316 UCB, 80309-0316
ATLAS Center 329 303-492-7574 303-492-1362
I go to the movies for many reasons. Here is one of them. I want to see wondrous sights not available in the real world, in stories where myth and dreams are set free to play. Animation opens that possibility, because it is freed from gravity and the chains of the possible. Realistic films show the physical world; animation shows its essence.
Animated films are not copies of "real movies," are not shadows of reality, but create a new existence in their own right. True, a lot of animation is insipid, and insulting even to the children it is made for. But great animation can make the mind sing.
Hayao Miyazaki is a great animator, and his "Princess Mononoke" is a great film. Do not allow conventional thoughts about animation to prevent you from seeing it. It tells an epic story set in medieval Japan, at the dawn of the Iron Age, when some men still lived in harmony with nature and others were trying to tame and defeat it. It is not a simplistic tale of good and evil, but the story of how humans, forest animals and nature gods all fight for their share of the new emerging order. It is one of the most visually inventive films I have ever seen.
The movie opens with a watchtower guard spotting "something wrong in the forest." There is a disturbance of nature, and out of it leaps a remarkable creature, a kind of boar-monster with flesh made of writhing snakes. It attacks villagers, and to the defense comes Ashitaka, the young prince of his isolated people. He is finally able to slay the beast, but his own arm has been wrapped by the snakes and is horribly scarred.
A wise woman is able to explain what has happened. The monster was a boar god, until a bullet buried itself in its flesh and drove it mad. And where did the bullet come from? "It is time," says the woman, "for our last prince to cut his hair and leave us." And so Ashitaka sets off on a long journey to the lands of the West, to find out why nature is out of joint, and whether the curse on his arm can be lifted.
Ashitaka eventually arrives in an area that is prowled by Moro, a wolf god, and sees for the first time the young woman named San. She is also known as "Princess Mononoke," but that's more a description than a name; a mononoke is the spirit of a beast. San was a human child, raised as a wolf by Moro; she rides bareback on the swift white spirit-wolves and helps the pack in their battle against the encroachments of Lady Eboshi, a strong ruler whose village is developing ironworking skills and manufactures weapons using gunpowder.
The artistry in "Princess Mononoke" is masterful. The writhing skin of the boar-monster is an extraordinary sight, one that would be impossible to create in any live-action film. The great white wolves are drawn with grace, and not sentimentalized; when they bare their fangs, you can see that they are not friendly comic pals, but animals who can and will kill.
The movie does not dwell on violence, which makes some of its moments even more shocking, as when Ashitaka finds that his scarred arm has developed such strength that his arrow decapitates an enemy.
The drama is underlaid with Miyazaki's deep humanism, which avoids easy moral simplifications. There is a remarkable scene where San and Ashitaka, who have fallen in love, agree that neither can really lead the life of the other, and so they must grant each other freedom, and only meet occasionally. You won't find many Hollywood love stories (animated or otherwise) so philosophical. "Princess Mononoke" is a great achievement and a wonderful experience, and one of the best films of the year.— Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com
Thu December 7, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
Japan, 1997, in Japanese, 134 min, 35mm, in Japanese with English subtitles
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki, Director: Hayao Miyazaki, Cast: Youji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka, Kaoru Kobayashi, Masahiko Nishimura