The amount of influence that has been taken from the films by Studio Ghibli is too many to count. Ever since I saw their films, I started to really see how the film industry has taken inspiration from the acclaimed animated films from the studio and its legendary director Hayao Miyazaki. There are too many films to count that all have come from their many films and easily one of the most influential and iconic films to ever come out is the acclaimed masterpiece from 1997, "Princess Mononoke". It's a film that is Studio Ghibli's most violent, brutal, and deepest animated films that they have ever made. It just so happens to also be one of their very best.
In the forests of Japan during the Muromachi era, a young Emishi prince named Ashitaka (Yōji Matsuda) is wounded and cursed by a boar demon while trying to defend his village and his people. While the curse gives him strength in his right arm, it starts to slowly take over his body which is told will eventually kill him. Banished from his village by his own people, Ashitaka is told by a monk named Jigo (Kaoru Kobayashi) that his curse can be cured by the Great Forest Spirt that lives deep in the woods. While seeking the spirit, he ends up getting caught in a war between the humans in a village called Iron Town led by Lady Eboshi (Yūko Tanaka) who are trying to kill the spirit to build their resources and the gods of the forest including a pack of wolves who have a human girl named San (Yuriko Ishida) who are trying to protect their land and save the creatures. From there, Ashitaka tries to figure out how to peacefully resolve the matter between the two before a darker matter can blossom from their hatred.
Many animated films have often been considered a masterpiece and this is easily one of them and it's not really hard to see why. It's one of the most riveting films that Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki have ever made and it's a film so good that it was even chosen as Japan's selection for their submission of Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. While it wasn't nominated, it absolutely should have. It's a film whose legacy lives on and has inspired many countless works from live-action films like "Avatar", video games like "Breath of the Wild", and even animated films like "Wolfwalkers". The story is riveting from start to finish. It's very similar to Miyazaki's sophomore film, "Naussicä of the Valley of the Wind" but if it were on steroids and I mean that in the best way. Tons of films over the years have tried to tell the story of man versus nature but none of them have done it quite as well as this. Every scene in this film is perfectly paced and has some riveting action and it's one that kept me glued from start to finish. The first scene of the film we see is where Ashitaka is attacked by the demon boar from the forest and it keeps going and going and never stops. There are so many great scenes in this film and every single one feels perfect and not out of place which is crazy considering that for the American release, the film was almost butchered by Harvey Weinstein when he wanted to edit it down. Ghibli eventually got their way when the film's producer, Toshio Suzuki, threatened Weinstein by sending him an authentic katana warning him not to cut a frame out of the film and I'm very glad they did because I just cannot see this film being as good as it is without the beautiful scenes it has. It's also a film that has themes that are handled quite beautifully. Miyazaki has helmed many of the themes of this film many times before including the beauty of nature and the frustration and devastation of war and this is one where he really showcases them in such a superb way. As far as the animation goes, it is very gorgeous. This might be one of the most beautiful animated films that Studio Ghibli has ever made and knowing what they had made before and would go on to make after this film, that is really saying a lot.
Miyazaki pays great attention to the detail of nature in this film and it often takes up most of the frames in the film which are all painted with meticulous detail and really showcase both the atmosphere of the film and the true beauty of the themes. The creature designs are also mesmerizing and original and feel like they can only exist in animation. It's also a film that has amazingly crafted action scenes that are quite surprising in how violent they can get. There's a lot of fast-paced action with a particular standout being a brief battle between Lady Eboshi and San in Iron Town with a lot of swift sword swipes compensated with tight animation smears for the action. This is easily Ghibli's most violent film as it features tons of limbs and heads being shot off people's bodies and lots of blood, but it's one where it doesn't feel as gratuitous or disgusting. The violence is justified in this film, especially when it comes to scenes that you would not expect. That brings us to the characters who are easily some of Ghibli's most complex characters to date. Ashitaka is a noble hero who just wants to settle things down peacefully and has a lot of strength despite his body starting to weaken from this deadly curse. The strength and courage he shows are one that really makes him compelling as a protagonist and helps him work off the characters he comes across. It would be very easy to portray Lady Eboshi or San as a villain, but neither character is seen in this black or white point of view. They're both portrayed as human with some bad judgment at times but are just trying to do what they think is right while coming to grips with the terms they have to endure. Lady Eboshi does see the devastation she causes towards the forest, but she does it to help her people and help give the women of her village more power so she can prosper in Japan while San wants to do right to please the gods of the forest and protect her home as she slowly untangles and comes to grips with her humanity despite her vast hatred of them.
"Princess Mononoke" is a film that truly is fantastic. The story is deep and filled with complex themes, the animation is stunning from its beautiful atmosphere to intense action, and the characters are all complex without coming across as black and white. This is really one of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki's very best films and it absolutely is a must-watch. This is an animated film that really does stand the test of time and its power will go on as it continues to inspire for generations.