Vox Nova At The Movies: Princess Mononoke

Vox Nova At The Movies: Princess Mononoke July 7, 2007

If Grave of the Fireflies is one of the best movies about war, Studio Ghibli, the animation studio which made it, also created one of the greatest films about mediation in Princess Mononoke. Like Grave, Mononoke is an animated feature, but it probably would not be suitable for little kids. It’s a violent film, but the violence serves a great purpose in the story. The violence is important and if it were not in the film, much of its message would be lost.

What makes this movie spectacular, and in a category all of its own, is not its animation (which is beautiful), but the story, and how throughout its telling, it constantly contradicts the expectations of the viewer.

When the viewer first watches the film, they start making general observations, looking for people to represent typical movie roles. When they encounter Lady Eboshi, the leader of Iron Town, it is easy for them to think “aha, she’s the villain.” While there is some truth in this, the movie works to undermine this perspective. The so-called villain, while a flawed individual, is not in reality a villain; indeed, as the story progresses, you learn to respect and understand her. She has done a great amount of good for her people, showing great care and compassionm of a kind which could almost seem super-human. What is true here is also true with most of the characters we meet; what we think we know about them changes as the movie develops.

Our perspective in this film comes from the eyes of the hero, Ashitaka, who is striving to free himself from a curse. He sees beyond the sectarian positions, beyond the hate, and strives to be a mediator between them all so that the violence can be brought to an end. He is, as with everyone else, flawed, and as we see, he is not capable of entirely achieving his goal. Despite the tragedy at the end, his mediation itself ends in a moderate success. Indeed, it is at the eucatastrophic climax that we see how much he has been able to accomplish. The ending is not simplistic; it is not utopian, where everyone lives together in peace and harmony. Yet, through his labor, through his love, reconciliation of sorts is able to be had between many involved in the central conflict seen throughout the movie, and the beginnings of peace is had .

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