Princess Mononoke is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. Personally, I consider it Miyazaki’s masterpiece, beyond even Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, and Spirited Away. Since the film has been re-released in a few theaters, I want to look back at the movie, and talk about what I think is the most remarkable aspect of a remarkable film.
Princess Mononoke was not a sure bet. Miyazaki hadn’t made a truly serious film since Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind back in 1984, and most of his studio’s movies were aimed at children. But Miyazaki looked back at early sketches he’d done in the 1970s, that featured a girl married off to a monster, and felt the need to make a film about the battle between civilization and wilderness. He created a male protagonist, and axed his monster (it looked a lot like the Totoro’s friend the Catbus) and decided that the princess herself would be the monster. Over two years he pulled a film together at a pace that can only be considered heroic—out of the 144,000 cels created, Miyazaki personally redrew over 80,000. The film that emerged was complex, ambiguous, and definitely not for small children. It delved into Japan’s past, offering a look at people on the cusp of modernity, and portraying pre-modern Japan was far more diverse than previously traditional depictions.