When I decided to take part in the Blind Spot Series I came to the concussion that if I was going to take it seriously I would have to confront my biggest blind-spot, animation. After talking to people who know and love animated movies I decided to take their advice and pick a movie each from Studio Ghibli and Pixar. Having looked at the synopsis of a few movies I decided the Studio Ghibli production that appealed most was Princess Mononoke original title もののけ姫 or Mononoke-hime from 1997, written and directed by the legendry Hayao Miyazaki.
Ashitaka, a young warrior prince, saves his village from rampaging demon possessed boar-god, in the process his arm is cursed/infected making it a deadly weapon. Advised the infection will eventually take over his entire body and kill him, Ashitaka begins a quest to find a cure. Along the way he meets many strange people and creatures and finds himself in the middle of a battle between an industrialised village led by Lady Eboshi and the intelligent animal inhabitants of the forest and their gods. The gods of the forest include a wolf-god and her adoptive human daughter Princess Mononoke. Seeing good and bad in both sides Ashitaka tries to stop the killing and find peace but is met with suspicion and animosity on both sides.
A note on how I watched the film. The DVD I watched came with both the original Japanese dialogue and English subtitles as well as the English language version complete with star-studded Hollywood cast (including: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett Smith). I first watched the movie in its original form and am now playing the English language version in the background as I write this review. The English version isn’t bad despite some clunky dialogue but I do prefer watching movies as intended in their original language.
Hayao Miyazaki has sighted John Ford as an influence on this movie, I can see this and Akira Kurosawa in the epic nature of the story, the settings, the idea of a quest and the transparency with witch the subtext is demonstrated to the audience. Like Ford and Kurosawa, he isn’t afraid to depict violence, although it doesn’t in my eyes have the same impact in animated form. The story is basically good, with ideas, ideals and themes that are universal, this clearly explains the wide appeal. The thing that surprised me about a film seemingly aimed at a younger audience is how it follows the conventions of a three act manga movie (I have seen a few) intended for older viewers: An introduction to the setting and characters using standard liner storytelling and conventions of character development – a less interesting and less coherent middle with some philosophical deeper meaning and message – a finale involving a character introduced in the middle act turning into a god and/or daemon and going bat-shit crazy before being destroyed or appeased and finding a satisfactory conclusion.
The most notable thing about the movie for me is the way it looks, it is clearly Japanese making it very different to the works of Disney or DreamWorks, but more than that, it is clearly traditional hand drawn cel animation and not computer animation (although I understand there is some computer animation used) and all the better for it. Although I haven’t researched the style of the art, I get the impression it is inspired by Japanese art (possibly from the period the film is set). Whatever the inspiration, it does look beautiful at times, but I can’t help my prejudice, I would rather see a live action movie. There are times when I felt I was been preached at from multiple angles. The overriding message of conservation is overt through much of the film. The depiction of opposing characters who appear to be different races (or nationalities) point to an idea of acceptance and equality. My first impression was that I had seen it all done before, but it is worth remembering the film came out in 1997 long before many similar themed movies that came to mind while I was watching it, I suspect James Cameron has seen it more than once! To give it credit, although neither message is subtle, I can’t complain too much as they are good messages to depict especially to a young and impressionable audience. What I do have a problem with is the length, at around two and a quarter hours, it could easily have been trimmed by half an hour to make a tighter more concise movie that held the attention better.
In pointing out my problems with the movie it probably comes across that I didn’t enjoy it, I am pleased to report this isn’t the case. There is lots to like, admire and indeed enjoy in the film and I did enjoy watching it, however it didn’t charm or wow me enough to make me want to rush out and watch the rest of the Studio Ghibli movies (or animation in general). I would recommend it to any fan of animation and have to admit it has softened my opinion to some degree, I think I can safely say if a Ghibli film were to come on TV I may give it a chance, where in the past I would probably wouldn’t have. I will revisit animation later in the series, having already seen the Toy Story movies I will most likely watch WALL·E or Up.
You can see what Ryan and all the other Blind Spot contributors watched this month HERE.