Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫)

In East Asia, animated movies are created for and enjoyed by adults and children alike. Every year or so, Studio Ghibli from Japan releases an animated movie that garners critical acclaim across this region. I have read quite a few manga and watched a few anime series, but somehow always missed out on Studio Ghibli. Seeing some of their creations in the library recently, I picked out Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫).

This movie deals with the conflict between man and nature, that has only exacerbated with technological progress. When a tribe that is leaving in harmony with nature is attacked by a possessed animal spirit, its prince Ashitaka decides to find its cause. This quest takes him far away from home to Iron Town, a fortress town which has discovered how to convert ore to iron and make guns. Their rape of nature in their surrounding forests turns out to be the cause of all the chaos in the spirit world. Iron Town is at war with Princess Mononoke, a human raised by a wolf spirit, who wants to destroy it to save the remaining forest spirits.

I do not know how well Princess Mononoke will be understood in the Western community. The concept of worshiping spirits of objects like trees, rocks, and forests should be quite familiar to Indians who have been from or traveled to mountainous rural areas. Due to the spread of pan-Indian mega-God brands like Rama, Vishnu and Shiva, these too are disappearing quite quickly in those places. In Japanese culture, these kami (spirits) reign supreme even today. This was one of the pleasant surprises on my travel in Japan, that they continue to believe in and worship kami of everything from forests to buildings. Kami are an extremely popular entity in manga and anime too, though there they are usually villainous. Princess Mononoke is completely built around the existence, behaviour and manifestations of the (forest) spirit world and its interaction with the human world.

There is a lot of creativity at work in the movie, in the plot and also in the fetid imagination of how these concepts would look to a human eye. The story is intriguing in the beginning, but I found myself getting quite tired towards the end, as it is too long drawn out. There are many interesting characters, too many in fact, and it spoils the entire experience of the movie. It also becomes hard to draw clear lines between good and bad, maybe this is intentional, but also confusing. Critics seem to love this movie, but I found that Princess Mononoke was a bit too complex and confusing for my taste.