the animals are supposed to be giants like the boar that attacked Ashitaka’s village. Jigo warns him that the forest is extremely dangerous to humans and that it is certain death to enter. Ashitaka takes this news with all the concern of a man who’s been told that it may rain on the way to the shops so he’d better bring an umberella in case the smokes get wet.

We cut to a forest road outside of Iron Town, a mining village ruled by Lady Eboshi which contains an ironworks and a barracks.

And one of the tougher Pokémon gyms.

And one of the tougher Pokémon gyms.

Lady Eboshi is leading an oxen train laden with supplies back to Iron Town in the pouring lane. Lady Eboshi is a tall, thin, cold, haughty woman with an aristocratic bearing.

Evil queenMaleficentcruellaVillain. Got it.

The train gets attacked by a young girl and two white wolves. Eboshi’s men fire their rifles and drive the wolves off and Eboshi’s head lackey, Ganza, says “They weren’t so big.” Eboshi replies “They’re just pups. You should see their mother.”

And then we do, as Maro the wolf god attacks. Maro is a friggin’ HUGE two-tailed white wolf who savages several men and oxen before making a beeline straight for Eboshi. But as Maro is about to learn, you come at Eboshi, you best not miss.

"You ever dance with the Red Rooster in the pale moonlight?"

“You ever dance with the Red Rooster in the pale moonlight?”

Eboshi shoots Maro in the chest and then sets her on fire with a goddamn flamethrower because Eboshi’s clock broke one day and is now stuck permanently on “Not Fucking Around” o’clock. Maro goes flying over a cliff and ladies and gentleman please welcome back after a prolonged absence the, the one! The only! The lazy bastard kookaburras joke!

LAZY BASTARD KOOKABURRAS!

LAZY BASTARD KOOKABURRAS!

It’s like he never left.

Eboshi tells her men to gather up the wounded but leave those who fell over the cliff behind because they’re almost certainly dead. At the bottom of the mountain, Ashitaka comes across two of them who are still alive. He pulls them out of the river and tends to their wounds because he’s a selfless gent. He also see Maro, whose wound is still being tended by the young girl. This, incidentally, is San, and she is the Princess Mononoke. It’s never quite clear just what San is, or at least, it’s not clear to me. She’s called a guardian spirit of the forest at times, but later Maro says that she was abandoned by her parents in the forest and raised by her. In the English dub San is voiced by Claire Danes and of all the English voice actors she’s probably the weak link. She’s not terrible, far from it, but to me she sounds less like “savage child of nature” and more “whiny valley girl”. It’s a minor quibble though. Alright, so considering Ashitaka’s introduction to this girl is seeing her sucking blood out of a ten foot tall wolf, he’s clearly intrigued as she may be the only human being on earth who’s badassery rivals his own.

Um...your lipstick is a little...you know what, its fine.

Um…your lipstick is a little…you know what, its fine.

He calls out to her but she tells him to screw off and he goes back to the two men he rescued. One them has woken up and is freaking out at the sudden appearance of a kudama, a weird little forest sprite who I can’t decide whether it’s creepy or cute.

Creepy. Creepy, creepy, creepy. Ive decided. Creepy.

Creepy. Creepy, creepy, creepy. I’ve decided. Creepy.

The guy who’s freaking out is Kohroku, an oxen driver.

Kohroku

Kohroku is probably the only straight up comic relief character in this movie, a loud mouthed buffoon dressed in blue with his brown hair tied up in a pony tail partnered with a much more sensible and dependable female character wait just a damn minute here!

Oh my God. DiMartino and Konietzko, you whores!

Oh my God. DiMartino and Konietzko, you whores!

Ashitaka leads Kohroku and the other injured man (we never learn his name or hear him speak, but you know he’s got a deep inner life and a fascinating backstory) through the forest and comes to the clearing of the Great Forest Spirit. Ashitaka briefly glimpses the spirit in the distance which causes his cursed arm to go nuts. Ashitaka immerses his arm in a nearby pool and eventually returns Kohroku and Unnamed Other to Iron Town. At Iron Town he’s greeted as a hero, especially by Toki, Kohroku’s wife. Lady Eboshi thanks him for saving her men and invites him to stay the night. Ohhh…she’s probably up to something. I know her type.
Ashitaka has dinner with the other men and finally learns where the demon boar that attacked his village came from. The demon was once Nago, the boar god of the mountain. When the miners started cutting down his forest to get at the mountain, Nago declared war on them and seemed unstoppable.
FINAL BRO
But then Lady Eboshi arrived with her riflemen, shot Nago and burned much of the forest down, driving the boar insane with rage and hate (exact same thing happened  to Ted Nugent, very sad case).
Ashitaka then talks with Lady Eboshi and he shows her his mark and she’s all “sick tat brah” and asks him why he’s come to Iron Town. He tells her that he’s come to see with eyes “unclouded by hate” and Eboshi offers to give him the grand tour. Okay, so I’ve pretty much sussed what’s going on here. This is a nineties cartoon with an environmentalist message and Eboshi is the villain so here’s where she shows off her monkey torture lab and kitten sex dungeon while laughing maniacally. And that is exactly what happens. Sort of. Okay, replace “monkey torture lab” with “iron works where rescued brothel girls work and earn an honest living free from harassment” and “kitten sex dungeon” with “workshop where lepers receive medical care” and “laughing maniacally” with “thoughtfully opines on the sacrifices that have been made to provide a better life for her people” and you’re there.  Honestly, for someone raised on a diet of Fern Gully and Captain Planet this is revolutionary. Although her destruction of the forest is clearly portrayed as something awful, as a character Eboshi is about as far removed from Looten Plunder as it’s possible to get. Miyazaki presents an extremely nuanced and complex take on the issue of industrialisation. He shows the negatives, definitely, but he also shows the positives; a society where women can earn a wage and enjoy greater parity with men and that has the resources to properly care for its sick and infirm. Added to this, far from being purely noble like you’d expect, the forest’s defenders like Maro and Nago are often shown as savage, brutal and frankly terrifying. Frankly, picking a side in this battle is harder than figuring out who are the good guys in Warhammer 40k.
tau

The Tau. It’s obviously the Tau.

But before you put on your pom-poms and start chanting “EBOSHI! EBOSHI! SHE’S OUR GAL! IF SHE CAN’T DO IT, NO ONE…WAL…” she shows Ashitaka the latest rifle that the lepers have built for her and says she’s going to kill the Spirit of the Forest himself. Ashitaka’s cursed arm doesn’t much care for that and reaches for his sword and he has to fight desperately to stop his sword arm killing everyone.
"Oh man, that happens to me all the time."

“Oh man, that happens to me all the time.”

"You were cursed by a demon?"

“You were cursed by a demon?”

"Demon?"

“Demon?”

San and her two wolves are spotted running down the mountain and San scales the walls on a one-girl mission to assassinate Eboshi. The animation in this sequence is just stunning. No wait. That’s no good. All the animation in this movie is stunning. I need a new word to describe how good this animation is.
The animation in this sequence is smurges.
Smurges?
Sigh. I don’t know what I’m doing.
Ashitaka tries desperately to stop San and Eboshi from killing each other until finally, purple spectral tentacles start sprouting from his cursed arm and he tells the terrified townspeople that this is what hate does. I’m……I’m not sure that’s exactly…
"THIS IS WHAT HATE DOES!"

“THIS IS WHAT HATE DOES!”

Okay! Okay!
Ashitaka knocks both Eboshi and San unconscious. He then hoists San on his shoulders and says that he’s leaving with her. One of Eboshi’s riflewomen accidentally lets off a shot and shoots Ashitaka in the back.
And Ashitaka?
Ashitaka just keeps on walking.
GOD. DAMN.
That calls for some music.
Ashitaka leaves through the front door because who the fuck’s going to stop him and he rides off with San and Yakul, flanked by San’s two wolves. Finally, owing to, y’know, THE MASSIVE HOLE IN HIS CHEST, Ashitaka collapses and San has to decide whether to kill him, leave him to die or try and save him. Then they get attacked by the ape tribe.
apes
So the apes have been trying to replant the forest that Eboshi tore down but she keeps shooting at them and driving them away. Now the apes are getting desperate and want to eat Ashitaka to absorb his strength. The apes are the creepiest visual in a movie that just went down to the supermarket one day, headed straight to the Creepy Visuals section and just tipped a shelf into the fucking trolley. Like shelf and all. And then went to the checkout desk and the checkout girl was all “No. Sir. You can’t take the shelf. No.” They’re creepy as all hell is what I’m saying. They’re these sinister shadowy apes with glowing red eyes and wait just a damn minute here!
Oh my God. Jamie Hewlett, you whore!

Oh my God. Jamie Hewlett, you whore!

Alright, so the wolves chase the apes off and San takes Ashitaka to the grove of the Great Forest Spirit to heal his wound.

Meanwhile, Jigo is hiding out in the forest with some hunters. See, it turns out that Jigo is not the simple monk he’s pretended to be, but is actually on a mission to bring the Emperor the head of the Great Forest Spirit which legend says will make him immortal. Jigo and his hunters then see the Night Walker, a massive blue kaiju that walks through the forest at night because it’s…guys, c’mon it’s in the name, do I really have to do all the heavy lifting around here? I mean really, this is basic stuff. So the Night Walker starts to transform, because morning is coming and when day comes, the Night Walker becomes…c’mon, you can do this.

The Day Walker.

The Day Walker.

Okay no, but I can certainly follow your logic. No, actually the Night Walker and the Great Forest Spirit are one and the same, and Jigo says they’ll have to attack him during the day to get his head (because the Night Walker’s head doesn’t make you immortal. It’s just a big blue head.) Jigo also sees a huge army of boars arriving in the forest, led by Lord Okkoto, a massive, ancient white boar voiced in the English dub by one of my favourite voice actors, Keith David.

At the grove, the Great Forest Spirit comes and heals Ashitaka’s wound, but doesn’t lift the curse from his arm. One big difference I’ve noticed between this movie and Disney’s is that Miyazaki is not afraid to use silence. Joe Hisaishi’s score for this movie is incredible, but some of the most powerful moments are when everything goes completely silent. No music. No sound effects. No more talking. No more singing. Zip-ah. He usually saves it for moments when the Great Forest Spirit appears. And now we get to really my only slight quibble with this movie.

Um.

I kinda think the Great Forest Spirit looks a little silly.

It’s really not the movie’s fault it’s just…okay, has anyone here seen The Mighty Boosh?

princess.jpg

“I’m Ol’ Greg, I have a mangina.”

I realise that the vast, vast, vast majority of you have no idea what I’m talking about. Alright Maro and her wolves arrive and so do Okkoto’s boars and for a moment it’s looking all Sharks and Jets up in this bitch. The boars demand to know what happened to Nago and Maro tells them that Nago turned into a demon because he was afraid to die. The boars don’t buy it roaring “You are not fooling us! Nago was beautiful and strong!”

Oh yeah. He was a hottie.

Oh yeah. He was a hottie.

Lord Okkoto arrives and Ashitaka tells him what happened to Nago. Okkoto thanks him for putting Nago out of his misery but says that the curse can’t be lifted and that Ashitaka must leave the forest. Okkoto tells Maro that the boars are losing their intelligence as the forest becomes smaller and smaller, and soon they will be nothing more than dumb pigs. Okkoto has brought his army here to make one last desperate stand against the humans, and that even if they all die, they will give the humans the battle of their lives.

Bad. Ass.

"Sorry, was I not clear? Im Keith Motherfucking David."

“Sorry, was I not clear? I’m Keith Motherfucking David.”

Alright, hold on tight because this shit’s about to get Games of Thrones level complicated. So Lady Eboshi is fighting off an attack from Lord Asano’s samurai. Who he? We never see him, he’s just this random guy who wants to take over Iron Town.

"Hes a nobody, forget about him."

“Not important. He’s a nobody, forget about him.”

Jigo shows up and tells Eboshi that the boars are readying for war and that he’s calling in a favour. See, it was Jigo who provided those riflemen to Eboshi, and now he wants her to help him collect the Great Forest Spirit’s head. Eboshi is reluctant to leave Iron Town in the middle of a war but she doesn’t really have a choice. Eboshi leaves Toki and the girls in charge of defending Iron Town and heads out into the forest with the Iron Town men and Jigo’s hunters.

Maro, San and the wolves watch as the humans flood the forest with smoke to dull the boars’ sense of smell and make them pissed off. San tells Maro that she has to help Okkoto because he’s blind and Maro gives her blessing.

Ashitaka leaves the forest with Yakul and passes by Iron Town only to see it under attack from Asano’s men. Toki begs him to get Lady Eboshi to come back and save the town. Ashitaka heads back into the forest, stopping only to decapitate a few samurai with his arrows.  He arrives at the siite of a massacre, with hundreds of dead humans and boars. He tells the Iron Town men that their town is in danger and they turn on Jigo’s men, and help Ashitaka free one of San’s wolves who’d been trapped under a ton of dead boars (which, for a wolf, is a nice problem to have). The Iron Town men head back and Ashitaka and the wolf heads deep into the forest to reach Eboshi and stop her killing the Great Forest Spirit.

Meanwhile, San is leading a desperately wounded Okkoto through the forest to the grove of the Great Forest Spirit. They’re surrounded by Jigo’s men, dressed in boar skins and smeared with boar’s blood to disguise their scent. Poor Okkoto, bleeding like a Westerosi wedding, thinks that his dead herd have returned to life and marches onward to the grove while San pleads desperately with him that it’s a trap.

In the grove, Ashitaka finds Maro, almost dead from the wound Eboshi gave her earlier. Okkoto arrives, now consumed with hate and transformed into a demon

Ah. There's that good old timey Miyazaki terror.

Ah. There’s that good old timey Miyazaki terror.

San has been absorbed into the mass of tentacles because Japan and Maro uses the last of her strength to rescue her. As Jigo and Eboshi watch from the shadows, the Great Forest Spirit arrives and takes away the life of Maro and Okkoto, finally ending their pain. The spirit then start to transform into the Night Walker and Jigo tells Eboshi that it’s now or never.

Eboshi turns to her men and says: “Now watch closely. I’m going to show you how to kill a god. A god of life and death. The trick is not to fear him.”

You magnificent bitch.

You magnificent bitch.

She fires an explosive round into the spirit’s neck, decapitating him.

Aaaaaaand then his headless body turns into a gigantic goo monster that destroys everything in its path.

goospirited-away-no-face-attackAkira - 07 Tetsuo Transfroms

Because Japan.

Jigo and his men get the head and skedaddle, and Maro, who was only pretending to be dead, bites off Eboshi’s arm before finally, actually dying for real this time, no backsies.

As the massive glutinous remains of the forest spirit rampages towards Iron Town looking for its head, San and Ashitaka manage to catch up to Jigo. They fight him and manage to get the head off him and return it to the great spirit. They’re bathed in it’s energy which lifts the curse from Ashitaka and the forest spirit vanishes. San thinks he’s dead, but Ashitaka tells her that the spirit is life itself and that he’ll always be with them. I dunno. They said the same thing about my dog. And if he wasn’t dead then burying him in the back garden was probably a huge mistake.

The movie ends with Lady Eboshi standing in the ruins of Iron Town surveying the devastation wrought by the Great Forest Spirit and promising her people to build a new “better” town. What she means by “better” is up to the viewer’s interepreation. San tells Ashitaka that she loves him but that she can’t forgive the humans for what they’ve done and he says that he’ll help rebuild Iron Town and come and visit her in the forest. And the last shot is of a single kudama, giving hope that the forest may survive.

Still creepy.

Still creepy.

***

I started this month reviewing without a doubt the single worst cartoon I have ever seen in my life. I finish it having reviewed quite possibly the best. I saw Princess Mononoke many years ago, but honestly I don’t think I saw all of it and I was probably too young to really appreciate it.  This movie is simply stunning, as close to perfection as its possible for a film to get. Awesome, breathtaking, life-affirming art.

Just….wow.

Scoring
Animation: 20/20
Humbling in its beauty.
Lead: 20/20
On paper Ashitaka might seem like an incredibly dull protagonist. But the world he inhabits is so complex, so brutal and so morally ambiguous that his pure-hearted decency makes him an incredibly compelling focus for the story. It also helps that he kick all the ass in the world.
Villains: 19/20
If there was ever a movie that defied simple hero versus villain dichotomies it’s this one. Who is the villain? Lady Eboshi, who lays waste to the forest while rescuing girls from the brothels and giving lepers work and respect? Maro, whose hatred of humans leads her to acts of terrible savagery while trying to defend her rightful home? Jigo, who’s just trying to get by in a brutal world? They’re all evil in their own way, and all understandable and often admirable in their own way too. And they’re all brilliant.
Supporting Characters: 19/20
Miyazaki creates a world where every character, no matter how small their part, feels real and fleshed out. It honestly feels like you could pick anyone out of a crowd and make a movie about them and they’d have a story worth telling. And the character designs are just flawless.
Music: 19/20
For all the praise this movie gets, Joe Hisaishi’s sombre, brooding score doesn’t seem to get that much notice and that’s just not right. The cello piece that opens the movie gives me chills.
FINAL SCORE: 97%
NEXT UPDATE: 08 May 2014
NEXT TIME: Jesus may love Mrs Robinson more than she can know. But will Mouse love the rest of the family? Meet the Robinsons is next.
Neil Sharpson aka The Unshaved Mouse is a playwright, blogger and comic book writer living in Dublin. The blog updates with a new animated movie review every second Thursday. He’s also serialising his novel The Hangman’s Daughter with a new chapter every other Thursday. This review was made possible thanks to the kind donation of James Egan. Thanks James!

88 comments

  1. PREPARE FOR LONGEST COMMENT EVER

    First off, totally agree with you about dubs. Live-action, has to be the original language but I can go either way when it comes to animation. With Miyazaki especially, it helps that every single one of the Disney dubs is excellent and Princess Mononoke is probably the best among them. Only voice actor I don’t like in this is Billy Bob Thornton as Jigo but that’s because I despise Billy Bob Thornton, not because he’s actually bad or anything. Billy Crudup is absolutely magnificent as Ashitaka, brings a quiet strength to the role (which Minnie Driver similarly does for Lady Eboshi). And hell yeah Keith David is the man.

    I don’t agree with you that the battle of “animation is just for kids” is over in the West. I know a ton of people who dismiss a movie just because it’s animated. Pixar and Miyazaki have gone a long way towards helping dismiss the notion, but it’s not gone entirely. There’s still too much crap like The Nut Job that just absolutely panders to kids for people to completely accept animation as a serious medium. Their loss.

    Did I inspire the Lord Byron joke? Please tell me I did, that would be awesome if I did.

    I love that you take the time to discuss Miyazaki’s use of silence in his films. When Roger Ebert, who was a huge Miyazaki fan and named Princess Mononoke the sixth best film of 1999 (when it was released in the US), wrote his Great Movies essay on Spirited Away (which you can read here: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-spirited-away-2002), he included the following: “I think that helps explain why Miyazaki’s films are more absorbing than the frantic action in a lot of American animation. “The people who make the movies are scared of silence” [Miyazaki] said, “so they want to paper and plaster it over…They’re worried that the audience will get bored. But just because it’s 80 percent intense all the time doesn’t mean the kids are going to bless you with their concentration. What really matters is the underlying emotions–that you never let go of those…What my friends and I have been trying to do since the 1970’s is to try and quiet things down a little bit…And to follow the path of children’s emotions and feelings as we make a film. If you stay true to joy and astonishment and empathy you don’t have to have violence and you don’t have to have action. They’ll follow you. This is our principle.” I think that this sums up Miyazaki better than anything else I’ve ever read.

    The movie makes it fairly clear that San is indeed a human who was raised by Moro, it’s why most of the other spirits don’t trust her.

    To me, the single best thing about this film is how ambiguous the morality of Lady Eboshi is. It really leaves it up to the viewer to decide if what she is doing is morally right or wrong. This was honestly my biggest problem with Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which is in many ways a precursor to PM. In Nausicaa, Nausicaa is just boringly good and the villains are so clearly evil. I just can’t really muster up any interest in either party. Meanwhile in PM, Ashitaka is always morally “good” but it’s abundantly clear that he’s not taking a side, he’s just doing what he thinks is right, there’s no heavy handed “mankind is destroying nature, the horror” message like in Nausicaa. That being said, see Nausicaa anyway because it’s still good and it was a landmark in animation history, there are some sequences that are just stunning.

    Joe Hisaishi is an absolute genius. His work on Miyazaki’s films are incredible. Spirited Away has my all time favorite film score and Princess Mononoke isn’t too far behind. His music is always a highlight of every film he works on.

    You forgot to mention the best part of Moro biting off Lady Eboshi’s arm, the fact that it was MORO’S SEVERED HEAD THAT RETAINED LIFE LONG ENOUGH TO BITE OFF HER ARM BEFORE FINALLY DYING. THAT IS SO AWESOME IT DEFIES DESCRIPTION.

    The sequence at the end where you see life starting to come back to the forest is one of my favorite sequences in any movie ever. It lasts about a minute and starts off with silence, then slowly eases in Hisaishi’s score as the grass, flowers, and trees slowly grow back. Absolute perfection.

    Yeah, as you may have noticed, I love this film. It’s not quite my favorite Miyazaki film (that honor goes to Spirited Away) and it’s not even my second favorite Studio Ghibli film (it also sits behind Whisper of the Heart) but it’s absolutely in my top 20 all time favorite films. It’s one of those films that everyone I know who has seen it absolutely loves. It doesn’t matter if they’re familiar with Miyazaki or even a fan of animation at all. They see Princess Mononoke and just become entranced by it. There just aren’t enough words to sing the praises of this film. For any other director, it would be their undisputed masterwork. For Miyazaki, it’s one of like 5 that are in the conversation (the others being Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, and [though I disagree] Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind). A practically perfect film by one of the greatest directors who ever lived. It saddens me greatly that Miyazaki has retired, but he leaves behind an incredible legacy of beloved classics that have changed the landscape of animation and touched the lives of millions of people.

    1. Yes. You remind me of Lord Byron :p. Nah, you did inspire the joke. So, so many awesome things I wanted to talk about but just didn’t have time (it’s a very long film).

      1. I think it might still hold the record as the longest animated film ever made. It’s a full two hours. And Miyazaki personally redrew over EIGHTY THOUSAND FRAMES. That’s INSANE.

        Also, didn’t say it before but great review Mouse. You really did the film justice

      2. Alas, Princess Mononoke is now only the SECOND longest animated film ever made, having been beaten by “The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya” in 2010, which I feel I should note is TWO HOURS AND FORTY FOUR MINUTES. (It’s a pretty good movie too, but Princess Mononoke is one of my favorite anythings ever.)

    2. “In Nausicaa, Nausicaa is just boringly good and the villains are so clearly evil.”

      You should really, really read the manga.
      1. The movie only covers the first two volumes (out of 7), and they had to simplify the story for it to have an actual ending. There is no villain in the manga : all the main characters are deeply layered, and since “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” does not hold at all, the reader ends up rooting for pretty much everybody at one moment or another.
      2. Yeah, Nausicaä is pure moral goodness, so she struggles to be good to everyone ; but she has to choose one side sometimes and make heartbreaking compromises. In a way the whole manga is the story of her learning this; the ending is really meaningful in this regard.
      3. Nausicaä is so badass even Lord Byron would have no word to express it. And the other main characters are not far behind.
      4. The art is smurges. So delicate and expressive.
      5. The story is awesome, with perspective-changing twists, aerial battles, and beautiful, emotional moments all over the place, plus a strong feeling of progression and cohesion (a real feat when you think Miyazaki didn’t really know where he was going all along).

      So, sorry for the out-of-topic comment, but do yourself a favour and read Nausicaä, the manga! You too Mouse!

      1. I’m not much of one for manga, but I would like to check that out at some point. Lord Byron is a stone cold badass. THE best part of the movie, along with the squirrel foxes. And he’s voiced by Patrick motherfucking Stewart. Pure awesomeness

      2. @Lobo: No doubt Lord Byron is a badass (I mean, dude, just WOW), but I have the feeling you’re talking about Lord Yupa—an actual character in the movie 😀
        Character whose badassery is immense indeed (and wait till you read the manga, I believe he isn’t nearly as important in the movie as he is in the manga).

        @Mouse: in a few years of time every article and comment on this blog will be fully written in Mousespeak. Be prepared.

      3. Dammit, yes I got confused. It’s Lord YUPA who is in Nausicaa and is voiced by Patrick Stewart

  2. Sorry unshavedmouse, but I haven’t seen this film yet, so I couldn’t read the review as I didn’t want to be spoiled 😦 .

    Have you seen ‘Spirited Away’? And if so, would you say it’s better or worse than ‘Princess Mononoke’?

      1. Spirited Away is a film I watched annually for about five or six years running. It’s one of my favourites, and I think its accessibility helps it to more than hold its own against PM.

  3. I love this movie. I rewatched it a few months ago from Netflix. Strangely enough, the other movie I watched that day was Beauty and the Beast (my favorite movie). I was supposed to get Spirited Away, but what can you do?
    I am not a fan of the leads’ voice acting. Something about Billy Crudup’s performance was not gripping me. Claire Danes’ voice just sounded flat to me.
    I’m surprised you did not mention how the Night Walker looks like the water creature from the season one finale of The Last Airbender. I don’t think those guys ever covered up the fact that Miyazaki was their biggest inspiration.

    1. Oh, fun fact, Miyazaki’s original concept for this movie was for it to be his take on the story of Beauty and the Beast. This was way back in the 70’s, it was potentially going to be Studio Ghibli’s 2nd film but Castle in the Sky was made instead.

  4. This is my favorite Miyazaki movie. It has the perfect blend of dark action and compelling story and characters. It’s probably the perfect fantasy anime film, as well. Yes, I’ve seen Akira.

    But it’s not my favorite overall Studio Ghibli movie. Whisper of the Heart is. You probably haven’t seen it (and that goes for every person who will read this comment), so I don’t want to give too much away. But it’s one of the few movies where I could not find a single thing wrong with it or that I disliked. I really hope you get to watch and/or review it someday.

    1. Whisper of the Heart is my second favorite Ghibli film, behind Spirited Away and ahead of PM. it’s such a beautiful film. The musical performance at the center of the film is just breath-taking

  5. Aw, c’mon, how can anything with a baby bum be creepy?

    I love this beautiful, weird work of art. I had a big anime phase in my teens, and this is one of the movies I could just watch over and over. And yeah, I too am a complete philistine when it comes to subbed vs dubbed anime. Similar reasons to yours, but then there’s the fact that I like to watch movies with other people, and you get asked ‘I missed that – what did they say?’ a lot less often with a dub. Also, I find it less distracting to watch a dubbed anime because, having done a few years of Japanese in high school, I can understand some (but not all) of what’s being said, and I’d rather focus on the story than on trying to remember how to conjugate verbs or why the subtitles are different from the words coming out of characters’ mouths.

    Very funny review today; it was my favourite in a while.
    (And who doesn’t know The Mighty Boosh? Can a demonstrative crimp-off be arranged for their benefit?)

    1. Mouse, Mouse in his little wooden house
      Mouse, Mouse in his little wooden house,
      Smackin’ a louse!
      Smackin a louse!
      With a silver timepiece!
      Have you been to Bahia? Yes!
      Will you go back to Bahia?
      No…

      1. Very nice.

        A fluffy black dog with a pocketful of cake
        Sailed on a raft in a lemonade lake.
        I bought this bookshelf
        Where shall we set it up?
        Put it in the Tardis,
        Put it in the Tardis,
        Bimba limba limbim bom.

      2. Pin Pang Pain he’s a panda loan shark
        Better have his money or he’ll break your toys
        Pin Pang Pain
        Pin Pang Pain
        Smashin’ your dolls
        Smashin’ your dolls
        With his bamboo cane.

      3. Open the cupboard
        What do you see?
        A fish and a robot in an apricot tree.
        An apricot tree –
        How can that be?
        They’re mixing up your sugar and your peppermint tea.

        On a completely different, non-crimping note, if your wife doesn’t have a blog nickname, may I suggest ‘The Spouse of Mouse’?

  6. It’s “Der Untergang”…not “Der Untertang”…”Tang” is the black stuff which you can find at the beach sometimes.

    Concerning Dubbing: I am German, so I am the last person who would complain about that. My habit is to watch in the original language if I can understand, but I also like to see the dub to compare (especially with the old Disney movies is sometimes makes a huge difference, and it is my firm opinion that for example the German dub for Tarzan is actually the better one, because Jane and Terk have both better voice actors), and if I don’t know the language, I like to watch once with dub and once with subtitles…one gives you the full performance, the other one gives you full visuals, plus, I have noticed that subtitles are often full of mistakes, so watching different versions and interpretations gives me the feeling to get closer to the original movie (as much as it is possible to get close to something from a foreign culture).

    Concerning the movie: Like Pinocchio and Bambi this is one of those movies I really respect, but don’t like. I guess I have two issues: I never managed to relate to any of the characters in the movie (in fact, I have no idea for whom I should route), and I have the feeling that this movie tries so hard to be more than just a mere movie that it sometimes forgets to be a movie (hard to explain this, but that’s the best wording I found for it).

  7. This movie, just, this movie!! This isn’t just my favourite animated movie of all time, it’s in my Top 5 Favourite movies of all time!! This movie, it’s just phenomenal!! It’s just, it’s just . . . . PERFECT!!! It’s just . . . . BEH! BLEH BLEH!!!

    How can I put this? This movie made steamy passionate love to my eyes, ears and mind. Or does that even work at all? I DON’T EVEN FUCKING CARE WHETHER THAT MAKES SENSE OR NOT!!! My point stands.

    Just everything about this fucking movie is perfectly executed, it’s incredibly well drawn, it’s just perfect in every way. It’s so good that I’m almost jealous of it. How does Miyazaki do it? That man has creativity pouring out of his ass. Miyazaki you magnificent bastard!

    I AM NOT WORTHY!
    I AM NOT WORTHY!
    I AM NOT WORTHY!

  8. A thought just occurred to me. Please stop reading this comment if you have not seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there may be mild SPOILERS.

    I just realized that Ashitaka and Steve Rogers in CA2 are very similarly compelling characters. Both are undoubtedly moralistic and rather idealistic, holding on to their notions of what is right and wrong even in the face of extreme personal danger (they’re also both bad-asses of the highest order). But while this SHOULD make them boring characters, it is actually what makes them so compelling. The world’s they inhabit are going to hell. They have to face down people on opposite sides of the moral spectrum and defeat them. And despite that, despite the fact that people are being recruited to the opposing viewpoint, they not only stay strong in their convictions, they actually make others stronger in theirs too. In CA2, Cap’s strong belief in the necessity for the freedom of the people rallies people like Black Widow, Falcon, and a great number of the SHIELD agents to his cause. In PM, Ashitaka’s views on a balance between mankind’s industrious nature and the purity of the forest influence San and Lady Eboshi, helping them to reconcile and coexist peacefully. Ashitaka doesn’t just bring peace to the forest through battle or anything, he actually manages to convince the two sides of the other’s merit.

    Just thought I’d share that thought, I’m kind of fascinated by this connection now.

      1. He totally could have though if he ever wanted to though. But I think it would have lost some of Miyazaki’s unique charm because it would have had to been very Americanized and Miyazaki’s movies are generally either uniquely Japanese (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, The Wind Rises) or heavily inspired by Europe (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky)

      2. Unbelievably fascinating. If Miyazaki were to ever make a superhero film, I think we’d end up with something to rival The Incredibles and The Dark Knight as the greatest superhero film ever made

      3. Not sure if I agree with you about Miyazaki’s films being that Japanese. Though that might because I always compare him to Isao Takahata, the other Studio Ghibli founder, who’s almost incomprehensibly Japanese. And sure, Miyazaki utilizes a lot of Japanese culture and aesthetic in his films, but his themes and morals are almost always universal, which makes him more accessible to Western viewers. Takahata’s films, on the other hand, are very heavily based on Japanese moral values and customs, which the nuances harder to understand. My Neighbors the Yamadas is a good example. You can sort of understand what’s going on, but you still get the feeling that a lot of the humour and most of the messages go way over your head, because you haven’t been raised in Japan.

      4. You’re absolutely right that Takahata’s films are more distinctly Japanese than Miyazaki’s. But several of Miyazaki’s are pretty distinctly Japanese too, and the ones that aren’t don’t feel very “American.” I guess the closest two would probably be The Castle of Cagliostro, his first film which is not a Studio Ghibli release, and Porco Rosso

      5. @Pihlaja All of Miyazaki’s movies have one thing in common: They tend to have a “you young irresponsible people have no idea what a great life you have and you should learn to respect and appreciate the elders” undertone which is very Japanese in nature…it’s hard to describe, but it goes way above what modern European’s would see as appropriate respect.

      6. PM gave us a strong idea of how Ghibli would handle a character like Swamp Thing or Animal Man.

      7. @swanpride I’ve never thought about it exactly like that, but you’re right. Almost all Miyazaki films have that as one of their themes. I’ve always regarded the man’s main theme to be the responsibility of mankind, especially mankind after the industrial revolution, towards the world and nature. The understanding that nature is always going to be there and it’s our task to remember and to take care. And that’s a very Western theme. It applies to Japan as well, certainly, but only because it has tried to Westernize itself so greatly.

        @Lobo I actually haven’t seen The Castle of Cagliostro, so can’t comment on that, but there’s more to Western culture than America. Miyazaki seems to have a certain fondness for early 20th century Italy, for example. Well, Italy and industrial revolution.

      8. Agreed, Pilahja. In the context of Superman though you’ve got to pretty much only consider American culture and I just don’t know if Miyazaki could pull that off.

        What am I saying? Miyazaki could pull ANYTHING off

  9. A Gorillaz reference in an Unshaved Mouse review? My life is now complete. Also, the part where Okkoto turns into a demon is pure Cthulu-style Nightmare Fuel….and I have yet to see this movie in full!

  10. Keith David is the MAN! I remember hearing the opening narration and couldn’t help but think of Dr. Facilier while he was narrating.

  11. This film. This film. This film is what fully realised my adoration for art as a storytelling device. A process that began with disney and amplified by other animated films ( secret of nimh for one) the effect this film has on me was profound and ranks very high on my top ten list of best animation. Studio ghibli films always manage to reach something deep inside that I thought lost to childhood. As to subs or dubs I honestly prefer subs. But considering I have spent over a decade watching subtitled films I’m pretty good at reading and watching simultaneously. But i do think the disney dubs are some of the best. Also If you want heart wrenching bleakness, Utter depression and haunting imagery then watch grave of the fireflies. It is one of and the most sad and beautiful films I have seen.
    Wonderfully funny and insightful review as always. I keep up with the blog but dont always have time to comment. So extra long comment this time x

    1. I find Grave of the Fireflies to be overrated. Good, sure, but not great. The little girl is just too damn annoying and the film feels kind of manipulative at times, like it’s trying way too hard to make you cry

      1. See I never got that feeling from the film. You should have seen my mums face when she watched i think her response was finally they’re dead 😛

      2. As someone who didn’t go all “OH MY GOD SADDEST FILM EVER I CRY ERRYTIME” like 90% of the people on the internet, I never felt that way about GotF. You have to take into account that the movie was made during a particularly rebellious era for japanese youth, it was the perfect way to demonstrate what would happen if you were lazy (Seita), didn’t appreciate the help your family provided you (Seita) and acted like you could act on your own at such a young age (FUCKING SEITA).
        In other words, the protagonist were “annoying” on purpose. It never bothered me, though, I thought they served their purpose.

        Setsuko…come on, she was like 4.

    2. I showed Grave of the Fireflies to my dad. He laughed and found it quite amusing, considering it as payback to what Japan did during WW2.

  12. As a sidenote cutting off ones own hair in asian culture is symbolic of banishment and exile. Being cut off from the community you belonged to, ties and bonds being severed. They did the same thing with zuko in the last airbender.

  13. Lobo and Phantom Nook, you magnificent people! Whisper of the Heart is my second favourite Ghibli film (Spirited Away holds the number one spot), and it’s nice to see other people appreciate it as well. Such a simple story, but given so much depth by the sheer brilliance of the storytelling.

    Nevertheless, an amazing review, Mouse. I literally had to take a small break to have a good laugh after the poet joke. Did not see it coming, but it sure was a funny one.

    Haven’t seen this one in a while, but the two things that have stuck with me are its courage not take sides on the issue of nature versus man debate and its soundtrack. When it comes to the latter, I’m a fan of Joe Hisaishi’s work, but I’ve always felt that his music isn’t all that memorable. You can appreciate it during the film and it always fits the scenes and the moods perfectly, but if you try to remember or even hum it later on, you’re going to have problems. Or at least I have. Except with Princess Mononoke. I remember every track of this film, and it’s one of the soundtracks I listen the most.

    1. Yoshifumi Kondo’s death was a huge loss for Studio Ghibli (he was the one who directed Whisper of the Heart). Such an incredible debut film, it is an absolute tragedy that we never got to see more of his work.

      1. Hisaishi is just a master. I absolutely love his score for Spirited Away. Every note is just perfect. There’s a song that plays during the big cathartic moment of the film that is arguably my favorite piece of music ever used in a film.

      2. Are you talking about The Sixth Stop or something entirely different? Because if so, agreed, that’s a beautiful piece of music, but I actually had to go and listen it again to remember. It works so well in the scene in question, along with the visuals, but for me it’s never been something I listen just as a piece of music. For Spirited Away OST I need the visuals to get the impact.

      3. The Sixth Stop is an absolutely gorgeous piece but what I’m actually referring to is Reprise. This song is just perfection

      4. It’s actually funny. I now went and listened to the soundtrack for Spirited Away again. There’s a LOT of good music in there, some hauntingly beautiful songs that instantly brought back the scenes and the feelings I had experienced while watching them. So why had I forgotten all about them? I’ve seen Spirited Away more than any other Ghibli film, and I still had no recollection of these songs. I often find myself humming Mononoke theme or the Totoro song or even the opening track to Ponyo. But not these. I’d like to, but I just don’t.

  14. U know what u should do unshaved mouse? After finishing Disney, start on Ghibli. Their films r very different from American films and some even find their films boring with ugly and cheap animation. I would love to see ur views on every single one of them.

    Oh and for the reason why some say their films r ugly and cheap: they think the character designs r dull and bland. 2 dots for eyes and a round face. And weird looking creatures. That was why. This. Is. America. Ugh I hate them sooooo much…..acting like they know 1 thing about art.

    1. Anyone who accuses Ghibli of having “ugly and cheap animation” clearly either has never actually seen a Ghibli film or needs a new set of eyes

      1. Looks like my friend fits that mold. He called “Spirited Away”‘s animation BAD. He calims he’s never watched a Disney film in his life, so I think he’s lying.

  15. Wooh, I finally have time to read your review, Neil. Uni, homework…you know the drill.
    Oh, I also saw the movie for the first time today (in three languages! I saw the first half of the movie in latino, then the other half in english, then the last 10 minutes in jap + subs…by the way, San’s voice in the latino dub is pretty ‘eh’, too. Overall, the latino and english are on par while the japanese dub has the better voice acting, uh, the script is practically the same in every version. Now where was I…). And what a fantastic movie it was.

    I remember when I first saw the scene with San’s mouth covered in blood in a commercial or something…I honestly thought she was eating Maro alive. I was like “Woah, a cannibal movie? Nopenopenope, I already saw one before”.
    Silly 7?…5? 9 years old? …Uh, younger. Silly younger me.

    You know what? Someone should have requested you to review Sozin’s Comet: The Final Battle… … …what? It counts! It was first aired as a two hours movie on Nickelodeon!

  16. “Now, as a Westerner, I don’t really have much context for the significance of that, or why it matters, but the scene is so expertly staged that I am in no doubt as to the gravity of what’s going on.”

    Mouse, your interpretation of that scene was spot on and probably one of the very best things I have read so far on your blogs.

    Regarding that scene, I think I may have a little more context though I’m not sure. I’m from India, where men from the Sikh community grow their hair and wear it in turbans. For them, their hair and turban represents their pride, their integrity, their honor and their very sense of identity and virility. So to chop it off is to relinquish ALL OF THOSE THINGS. So I guess the hair for the Emishi and Ashitaka bore a similar level of significance and symbolism as it does for the Sikhs in India. It is a pretty shattering scene and I love that you so deftly pointed out the poignancy of it and the brilliance with which Miyazaki handles the moment.

  17. Speaking of Gillian Anderson (“yes, this is an English dub, but might I remind you that my character is a humongous two-tailed wolf goddess who can and will bite your damn arm off, oh and by the way I’m Agent Scully, screw you”), I read a U.S. promo article for this movie once where she said that all of the dub actors were given various Princess Mononoke swag, and one of the things she got was a kodama keychain, which her young daughter quickly took possession of. So there you go, someone out there thinks the little guys are cute.
    Anyway, this has always been my favorite Miyazaki movie, precisely because, as you mentioned, although it holds various ACTIONS as being good or bad, it doesn’t make it so easy to pick out who the “villain” or “hero” is. The ambiguous villain is a staple in a lot of Miyazaki movies actually, although IMO with varying results (this is where Howl’s Moving Castle sort of goes off the rails in the last act). It’s also about humans, for better or worse, turning away from nature and embracing industry – one of those stories where you know that, no matter how the movie ends, nothing will ever be the same (the fact that there are even firearms in this movie is significant, since it’s supposed to be set sometime in the 15th or 16th century at about the time of the earliest European contact with Japan…this isn’t dwelled on, but I think the cannons that Lady Eboshi uses are supposed to be from the Portuguese).
    I see a lot of people recommending “Spirited Away” as another Miyazaki joint to review. It’s very good, but if you haven’t seen it (or even if you have seen it and haven’t rewatched it), it can be intimidating. I had to watch it several times before I got everything. I’m not sure if knowing more about Japanese culture and mythology would have helped, but it seems like there’s a lot in there that Japanese audiences would probably understand right away, such as exactly who or what everything in the bath house is (a RADISH spirit?, etc.)
    Have you seen Porco Rosso? I find it to be a vastly underrated Miyazaki movie that’s just about the right mixture of fun, serious, and action. Plus it has Fio, one of my very favorite Ghibli heroines.

      1. Well, weren’t we all at some point? I had never even really watch ANY anime until one day, on a whim, I checked out a Princess Mononoke DVD from my university’s library. MIND BLOWN.
        Pretty much every Miyazaki film has some combination of these four themes:
        1) war is bad
        2) nature is good
        3) planes/flying are awesome as well as fun to animate
        4) women kick ass
        His three previous films before Princess Mononoke – My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Porco Rosso – are all very good and pretty accessible for people who aren’t Japanese/aren’t big anime fans. If you listen to some fans, you might think that Miyazaki was/is infallible and never made a less-than-perfect movie in his life, but the period from Totoro (1988) to Spirited Away (2002) definitely has his strongest work. Nausicaa is good but the manga’s better. Castle in the Sky is a straight-up adventure story. Howl’s Moving Castle becomes better if you focus on Sophie (IMO the movie is mostly about her). Ponyo is confusing but cute and fun to watch. I haven’t seen The Wind Rises yet.

  18. Oh dear, anti-dub purists. I have to say, I liked watching non-dubbed Ponyo (albeit subtitled), and don’t think I’d watch the dub after saying that, but most of the time, I watch dubs because I don’t know enough Japanese to do otherwise. Plus, anyone who refuses to watch dubbed Miyazaki movies misses out on Billy Crystal as Calcifer, which was, like, half the reason I loved watching Howl’s Moving Castle. Though aren’t a lot of live action movies actually dubbed over after the takes, particularly scenes where the special effects would drown out the actors’ voices? I guess it would still be easier to dub the same words being spoken on screen over the actors, but still, I wouldn’t say dubbing necessarily has to be bad. It’s just one of those things that’s conspicuous when done cheaply. Though I know nearly nothing about the film industry, so I could be totally off-base here.

    …Did you call Disney an octopus in a review about a Disney-distributed Japanese movie on purpose to ironically reference Disney’s propaganda piece animated during the Second World War that featured an octopus representing Japan as its villain, or am I just seeing connections that aren’t intentional like some guy reading Revelation and thinking it’s predicting Obama’s presidency? I tend to think in leaps sometimes.

    …So you’re telling me that Ghibli sent a cutting utensil to Miramax to tell them to cut it out with cutting all the cutting in their movie? I’ve got that straight, right? Also, now you’ve got me wondering what the Emishi would think of this movie. From what I’m reading of your history, it would kind of be Japan’s equivalent of Pocahontas: The portrayal of the defeated side of historical conflict by the victorious side. Maybe I’m opening a can of worms with this pondering (or would that be a pig full of worms?).

  19. I’m not sure if your reference to Pokémon made me smile more, or the fact that you actually included the accent on the é. I figured out how to do that, now I can’t see it any other way without finding it weird. And the Kookaburras have returned! Those lazy bastards! Loved the Last Airbender shot as well. Love all the classics coming out here. And of course Ashitaki’s exchange with Mulan. Also, why does it seem that if you’re raised by wolves you’ve got to end up in a fight with the apes at some point? Why can’t the carnivores and simians just take a page from Lion King’s book and life peacefully ‘n’ all? Apart from maybe the whole predation thing?

    Yikes. I take it Boar David sets up his games of Bowling for Buzzards by attracting them with his victims’ freshly dismembered corpses. Remind me to stay on that guy’s good side.

    Great review! I was quite a bit younger when I watched Princess Mononoke, and was pretty confused with all the complexities of the plot and not knowing whom to route for and some of the Japanese stuff that gets lost on us foreigners, but after seeing it get the Unshaved Stamp of Approval, I’m thinking I should give this another try. Great review, and I think you’ve proven you can get through reviews of really good movies without just gushing, so now of course there’s no excuse not to get to the actually good Pixar movies (which I suspect the Movie Death Match will ask for eventually).

  20. …One other thing I had to point out, but missed, I just realized that in the dub, Minnie Driver plays a character who is a scourge of nature who destroys the habitats of apes. I’ve really got to hand it to her for range there.

  21. Since you made a joke referencing Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’m gonna go ahead and assume that you’ve seen the show. My question, however, is whether you’ve seen The Legend of Korra or not? 😁

      1. Well then, I highly recommend it. It’s not as good as ATLA, because almost nothing is, but LOK is still pretty damn good. At any rate it’s better than any other animated shows on tv right now. 😊

  22. Random thoughts here…..

    I got the latest Disney version of Princess Mononoke and discovered that that it uses dubtitles. Pissed me off to no end.

    My favorite track of the Princess Mononoke OST is:

    which is what plays during the credits.

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