"This epic, animated 1997 fantasy has already made history as the top-grossing domestic feature ever released in Japan, where its combination of mythic themes, mystical forces, and ravishing visuals tapped deeply into cultural identity and contemporary, ecological anxieties. For international animation and anime fans, Princess Mononoke represents an auspicious next step for its revered creator, Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service), an acknowledged anime pioneer, whose painterly style, vivid character design, and stylized approach to storytelling take ambitious, evolutionary steps here." (text taken from Amazon)
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Review of Princess Mononoke
9th & 11th Grade
City Charter High School
Princess Mononoke may be one of the films that I would call a genuine masterpiece. The reason I would call it such is because, having viewed the majority of Miyazaki Hayao’s oeuvre, it is a well-paced, tightly written, and methodically thought-out film that perfectly encapsulates a message that Miyazaki had been attempting to communicate for a decade up until this point. If someone asked you what Miyazaki’s worldview/philosophy is, you would show them this film. Princess Mononoke is a refined distillation of the type of messages Miyazaki started communicating to his audience as a mangaka and film director through Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, and My Neighbor Totoro. In a way, it is also a spiritual cousin with his late colleague Isao Takahata’s film Pom Poko. All of the films just listed, made within a ten year period (1984-1994) speak to a kind of artistic mission and vision: the realignment of an ecological worldview with a spiritual worldview, in the sense that mankind should have awe and reverence for a world that it may understand on an intellectual level but still not on an emotional one. The film itself could be equated with the final section of a dissertation, with Miyazaki using the two hours and fifteen minutes he has allotted himself to make his final and most forceful point (and then coming back a few years later with Spirited Away to make it clear he knew no one had actually read his dissertation).
I could summarize the film in this review, but the cultural notes attached to the page on this site already does that job. What I would like to communicate with other educators is that, if they watch this film themselves or with their class, they should be ready to discuss with their students the finer aspects of the Japanese worldview, especially when it comes to nature, philosophy, and traditional spirituality (i.e., Shinto, Shugendo, etc.). Miyazaki does not stray away from making the profound point that homo sapiens are not only a misguided race, but a complicated one. The relationship our species has with the natural world is one of fear and reverence, but also of brutality and ignorance. We may say we have awe and respect for the natural world and the other animals we share this world with, but there are many times where we contradict such a view and only look out for our own self-interest. As the protagonist Ashitaka says in the film, “look with eyes unclouded.” This film’s sharp message also has a tint of mercy: life is complicated, life goes on, and we have to do our best to live in harmony. It’s a nice message to end the movie on (not exactly the type of optimistic opinion Miyazaki himself may hold) and a sober reminder that the outer world - the world we walk in - and the inner world - the world we create inside our own heads - will clash, and soon enough all things will come to a head.
Keeping these aspects of Princess Mononoke in mind, an educator should realize that, while this is a movie that would be appropriate for middle school students, the heavy themes, concepts, and philosophy that are presented are much more attuned to young adults who are still figuring out the world. For a film about nature gods and mankind on the cusp of industrialization, Miyazaki still gives the audience the kindness of taking time to include quiet moments that show - whether you are a god, beast, or man - that we all have reflective and somber moments, and that the world is stranger and sadder than we may at first expect. But to see and comprehend such a truth, we have to look with eyes unclouded. This is a Miyazaki film that demands exactly that by the end.
This anime film is set in medieval Japan, and it depicts the struggle between the environment and the human race's impact on the environment. Personally, I believe that this film could be shown in a high school setting due to some violence. In truth, the violence in the film is depicted in a way that one could view the violence as comical and unrealistic. One thing that I found interesting is the way that the women and men are depicted. This film has a reversed gender stereotype for both the men in women, which could spark a conversation in one's classroom. Another topic that could generate some conversation is how there is not a distinct evil character in this film, because even the "bad" characters have some redeeming qualities. Plus, the ending does not resolve the issue of industrialization versus nature, which allows students to discuss how this might still be a battle in today's generation. This film could be used to introduce a class debate or research paper on industrialization versus conservation. Overall, I enjoyed watching this film, and it could generate various discussions in a high school setting.
Important cultural values
This is one of my favorite movies by Miyazaki, so my review is a little bit biased. I teach high school,and in my opinion this movie would be appropriate for my students, especially juniors and seniors. It has some graphic images, but violence in anime is not very realistic and seems silly most of the times.
Showing this movie would require to spend some time discussing important Japanese cultural values that are a paramount part of the theme of the movie. Also, it would be helpful to facilitate understanding by making connections with other stories that put a similar emphasis in the value of nature and the destruction caused by industrialism, like the Lord of The Rings for instance.
It would be important to point out that female characters are very strong and have solid leadership skills, actually the Wise woman and Lady Eboshi are the leaders of their own communities. Male characters are extremely weak, with a few exceptions.
It´s also necessary to discuss how powerful figures, that is, authority figures are depicted in the movie. The Emperor himself does not have a role, but there are several references to him, all of them are negative. It´s a subtle way to criticize the establishment. Also, the violence common people suffer at the hands of those who should be protecting them seems to be a critique to this militaristic society. In the end, regular people are the ones who suffer the consequences of the battles among the powerful.
Wa (Harmony) is an important value that is present in the movie, issues are resolved and the balance is restores at the end.
Aimai (Ambiguity) is another value present in The Princess Mononoke. Some characters are hard to read, they have both good and bad traits, like Lady Eboshi and the monk. This good versus evil dichotomy is present throughout the movie. Lady Eboshi is probably the more complex character regarding this characteristic; she seems to be helping people, the lepers and the prostitutes, but she might also be taking advantage of them.
Omoiyari (consideration for others) is another important value that is present in the movie. Ashitaka is the character that represents this value, he is the most caring of all, he understand the other characters´ positions and is always trying to find the balance.
Haji (shame), this value is present in Ashitaka´s village, the old men feel ashamed that Ashitaka has to leave and they can´t help him. Also, Ashitaka and the women from iron city make sure they fulfill their promises, so as not to bring shame on them.
Giri vs. Ninjo (Duty vs. desire) San helps the boar god instead of staying with her wolf mom, because she feels it´s her duty to help him out. Duty is a trait that is present throughout the movie in some other characters too.
Mono no Aware (temporary nature of life) It is obvious that nothing lasts forever, especially the beauty and purity of nature that humans want to destroy at all cost, humans´greed and hatred are the doom o nature.
Amae (Indulgence) Ashitaka and San are the ones who represent this value, they both take care of those who can´t take care of themselves. In the case of Ashitaka, he even takes care of people who might seem to be evil and not deserving of help. Lady Eboshi also seems to have this value, but it is unclear if she takes care of those who can´t take care of themselves, like the lepers, because she cares about them or because she is taking advantage of them.
This movie could be used to prompt different discussions and to study common values. It seems to be a very foreign movie, but in the end, I think students can connect with the story and identify with the characters.
Review of Princess Mononoke by Tammy Sweeney
While set in medieval Japan, Princess Mononoke evokes a timeless and universal struggle between the environment and humanity's impact on it when developing and using new technologies. This is portrayed beautifully in the film as Japan enters into the Iron Age and a period of intensive manufacturing of gun powder weapons. What I love about the film, however, is that it could be used to illustrate the initial period of ANY significant new technological development in human history... the impact of the neolithic revolution (deforestation, soil depletion, and damage caused by irrigation techniques), the overgrazing that occurred as pastoralism developed, the introduction of new technologies during and after the iron age, the impact of the industrial revolution (and how it has threatened our very existence!). The angst portrayed in the film is so reminiscent of transcendentalist critiques following the industrial revolution, that it almost seems a shame not to use the film to show the universal nature of this phenomenon throughout the world. Its applicability to many different time periods and geographic regions is part of the magic of the film... its message resonates well beyond the particulars of medieval Japanese society!
Another benefit of the film is its cautious, but optimistic view of the struggle between humanity and nature. Miyazaki is careful to show the complexity of humanity's discovery and use of new technologies. His work illustrates an important historical pattern - that when a new technology is first introduced, people do not fully understand the impact it will have... we often misuse new technologies, negatively impacting our environment and ourselves. In the film, this historical pattern is shown through numerous examples of the "corruptibility" of nature due to the development of firearms (eg. the rapid deforestation that occurs as mining expands, the madness of Nago after being shot with a gun, the beheading of the forest spirit by Eboshi, the leader of Irontown where guns are mass produced). In these examples, the corruptive nature of man's actions are communicable; vectors of corruption emanate from initial points of contact (eg. Ashitaka is infected by Nago, San is corrupted by Okkoto, all life is corrupted by the forest spirit's death...including the poor Kodamas!). Miyazaki is using a central tenet of Daosim, the interconnectedness and oneness of existence, to remind us of the impact our actions have and the significant reverberations created by one single event.
What I love most, however, is that Miyazaki does not leave the viewer without hope! In the film, San and Ashitaka (both of whom have been corrupted) are able to retrieve the head of the forest spirit. The forest spirit is reborn and is able to heal the earth. Eboshi and Ashitaka vow to work together to build a "better" Irontown (implying a civilization that is more aware of the destructive power of its new technology and is dedicated to a more responsible usage of it). Ultimately, the forest spirit heals both San and Ashitaka... showing that despite great death and monumental destruction, humans can learn from their mistakes and be healed! Miyazaki does not advocate for a return to simpler times in this film. The film is a lesson on how to progress without destroying ourselves! It is a reminder to be careful as we take each step further along our path... as we travel along the Dao.
Wow! What a great film :-)
LS Teacher/high school
The animated film Princess Mononoke is set in medieval Japan. It is a story of the struggle between man and nature. At the beginning Prince Ashitaka, a warrior, defends the village from the wild boar by killing it. The snakes from the boar’s skin then wound his arm. He travels west to try to find a way to lift the curse from his wound. He eventually meets Princess Mononoke, San, and Moro the wolf who raised her. San battles Lady Eboshi as she destroys the forest. San experiences an internal conflict when she discovers that all humans are not bad when Ashitaka rescues her. Althought there are feelings between San and Ashittka at the end they realize they must both go their separate ways.
My current students in my English class know of Anime, but are not captivated by it. So showing this movie and explaining parts would be a new learning experience as an introduction for students to understand Japanese culture and values.
Princess Mononoke Appropriate for K-12 Art Classroom?
I am reviewing this film as an art educator for grades K-12 in an art classroom. Introducing Anime and Manga to students as an influential example of Japanese pop culture is important, but I don't believe Princess Mononoke is necessarily an appropriate film for all ages, K-12.
With a rating of PG-13 it too advanced for elementary students, K-5, due to the story line and violent content. Grades K-5 may not understand or grasp the plot of the film due to its complexity. The fighting scenes may also be too violent/gory for young children as well. Therefore, if I were to introduce Anime to elementary students I would choose a film more age/content appropriate.
For grades 6-12 this film would be more appropriate and illustrates important Japanese artistic traditions and themes/values. The imagery in Princess Mononoke depicts high standards of Japanese craftsmanship - the shadows and landscapes are executed with great detail and with careful attention. The traditions of new verses old and native verses foreign are expressed in the plot: the struggle of human verses nature. The overarching themes/Japanese values illustrated are Diligence (in the fight for the environment by Ashitaka and San) and Impermanence (of nature through the death Okkoto and Moro). Overall, this film is more appropriate to introduce to grades 6-12 and depicts Japanese traditions, themes, and values.
On a side note - One thing I learned in my research of the film is that the term "Mononoke" is not a name, but the Japanese word for a spirit or monster. Mononoke perfectly explains the Forest Spirit in its transformation into the night walker.
Review: Princess Mononoke
My name is Michael Tobias. I am an English instructor at South Park High School and teach grades 9, 10, and 12. The following is a review of the film Princess Mononoke (1997), which was directed by Hayo Miyazaki.
The plot of Princess Mononoke centers around a young character named Ashitaka. Ashitaka is a young warrior who serves as the defender of his village. He is a person of great moral character, governed by a sense of both duty and honor. When Ashitaka is forced to defend his village against a rogue demon, he is severely injured and finds himself the unlikely victim of a curse that is as terminal as it is magical. In order to have a remote chance of survival, Ashitaka must journey to the forest to seek the assistance of the gods. Upon his arrival, the young fighter soon learns that the deities of the forest are in grave danger, as they are being unconditionally slaughtered by the clan of Lady Eboshi. Throughout the course of the movie, Ashitaka faces multiple struggles which are both internal and external in nature; he is often unsure if he should support his fellow man in the pursuit of “progress” and power, if he should defend the gods against his own race. In addition, Ashitaka falls in love with Princess Mononoke, a human raised by wolf spirits and he soon realizes that her fate may be even more important to him than his own.
When examining this film from an educational perspective, it is difficult to recommend it for classroom instruction. While the movie possesses many possibilities for various forms of instruction, its graphic nature will likely prevent successful use within a school environment. The animation is of excellent quality, but many battle scenes feature dismemberment and decapitation, amongst other forms of violent death. Furthermore, the superb animation yields an even greater sense of realism to the blood and suffering that inevitably follows in such scenes.
One of the areas that this film excels is in its presentation of deep philosophical questions, coupled with intense ethical themes. For example, the protagonist of the tale finds himself directly in the destructive path equated with social “progress.” Historically speaking, societies follow a distinct pattern of evolution through conquest. Young Ashitaka not only has an intrinsic connection to the deities of the forest, but he needs their assistance to ensure his own survival. Unfortunately, the social evolution of his fellow man cannot continue until the old rulers of the forest (representative of the world) are overthrown by mankind. The question then becomes is it better for Ashitaka to defend what he feels is right, or should he remain loyal to those of his own race? One could argue that the film leaves this question unanswered, but it does so in a brilliant fashion. Literary elements, including static and dynamic characters, irony, and foreshadowing are all incorporated well into the plot. The movie also presents multiple themes, including technology versus nature, science versus mysticism, love versus hate, and tolerance – all of which could be fodder for classroom discussion.
Other learning opportunities exist in the films presentation of various elements of the Eastern culture. For example, the social hierarchy of the characters seems indicative of a Confucian way of thinking. The dominant male characters either are, or perceive themselves to be the dominant sex. Interestingly enough, the two lead female characters challenge this methodology, but experience great difficulties in doing so. Other aspects of Eastern culture, including the Samurai, the need to respect the past generations, belief in karma, acknowledgement of the forces of darkness and light, and the pursuit of a path of honor, are interwoven into the film’s plot.
In conclusion, although the film is entertaining and beautifully animated, its graphic nature is a likely deterrent to any instructor who wishes to incorporate it into the classroom. It is possible that only select scenes from the film could be viewed, but not without dissolving the context necessary to discuss the film’s greater thematic aspects. Without a doubt, a mature audience was intended when Miyazaki directed this feature. Therefore, I would likely refrain from bringing this film into the classroom, but would recommend it for a quiet (relatively speaking) evening at home.
Review of Princess Mononoke for High School
I am reviewing this film to see if it would fit into my 11th grade Japan unit. I like to fit in appropriate movies during units, especially animated ones, because students relate to them. For example, students love watching Mulan during our China unit and there are many lessons to be made about the film. One of the lessons that I learned here is that American students relate to movies such as Mulan because they watched them when they were young. Although students love Anime I do not have that advantage with this film.
It is necessary to watch this film more than once to try and decipher the moral of the story. There are many things going on such as: nature and man, encroaching civilization, human anger and Shinto. There is also a story of Karma where every action has a reaction. For me I settled on the encroaching civilization and from an American point of view, environmentalism. Seventeen year old students can be passionate about environmental issues.
In the film Lady Eboshi is compassionate to humans yet continues to destroy the forest. Students will see a connection here in the U.S. whether its the Keystone pipeline, fracking, or oil exploration on protected federal land. San in this story is the environmentalist and students will cheer her. And of course the lesson of Karma where I compare Ashitaka to Rama.
I enjoyed the film but have to admit it was complicated. The artwork/graphics are terrific but I believe students would get lost in the lesson. They would cheer for certain characters and have their opinions about others but it would be difficult to focus on one issue. I don't want to weaken the film by using the issue of environmentalism but that's what made sense to me and I could connect that to Japanese spiritually, animism, and love of nature.
I mentioned previously that students love to watch Mulan and that they had seen it when they were younger. It is interesting to watch it in 11th grade when then can view it with a more mature mind and notice obvious things such as the Forbidden City which they now know is real or even the Great Wall of China. We can also have deeper discussions about ancestor worship, patriarchal societies, and countries where males are valued over females. Again I would have to watch Princess Mononoke several times, I believe, to try and gain some sense of familiarity.
I am not finished with this film as I believe it has a good lesson in it. This is definitely not appropriate for middle school students and I have to work on it more myself before I show it to High School students.
Princess Mononoke Movie Review
Mark Trainor, Chartiers Valley School District (5th Grade Teacher)
This 1997 Japanese animated adventure epic contains numerous literary and historical themes. Period-authentic war tactics and weaponry are evident. During the opening movie scene, we see a Japanese warrior, Prince Ashitaka, riding an elk through a narrow but deep ravine that winds through an open meadow. As the camera pans out, you can see quite clearly that an enemy would have no knowledge of this deep trench during battle. Ashitaka exits the ravine, arrives at a wooden watchtower and scales the structure to the “crow’s nest.” He warns his comrade of a dangerous forest creature that threatens the villagers. This is typical of the action scenes that dominate the movie.
The obvious plot theme is man vs. beast. The “beast,” synonymous with nature, is simply protecting his home from destruction by man. Quite logically, the movie propagates the development and use of various types of period-specific fire arms so man can conquer the “beasts” of the forest and continue to cut down trees to feed his greed. For example, the evil Lady Eboshi has a human leper colony that secretly attempts to perfect guns that are lighter in weight, more accurate, and inflict ever greater damage on the “beasts” that reside in the forest.
The themes of weaponry and war tactics and man vs. beast are soon overshadowed by the theme of characterization. Director Hayao Miyazaki’s characters do not fit the typical protagonist, antagonist, foil, and stock character. Consequently, I wasn’t sure which of the three main characters was truly the hero or which one was the villain. I did not bond with any of the characters, but did not dislike any either. This blurring the lines of stereotypical characterization really got me thinking about how this type of purposeful character development could fit into a literature classroom. The following scene would be a nice example to use in a literature class if students were learning about character development (e.g. static, dynamic, antagonist, or stock characters).
Lady Eboshi (the supposed villain) runs a bauxite mine within a stone fortress high on a cliff that overlooks a forest. She feeds, clothes, and provides for a group of former prostitutes. These women work in the mine and tell Ashitaka of the deplorable job conditions. As he begins to pity them, they tell him not to feel sorry for them as they are grateful Lady Eboshi rescued them from their former life. She gave them a better life. Likewise, the leper colony men that perfect Eboshi’s weapons tell Ashitaka that she rescued them from a life of scorn and ridicule. So here we have a villain who takes in criminals and outcasts. Is she a true protagonist?
Another example of this blurring of characters occurs with our supposed hero, Ashitaka. Early into the movie he is bitten and poisoned by one of the forest animals, a giant wild boar. As the animal dies at the feet of Ashitaka, it curses him to an impending death. Ashitaka’s subsequent quest for self-preservation leads him on a journey to faraway lands. Along the way, Ashitaka decapitates and severs the limbs of several warriors that he perceives to be evil. But he doubts his actions. Again, Miyazaki shows dual sides to a character and an inner struggle. Is Ashitaka a hero?
Finally, we see the example of Princess Mononoke, a human that was raised by the forest animals. She continually struggles for identity, especially after she meets Ashitaka, who reveals new possibilities to her self-perceived black and white world.
I would recommend this movie for grades 7 through 12. There is no nudity or inappropriate language. The subtle references to sexuality and prostitution, along with the decapitation of soldiers in battle, I believe, gave this movie its PG 13 rating.
Princess Mononoke Review
See supplemental review (attachment)