Princess Mononoke is a masterpiece. Watching this was a surreal experience. The film captured my every sense, leaving me ultimately stunned. The first hour and a half of this film are exciting and intense, challenging your conventions towards animation, and even film, as a whole. The last 45 minutes, though, are among the most breathtaking I have ever seen.
The film, created by master anime wizard, Hayao Miyazaki, is placed in the fanciful world of ancient warriors and powerful forest gods. The picture begins with Ash*taka, a young man who is stricken with a deadly curse after fighting with a wild boar. He sets off into the forest to find the only thing that can heal him. While journeying, he runs into a wealthy mining town. One of the leaders is Lady Eboshi, who is determined to war with the creatures to make the land more profitable. Ash*taka finds himself in the middle of this war when he meets San, a young girl raised by wolves.
One great thing about the way Miyazaki's pictures work is how he structures them. They don't tell "a" story. They are multi-layered pieces of art, that tell can't be reduced to just a plot-line. Easily the most recognizable layer in the film is the relationship between man and nature. The underlying theme of every angle the picture takes is how we view the living world around us. But don't think that the movie becomes an environmental sermon. No, the picture has a wondrous way of capturing both sides, both motives, without favoring one. We see both the dark and beautiful sides of biological nature, as well as human nature.
That's another way the films broadens its scope. It speaks of natural human ambitions and relationships. It builds upon courage, pride, fear, revenge, and sacrifice. Princess Mononoke's emotional scope is the most mature I've ever seen an animated film take. The elements covered are deep, dark, and foreboding. The film pierces its subject matter and offers no derivatives.
Princess Mononoke was animated not because it is a children's film (there is much too much violence and confusingly dark elements for that). The film was animated because to try and film this outrageous tale would be impossible. That's the wonder of Miyazaki's films. They are never scaled back because something can't be done. They are always at, or even above, the highest levels imaginable.
Just when you think you've seen it all, the film grows grander and more astounding. As the climactic scenes began, I was utterly awestruck. The colors and motions had a vibrancy and life to them. The creatures and landscaping had imagination that supersedes the technological wonders of today. The wonder, the power, the energy within this picture made me feel like a little kid again--my eyes unblinking, my mouth in an open smile; completely unconcerned with all that was around me.
At first, Princess Mononoke is a mental challenge. It presents ideas and conflicts that take time to understand fully. The character's motivations are clouded. There is so much presented, that keeping track of it all is a battle in itself. Eventually, though, everything becomes clear. Midway through, the film ceases its exposition and begins to storm its way into action.
As the plot picks up pace, the characters begin to act upon their convictions. Everything that was unclear suddenly floods the screen in reality. The film becomes darker and more eminent. Threats become fates, missions become actions. As your mind settles down (though it is still actively at work, mind you), your physical side begins to pick up. Tense moments and thrilling action send your heart-rate rocketing.
While the action still continues, the animation bursts into the most glorious display of life and majesty. I can't describe the amazement I felt in the last third of the film. Each stroke of animation is the freest stroke of artistic imagination and prowess. Princess Mononoke works magically as a hypnotic eyegasm in every way. This is the most visually-stunning animated film I have seen.
What shocked me the most were the climatic scenes of the film. While everything you could possibly imagine is hard at work, the film layers itself one last time into an emotionally heartbreaking and uplifting piece. Princess Mononoke is accompanied by one of the most beautiful scores I've heard that gives each scene of sacrifice, revenge, and love, a working heartbeat.
I can't praise this film enough. It is a visual, mental, and emotional triumph on every level. Princess Mononoke defies every conventional boundary set for animation and filmmaking as a whole. Every artistic stroke breathes inspiration and life from a man who put everything into his project. This is Miyazaki's masterpiece, a picture that rewards its audience not by showing you how much you loved its own accomplishments, but that reminds you why you love to keep watching films--so that one day, like now, you can be completely and wonderfully amazed.