Reviewed by Alexandra Seidel
Princess Mononoke was released 1997 in Japan (1999 inNorth America) and has since received much praise from critics. It was created by Miyazaki Hayato of Studio Ghibli.
This review contains as few spoilers as possible so you can still enjoy the movie in case you haven’t seen it yet.
Here is what Princess Mononoke is: raw and beautiful, painful to watch at times, bitter, cathartic. It is set in medieval Japan, the Muromachi period to be precise. The viewer sees the old clash with the new, human evolution, especially the development of mining and firearms, are pitted against unrestrained nature. What is interesting about Mononoke is that the forces of nature come to us in the traditional shapes that Japanese folklore has long assigned them, gods and spirits who inhabit and give life to trees and living creatures as well as the land itself. In Japanese, these are referred to as “mononoke.”
InMiyazaki’s creation, these mononoke though are decidedly not apart from the world of humans, and they are certainly concerned about what happens in this world. Their concern however turns to active hostility as humans continue to disregard them. In the middle of the conflict between the ancient spirits of the land and the human’s desire to move forward no matter the cost, we find San, a young woman who was adopted into a family of spirit wolves. As such, she represents the old way of life, for she is the person who is most closely connected with the mononoke. In the human corner, if you will, there is Lady Eboshi, a forceful woman who is made great by her compassion for the pariahs of society. She is the kind of person whose vision is a better life for all people, no matter where they come from. These two extremes are bridged in the movie by the young Ashitaka who is himself an outsider. It is through his eyes that we can see the good, but also the faults in both sides, and just like him, we find ourselves hoping that there is a way to resolve the conflict without everything going up in flames, without terribly losses for both sides.
Princess Mononoke may not be the most current anime production there is, but the issues raised here are issues that every generation has to discover anew for itself: part with the old and look only ahead or honor custom and ritual. Only the problem is, things are never that easy, and this is what Monononke shows us in its relentless visual language, so if you are up for that and have not yet seen Princess Mononoke, I recommend that you have at it.
Alexandra Seidel is a Rhysling nominated poet, writer, and editor. She has a powerful affection for the unreal and strange, the weird, the wicked, and naturally, the beautiful. She loves speculative writing because all these things come together there with the power to create universes. Oh, she also likes tigers, who doesn’t.
Alexa’s work has appeared in Jabberwocky, Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, and elsewhere. Her first book, “All Our Dark Lovers,” is forthcoming in 2013 from Morrigan Books. She is the poetry editor for Niteblade and the managing editor of Fantastique Unfettered. You can read her blog (which she really tries to update once or twice a month) at www.tigerinthematchstickbox.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @Alexa_Seidel.