Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • PG
  • Adventure, Animation
  • 1997
  • 133 mins

Princess Mononoke

Film4 Princess Mononoke

Synopsis

A young warrior prince gets involved in the conflict between magical beasts and ruthlessly progressive humans in this mature, complex, epic anime from Hayao Miyazaki

Critic's Review

Like pretty much all anime, Princess Mononoke builds toward cataclysm. It's understandable that mass destruction is a recurrent theme - after all, Japan is the only country to have suffered the atomic bomb first hand. However, whereas most anime films feature high-tech battles in modern cities, Princess Mononoke's climactic destruction has a refreshingly different setting - a mythologised 14th century landscape.

This setting is brought to life with utter magnificence by anime master Hayao Miyazaki - who has been praised in no uncertain terms by the likes of Toy Story creator John Lasseter ("Not a day goes by that I do not utilize the tools learned from studying his films").

Despite the period setting, the themes of the film are pertinent and modern: the effects of the human drive to better ourselves through technology, and the environmental repercussions of such ambition.

The hero of the piece is Ashitaka (voiced in Neil Gaiman's English translation by Billy Crudup), a young warrior prince who contracts a terminal infection while protecting his village from a horrifying marauding demon. Ashitaka discovers that a war is being waged between humanity and nature when he meets Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver), a matriarch who has founded a city to smelt iron and manufacture firearms. Eboshi's chief enemy is San, or Princess Mononoke (voiced with inappropriate brattiness by Claire Danes), the adopted human daughter of Moro (Gillian Anderson), a wolf god, whose clan, along with the boar clan and the other forest creatures, is suffering from Eboshi's ruthless deforestation.

Avoiding pastoral sentimentality and a simple condemnation of human technological progress, Princess Mononoke is a complex, intriguing moral tale. With her reliance on iron and gunpowder, Eboshi exemplifies human drive at the expense of the environment. But even she has a moral dimension - her employees are women she liberates from a life in brothels, lepers and other outcasts, whose dignity she restores. Her actions and ambitions challenge the supremacy of the traditional feudal overlords. Even the hero, Ashitaka, is ambivalent - he's loyal to neither the humans nor the magic animals, instead he tries to mediate ("What I want is for the humans and the forest to live together in peace," he says with earnest simplicity.)

Despite the familiar cartoon look of the characters, the film's overall artistry - which merits comparison with Terrence Malick and Akira Kurosawa in places - matches the sophistication of its story.

In a nutshell: All Miyazaki's films are masterpieces, but Princess Mononoke may just have the edge. One of the greatest anime films ever made.

By Daniel Etherington

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Minnie Driver, Jada Pinkett Smith, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, Billy Crudup, Keith David
  • Director: Hayao Miyazaki
  • Screen Writer: Neil Gaiman, Jack Fletcher, Hayao Miyazaki
  • Producer: Toshio Suzuki
  • Photographer: Atsushi Okui
  • Composer: Joe Hisaishi

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4

    The Five-Year Engagement

    Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are Tom and Violet, a happy couple whose plans to marry become increasingly hopeless. Co-starring Chris Pratt and a host of sit-com favourites, expect sincerely romantic moments amongst Segel's signature frat boy humour.

    On Film4: 4 Aug 9:00PM

  • Film4

    Maidan

    Documentary portrait of the winter 2013/14 Ukrainian demonstrations in Kiev against the pro-Moscow presidency of Viktor Yanukovych and for a greater integration with Europe.

  • Film4

    Damsels in Distress on Film4

    Whit Stillman returns to directing, with a twee comedy that follows Greta Gerwig and her pompous college buddies as they set about improving campus life for all

  • Film4

    The Five-Year Engagement on Film4

    Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are Tom and Violet, a happy couple whose plans to marry become increasingly hopeless. Co-starring Chris Pratt and a host of sit-com favourites, expect sincerely romantic moments amongst Segel's signature frat boy humour.

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

  • Film4 Studio Ghibli

    Studio Ghibli

    All you need to know about Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli

  • Film4

    Saoirse Ronan

    On lending her voice to the English-language version of Arrietty

Share