MOVIES THAT DON’T SUCK: With its vibrant characters and breathtaking animation, ‘Princess Mononoke’ is better than ‘Spirited Away’

After directing genre-defining films such as “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” it’s no wonder that Hayao Miyazaki is an animation giant.

His films are known for their imaginative, emotional stories and beautiful animation.

Just take a look at the food in any of the films produced by the Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli.

The food isn’t incredibly detailed, but the vibrancy of the colors—the added touch of glare and shine—makes each bowl of ramen, each sandwich and each steak look incredibly tasty in Miyazaki’s universe.

Unfortunately, many people overlook many of his older, less popular films.

In fact, my favorite Miyazaki film,  “Princess Mononoke,” is often overshadowed by more successful ones like “Spirited Away.”

But if you liked “Spirited Away” or any of his other films, you will at least enjoy “Princess Mononoke.”

The title is slightly misleading, as the main character isn’t actually a princess.

Instead, the story revolves around Ashitaka, the last remaining prince of a Muromachi-period village (roughly 15th century).

Problems arise when an enraged, demon-possesed boar attacks the village.

Luckily, Ashitaka is able to kill the boar, but not without having his arm infected by a purple, worm-like corruption that seeps out of the demon’s flesh.

According to the village shaman, the corruption will eventually consume and kill Ashitaka.

Naturally, this news causes Ashitaka to leave his village to seek a cure in the western lands of Japan, and his adventure begins.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the story is the interesting characters Ashitaka meets on his journey.

First is Jiko-Bo, a wise wandering monk who suggests he find the Great Forest Spirit to cure him.

He also meets Lady Eboshi, a powerful ruler who represents the eventual industrial growth of Japan, developing her village at the cost of destroying the forest.

And, most importantly, Ashitaka meets San (Princess Mononoke) and her wolfpack, who all hate Lady Eboshi and humankind in general.

It’s important to note that most of the animals in “Princess Mononoke” can talk.

The major conflict of the story is the fight between Lady Eboshi and the spirits and animals of the forest, San included. And another key aspect unfolds, when Ashitaka gets involved in the middle of this conflict, playing the good guy.

As Lady Eboshi expands her growing Irontown, the forest revolts – boars stage attacks and Lady Eboshi seeks to kill the Great Forest Spirit.

Put simply, it’s a struggle between nature and developing industry.

But with other factions in the mix – such as Lady Eboshi’s workers and the samurai – the conflict isn’t as simple as good vs. evil.

And, of course, the animation in “Princess Mononoke” is beautiful.

It’s difficult to describe the sprawling, verdant landscapes of the Japanese countryside and the graceful appearance of the giant forest spirit, but “eye candy” is a good approximation.

And it’s a lot prettier than most live-action films.

I could go on and on, describing Miyazaki’s mouthwatering animation and his captivating story, chock-full of lovely characters, but nothing beats the real deal – go watch the movie!

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