Movie #1 2021: Princess Mononoke (1997)

We’re back to square one! The first movie of 2021; the first movie in a batch of first watches for me in a new year. To say I’m excited about that is an under-statement, and to the 10 people who actually read my reviews here: I do hope you’ll continue to enjoy this as much as I do.

Princess Mononoke begins my year in movies. Why did I choose it? It was a safe bet. I’ve been a huge fan of Studio Ghibli in the past and this one has generally favourable reviews. Kicking off the year with something terrible was not on my agenda. This 1997 entry into Ghibli’s catalogue sees a prince become cursed by a demonic God in the shape of a boar, and he begins a long journey to the west in order to find a cure for his impending death. What he comes across however is unexpected: he meets a human woman named San, who is fighting to protect the forest from a tribe led by Lady Eboshi, who seeks to destroy it. He soon realises that he must strive to find some balance and compromise to solve their conflict.

Everything I said was correct: this was a great way to start 2021.

Princess Mononoke has possibly the most impressive and beautiful animation of any Studio Ghibli film I’ve seen this far. The landscaping, the way the animals move, the hair: all breath-taking. That’s not to say it’s my favourite Ghibli movie thus far, but more on that later.

Impossible to ignore, the story here has so much to adore. It’s complex, but easy to follow at the same time. Beneath it all? An over-riding message about preserving the environment, bipartisanship, and not judging a book by its cover, which are great things to teach everyone – not just children. Princess Mononoke certainly has a more adult tone to it than other Ghibli movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service, to use one example, and that’s absolutely fine by me.

Though I truly loved the plot and the concept, this Ghibli script doesn’t seem as sharp or “to the point” as others. At 134 minutes, it is certainly lengthy for an animated movie, and the longest by Ghibli that I’ve watched up to now. Personally, I still prefer Totoro and Spirited Away, and this just seemed a little long and not quite as well-edited. Despite that, the visuals are stunning, albeit not as overtly bright and colourful as the aforementioned.

When all is said and done, there’s some great humour, characters that are easy to love, and some of the purest, prettiest and most visually pleasing animation you’ll ever come across. Of course, the version I watched was dubbed with some impressive voice acting from the likes of Gillian Anderson and Minnie Driver, whom excel at encapsulating the spirit of the film.

Despite not being as perfect as other movies in their filmography, Studio Ghibli continued to impress me with this one.

Princess Mononoke is available to stream on Netflix in the UK.

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