REVIEW: Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is a Studio Ghibli film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki that follows a young man who searches for a forest spirit that can lift his curse, one that was inflicted upon him by a possessed demon boar. This is one of Miyazaki’s darker films, depicting the way in which human progress often comes at the expense of nature, as well as at the expense of other humans. 

The key players in this film and what make it worth watching are a young woman named San who was raised by wolves, and Lady Eboshi, the woman who runs a nearby town where her ironworks provide the primary source of income. Eboshi actively seeks to rid the forest of San and the wolves in order to expand her town and presence as a threat to other villages. The forest is represented by the Deer, Wolf, and Boar Gods, who seek to protect their home and clearly voice their hatred for humans. The way the relationship between humans and the environment is particularly compelling, with demons being created by the violence perpetrated by the humans of Irontown, and Eboshi justifying her actions as Irontown provides a safe space for sex workers and lepers. Eboshi is the clear antagonist of the film and is driven by greed, but I find it interesting that she also sees the forest as a source of evil, and believes San was corrupted by the animals in the forest. I always find it interesting when an antagonist is more interesting than the protagonist – Ashitaka is a little boring – and I also really enjoyed how the forest was essentially a living creature, represented by the Gods and San, all acting defensively with reason to hate the humans. 

Another aspect of the film worth noting is the animation. Studio Ghibli is known for its whimsical background and character designs, and Princess Mononoke continues this trend, but also incorporates more violent imagery to go along with its themes. There are several fight sequences in this film, the best being a confrontation between Lady Eboshi and San early on. I particularly loved the animation for San’s movements, how quick and aggressive she ran and fought, and how acrobatic her technique was at the same time. One of my favorite shots from the film is in this scene: it is from San’s point of view as she charges head on at Eboshi, who remains centered in the frame as the townsfolk scatter out of the frame.

I also loved the design of the demon that Ashitaka fights in the beginning of the film and again, I love the movement. The way it crawls is terrifying and the tendrils coming out of its body are disgusting yet mesmerizing to watch (click the image to see for yourself). 

There is so much to appreciate about Princess Mononoke – its themes, characters, technical aspects, and more. It is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films and perhaps one of their more underrated films – and I highly recommend it. 

PREVIEW: Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is a 1997 Studio Ghibli film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film takes place somewhere between 1336-1573 AD, during Japan’s Muromachi period, but incorporates the fantasy elements Studio Ghibli is known for. Exploring themes of the environment – primarily humans’ relationship with and their dependency on nature – the film follows a prince who finds himself wrapped up in a conflict between the forest spirits and a nearby town. 

I have grown up watching Studio Ghibli films but was always afraid to watch Princess Mononoke because of the more violent imagery compared to that of My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. While Miyazaki is known for these children’s films, he often touches on themes of war, such as in his film Porco Rosso. About making Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki has said: “I learned that mankind doesn’t learn. After [Porco Rosso], we couldn’t go back and make some film like Kiki’s Delivery Service. It felt like children were being born to this world without being blessed. How could we pretend to them that we’re happy?” I watched Princess Mononoke recently and loved how it touched on heavier topics, with a hopeful ending that at the same time is not escapist, and does not undo all of the strife that had been depicted throughout the film. I highly recommend watching this film, especially in theaters. 

Princess Mononoke will be playing on Friday, February 4 at 10pm as part of the Michigan Theater’s Late Nights series. 

REVIEW: Princess Mononoke

The story begins in ancient Japan, during a time of warring villages and samurai and monsters.  Prince Ashitaka of the Emishi people is defending his village from a demon boar when he becomes cursed by the demon, and as a result he is given super-human strength while also that same power threatens to kill him from the inside.  In an effort to find the source of the curse, Ashitaka follows the cause of the demon’s suffering, a ball of iron, to a mining town that is using the iron to build weapons.  Traveling far to the west, he meets the Princess Mononoke in the forests, riding on the back of a large white wolf.  In this time period, gods still exist amongst animals, they are larger than life forms of the animals we know today, and are intelligent and able to talk with humans.  But something in the world is changing this.  More and more animals are born unable to speak and the cause of this seems to lie with the humans.

Ashitaka takes up residence in the town that is creating the iron, but he is unable to convince them to stop their mining and manufacturing.  The manufacturing force is comprised largely of former prostitutes and men and women ostracized from society by diseases such as leprosy.  They have come to this town and found a better lifestyle which they are prepared to defend.  Their mining efforts continue and Ashitaka leaves the town to see if he can find the Princess Mononoke again.

There is a theme of growth and change in the movie, not just in the changing of the humans relationship between themselves and the environment, but also the change from a feudal society to one that is contemplating contemporary problems in an ancient civilization.  Though the town is creating problem with its iron production, it is also making significant changes in societal norms.  Women and men’s roles are divided such that men do the fighting and women stay home and make the iron.  The disabled are in charge of design and innovation of new technologies, and each person contributes equally to the society so no one group is considered higher above the other.

As the human society seems to be propelling towards the future that we know today, the animals and the spirits of the natural world are heading towards their respective future in contemporary society.  As mining destroys mountain homes and humans support deforestation, the animals are being pushed further and further away from their homes and from their roles as intelligent beings.  The role of animal gods and forest spirits is changing from one that exists in parallel to the human world to one that will only belong in fables and story-telling.  The wolf goddess, the mother to the wolf-girl Princess Mononoke, knows that the world is growing larger than the animals, and that the existence of spirits will soon become a memory to the humans.  But Princess Mononoke, who sees herself as a wolf born in the body of a human, chooses to fight for her place in the world.  She does not fit with the humans, but through the fighting she learns that she does not fit completely in the world of the animals either.  Prince Ashitaka inevitably falls in love with the Princess, for he dreams of a society where humans and animals live in harmony, or the embodiment of what the Princess represents.  He and the princess work together to stop the humans and animals from fighting, but the war culminates in the death of two great animal gods, as well as the cutting off of the head of the forest spirit.  There is death on both sides, as it goes with war.  The humans, now displaced and their iron works destroyed, have a post-apocalypse hopefulness and plan to move on and build a better town founded on better values.  The forest spirit no longer takes the physical form it used to, but Ashitaka emphasizes at the end that the forest spirit is not dead, he exists instead in a form invisible to humans.

Preview: Porco Rosso – State Theater


What: Porco Rosso – Film
Where: State Theater
When: Wednesday 12 November, 7pm
How Much: $8 Student, $10 General Admission

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and released in 1992, ‘Porco Rosso’ follows an Italian WWI flying ace now acting as a bounty hunter targeting “air pirates.” A Strange curse transforms him into an anthropomorphic pig. Magic, action, love and intrigue drive this youthful and entertaining plot.

Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service


Released in Japan in 1989, ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ was written, produced and directed by Hayao Miyazaki as an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono. The film was brought to the US in 1997 by The Walt Disney Corporation.

The story follows Kiki, a young witch, who goes to town with her black cat, Jiji, to make a living on her mandatory year away from her family to train. Kiki makes friends with the villagers as she delivers packages around town. A young by named Tombo follows her around. He is an inventor of flying machines and admires her flying abilities.

Kiki has a crisis of identity as she momentarily loses an the ability to fly and has a harder time understanding her feline companion. Kiki regains self confidence after she saves Tombo and others from an airship accident. She remains in the town and resumes her delivery service in contentment.


The film is very much about coming of age, moving away from home and the familiar to grow from a child into a young adult.

There are noticeable differences in plot between the Japanese and American versions of this film. In the American version, Kiki reunites with Jiji which does not occur in the original Japanese. Cultural references are also changed to become more timeless and thus more relatable over time.


The next film in The State Theater Ghibli Series will show on Wednesday 5 November at 7pm, ‘Grave of the Fireflies.’

REVIEW: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Hayao Miyazaki is someone that never ceases to amaze me.  This maverick in the anime film industry has one of the largest filmographies out there, and all of his movies are worthy of praise. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is no exception.

Even Nausicaa agrees.  Source:

I walked into the State Theater with a sense of expectation. My first experiences with Studio Ghibli movies were when I was about nine years old. Toonami, a special weekend block on the old Cartoon Network, showed preview segments for what they called a “Month of Miyazaki.” If I remember well, the movies they showed over the course of that month were Princess Mononoke, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Princess Mononoke, arguably Miyazaki’s best film, is very much about the interaction between humans and nature. Laputa: Castle in the Sky, on the other hand, is about the human fascination with technology. It’s interesting to note that the same underlying themes exist in nearly all Miyazaki films. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind thus felt like a portmanteau of Princess Mononoke and Laputa, as it combined Miyazaki’s fascination with technology (mainly aviation) and his feelings on the role of humans within nature. It’s curious too, that Nausicaä was one of his first films.

Nausicaä starts out in distress as a large insect called an Ohm is chasing after a local swordsman, Lord Yupa. Our title heroine comes to the rescue and stuns the Ohm, thus saving Lord Yupa’s life. We soon find out that the reason the Ohm was unhappy was that there were gunshots fired in its habitat. The rest of the movie focuses on this theme of humans within nature, with the trigger-happy Tolmekian army attempting to control the Earth’s natural resources for iron ore. This enrages the Ohms, who can be thought as a metaphor for mother Earth. Mother Earth comes out on top, as she does in all Miyazaki films, and peace is restored to the land. The cathartic ending resounded favorably amongst the audience, who were expecting nothing less from Studio Ghibli.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was released in Japan in 1984 and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and based on Miyazaki’s Manga of the same name. It has received much critical acclaim and is regarded as the kickoff film for Studio Ghibli.