‘Princess Mononoke’ embodies the high fantasy genre. It is filled with woodland spirits; sweeping vistas and rippling wolf pelts. However, this is where the formulaic aspects end. Studio Ghibli gave this film their patented brand of potent escapism, by creating a totally unique experience.
The design and visuals of the world are completely individual. In a broad sense, it is a blend of samurai design with the classic medieval fantasy. Little quirks of the setting bring it to life on-screen, for example, the stone pathways that hunters ride down.
The design of the monsters is inspired, they are psychedelic; like something you would see if you ate one of the mushrooms on the forest floor. With that said, they draw from imagery that we recognise. The symbiote moves like a timelapse of maggots devouring a corpse, very eerie.
Even the costumes tell a story. Akitasha is just a human boy, however, his clothes and steed make him look like an ethereal being. This is interesting because Princess Mononoke also wears a mask and they both live a nomad’s life. Perhaps they are…kindered spirits.
In contrast, the townsfolk are presented with total uniformity. Their ambition and obsession with industry has led them astray. They no longer have a love of the land or free agency.
The appreciation of the environment comes through in how it is presented. The nature in ‘Princess Mononoke’ is lush and lavish, few studios can bring art to life like Ghibli.
‘Princess Mononoke’ has an environmental message, using a fantasy tale to say something real. We see humanity aggressively developing industry whilst they whip the oxen that help them to do it.
It is inferred, but never expressly stated, that this kind of disregard for nature is why they are at war with the forest gods. Hayao Miyazaki somehow captures an abstract feeling, the quiet wonder and majesty of nature.
The scenes where The Forest Spirit appears defy explanation. There is a certain unearthliness in the silent camera pan to its staring face. Those moments transcend cinema. Moments such as this, as well as the deep and complex characters, make for an epic journey.
The environmental theme permeates through the writing. In the end, just like the wild, Mononoke could not be tamed. She was fleetingly there to be connected with, paid respects to and then allowed to run free. What a beautifully bittersweet ending to an impressive piece of work.