My Thoughts: PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997)


Ever since I watched (and fell in love with) Spirited Away, I have been constantly told that there is another Studio Ghibli film that if not better than Spirited Away, is of the same caliber. That film was Princess Mononoke. I’ve finally gotten around to seeing it (the English dub) and here are my thoughts.

Princess Mononoke takes place in Japan during the Muromachi period (1337-1573). In this land though exist humans, gods, demons, and other interesting creatures. Literally 3-4 minutes into the movie, a young prince named Ashitaka, voiced by Billy Crudup, is attacked by a demon boar. Ashitaka successfully kills the boar, but not before the inner demon inside the boar leaves its mark on Ashitaka slowly turning him into a demon himself.

Why do demons always materialize via bodily oddities?
Why do demons always materialize via bodily oddities?

Searching for a cure for this curse, Ashitaka sets out on a quest to find the Spirit of the Forest who he believes can help. Along the journey, he comes across a monk/mercenary named Jibo, voiced by Billy Bob Thornton,

Being a monk and a mercenary seems kinda oxymoronic.
Being a monk and a mercenary seems kinda oxymoronic.

a leader of an iron-making town called Irontown, Lady Eboshi, voiced by Minnie Driver,

"Nobody complains about my bad naming skills when I have a gun in my hands."
“Nobody complains about my bad naming skills when I have a gun in my hands.”

and the eponymous human princess who has been raised by wolf gods, Princess Mononoke, voiced by Claire Danes.

"Hi-ho, Sven, away!"
“Hi-ho, Sven, away!”

As he interacts with these people, his eyes open to a battle between human and gods, between humans and animals, between industrialization and nature, and between him and most everybody else.

Let me just say that this movie’s praise is well-deserved. This film is really good! I personally think Spirited Away is better than it, but it doesn’t take anything away from this film.

What makes this film good? Well, there are many things. Firstly, I’m a fan of the themes presented in the movie…well, more so in how they were presented. For example, a big aspect of the film has to do with the industrialization vs. environmentalism debate. The movie doesn’t say that any side is wrong or incorrect. Yes, the film has a bias towards one side, that being the side of environmentalism, but it still doesn’t fully disparage the industrialist side either. It shows the harm that may come from industrialization, but also the benefits that industrialization brings to mankind, individually and collectively.

The film also deals with issues of fate and dealing with things that may seem out of your control. It teaches us that we still have to strive towards a goal we want in life before we can say “This is impossible.” or “It’s totally hopeless.”. Sometimes miracles can happen that grant us the successes we want; sometimes we can’t get what we want in life. But, we still have to strive!

Even bodily demons can be vanquished.
Even bodily demons can be vanquished.

Secondly, the characters in this film are pretty well-written and able to be identified with. In fact, Lady Eboshi is probably the most complex female character…or maybe even character…that I have ever seen in a film. She’s an iron magnate producing and selling iron to keep her town and citizens thriving. She’s an enemy to all animals and gods in the forests and shoots them without thinking twice.

She’s a compassionate ruler who gives rights to women and lepers all while not looking down upon men or saying that women are better. She’s willing to work with mercenaries to kill the gods she needs dead. She allows people with different points of view/following different schools of thought to voice their opinions/do what they think is right and apologizes when she’s wrong. She has no desire for any part of the forest surviving and wants to make Princess Mononoke a human being again. Is she a heroine? Is she a villain? Should we love her? Should we hate her? The questions never end.

"Well, when I'm holding a gun, you better consider me a heroine."
“Well, when I’m holding a gun, you better consider me a heroine.”

Thirdly, the animation in this film is extremely gorgeous and creative just like we expect Studio Ghibli films to be.



Ok, this just scares me!
Ok, this just scares me!

The last thing, I have to say about this movie is that it’s rated PG-13 and rightly so. This is probably the most violent, gory, and bloody film that I’ve ever seen in my life (I generally don’t watch R-rated movies with a few exceptions)! People are decapitated, people’s arms are chopped off, animals are killed, animals are bleeding, etc. Just look at some of these screenshots!




Ok, this still scares me!
Ok, this still scares me!

Yeah, it’s a bloody…bloody film. There is also talk of prostitutes and brothels, so this film is definitely not child-friendly. But, if you’re old enough and a fan of Studio Ghibli, I recommend that you check it out.


19 thoughts on “My Thoughts: PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997)”

  1. Very well done. I totally agree with you on this one. Lady Eboshi is a very complex character and it looks so stunning. I also agree about the violence. It is strong violence but somehow it works with the tone and feel of the movie. Definitely not for small children but I liked that. They didn’t try to please everyone and just made a film for a smaller audience.
    It’s a hard movie to describe and make it sound compelling, so I just tell people- go see it!

    1. Thank you! I think I’ve asked you this before, but what is your favorite Studio Ghibli film?

      I feel if the Academy Awards had a Best Animated Film category in 1997, this film would most definitely have won.

      1. My favorite is Spirited Away because it surprised me more than just about any other movie I’ve seen. I had no idea what was coming next. It’s stunning.
        I totally agree on 1997 Oscars.

  2. This is a great film and the dub is probably one of the best ever done for an anime in general, it is definitely the best of the Studio Ghibli dubs. The English script alone is spectacular.

    I haven’t watched it many times though, since it can be something of a slog to get through if you aren’t in the mood.

    1. Yeah, the movie is quite long and not exactly the most fast-paced movie. I think it’s the 2nd longest animated movie ever made if I remember correctly.

      And yeah, the dub felt like it was the original thing. The only thing that felt a bit out of place or Hollywood-y was Billy Bob Thornton’s voice acting. Other than that, I had no problems with it.

  3. That is one of those movies I respect but don’t really enjoy on a personal level. It is certainly the best “ecologic awareness” animated movie out there and yet, I have so much trouble to connect to the main character that I just can’t get invested in it.

  4. Great review! I’ve seen this film along with all of the other Miyazaki films. It’s not one of my favorites, but like all of his films it’s still good. I relate more to Nausicaa than to this one.

  5. I’ll have to see this movie sometime. The only Studio Ghibli movie I’ve seen is Spirited Away, so I’ve been meaning to watch more of their movies.

  6. Hi Mark! CrystalFaerie here 🙂 I thought I’d check out the link to your blog and found this post! Princess Mononoke is one of my favourite movies, if not my favourite. I saw it when I was 7-8 years old (pretty young for a PG-13 movie, but the awesomeness of the rest made up for it) and still love it. I’m glad you enjoyed it too!
    And I’ll be keeping an eye on your blog from now on 🙂

      1. Hi again Mark! Sorry, didn’t see your answer right away. Surprisingly, given that I’m very sensitive to violence in general, I wasn’t affected by the violence in the movie at all. I saw it all as part of the story. It’s also animated, so it’s less scary that it could’ve been!

  7. When I first watched PRINCESS MONONOKE a couple of years ago, I was rather unnerved by the highly graphic violence in it; I guess I’m not accustomed to seeing it in animation. As a result, I wasn’t sure I would want to see it more than once. However, I have since rewatched it a couple of times.

    Of all of the environmental films I’ve seen that aren’t documentaries, this one has to be one of the most engrossing, and it does indeed succeed in portraying the two sides of the debate in a mostly objective way, although we all root for the animal kingdom and the spirits of the earth. Of course, this film intentionally deals with the natural world on its broadest level; for one that presents a look at the current ongoing environmental war as seen through the plight of one particular species with the same level of emotional involvement, I’d suggest that one look at Jim Henson’s THE SONG OF THE CLOUD FOREST (with a golden toad as its main character, although the film was completed little more than two months after the last golden toad was seen in the wild [cruelly ironic, huh?]).

    (If that last paragraph doesn’t explicitly state it, I gravitate the most to films that make viewers stop and think about how everything we do affects the universe as a whole. As Dr. Jane Goodall once said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”)

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