Mononoke Hime (Japan 1997)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/29/00
Alternate Title: The Princess Mononoke
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Another beautifully rendered cautionary tale of ecological terror from master Miyazaki. In feudal Japan, a young boy named Ashitaki kills a rampaging forest god and receives a fatal curse. He travels to the West to find a cure, and to discover where the angry forest god came from. During his journey, he encounters a village of steel workers and learns that their leader, a headstrong woman named Eboshi, is responsible for angering the forest. He also meets a young girl named San, who was raised by wolves and fights to protect the forest. Poor Ashitaki has to find a way for the forest and the humans to live in harmony, while dealing with his own poisoned body, selfish power-mad humans, and forest spirits whose hatred of mankind blinds them with rage. Gorgeous animation, a moving musical score, captivating characters, and horrific scenes of violence and bloody carnage highlight this morality play which went on to become the highest grossing film in Japanese history.

It's an intensely angry film - unlike Miyazaki's other films that go for the heart, "Mononoke" goes straight for the throat. As such, it somewhat lacks that sense of magical charm that Miyazaki's other works have. It also suffers (like a great many Japanese films) from being really slow. I don't see this film being well received by American audiences due to its slow pace, its violent nature, and its deep and controversial theme of Man vs. Nature (you should still see it anyway). That, and American audiences have yet to consider animation a medium for serious material. Hopefully I'll be proved wrong when Disney/Miramax releases the film domestically.