Anime wasn’t a big feature in my home growing up. The first anime I got the chance to enjoy was an old Macross from the ’80s — a relic from my dad’s collection. Though I liked the big ships and some of the characters, I couldn’t really relate to it. It wasn’t until a friend bought me Princess Mononoke on DVD as a Christmas present that I watched a non-Macross anime.
I was hesitant about watching it, at first. I knew so little about anime — not much has changed there — but I decided that watching a movie about a wolf princess was probably better than letting the film collect dust. After all, if my beloved Gillian Anderson was voice acting in the movie, it was probably a little amazing. (Mad Scully crush over here, folks. I regret nothing.)
It was my first Studio Ghibli experience and I remember that it was the artwork that struck me first. Macross’ simple lines and dark ink was in stark contrast with Miyazaki’s lush landscapes and saturated palettes. Over the years, I’ve found most anime to be unrelenting with overwrought character design and architecture but each time I return to Princess Mononoke, it’s peaceful. Stirring, yes, but peaceful all the same.
Ultimately, it was the music that held the most sway over me as my first viewing progressed. The transitions between frenetic, chromatic scales that demarcate corruption and the sweeping orchestral arrangements of the forests told as much of a story as the characters and dialogue. When attended with care, music can become a character all on its own; many of Miyazaki’s films demonstrate this, but it’s Princess Mononoke that seems to do it best.
The first glimpse I had at Princess Mononoke herself — San — I wasn’t surprised at her wildness. She is, of course, a wolf princess. It was her ferocity and barely-contained rage that my adolescent self seemed to identify with. Here was a girl who cared nothing for the precepts or expectations of “civilized” society. She was called to a higher purpose: saving her forest home from deforestation and corruption. She would stop at nothing to have that purpose realized.
“[Miyazaki’s] coming-of-age stories for little girls showcase little girls, not grown women. And in these stories, a girl’s salvation comes not from romantic love or manly rescue but from her own confidence, bravery, and sense of wonder.” — Noy Thrupkaew
What I love most about Princess Mononoke is what it taught me about growing up. There were no easy decisions and no black and white characters to point me to good and evil. Each encounter between San and the outside world tested her viewpoints and challenged her notions of what it meant to be human. San matured through loss, yet still managed to rise to each occasion through sheer force of will. She didn’t stop when it looked impossible. She gritted her teeth and kept fighting.
Even though it wasn’t apparent to anyone but Ashitaka — our cursed, and somehow stalwart protagonist — San’s true nature was heavily-tinted with a naive innocence. She fought because she was honour-bound to the wolf-goddess Moro. I loved that underneath her prickly exterior, she was a good daughter and put her family above any other concern. Family comes first is a maxim I was (and am) very familiar with. San’s courage and fierce dedication to her home and her family have continued to be an inspiration to me over the years.
Princess Mononoke was a formative film for me. Even though it’s been 15 years since I first saw it, its story is as important now as it was then. Each viewing since that first one revealed another layer of the story that I didn’t notice in previous viewings. Its subtle complexity and exquisite beauty makes it a compelling watch for those familiar with Miyazaki’s films and especially for those that are new to Studio Ghibli’s artistry.
I hope that families for many years to come will enjoy Princess Mononoke’s many, many gifts — just as I did. (And I look forward to sharing said gifts with my children when they’re ready to come of age.)
(Original Post: The Daily Crate)