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Celebrating the 25th Aniversary of Studio Ghibli’s Revolutionary Princess Mononoke

By: Claire Cao

25 years ago, Studio Ghibli, under film director Hayao Miyazaki, released their most complex film: Princess Mononoke. When it was released in the US, the breathtaking movie brought cultural and artistic differences to light, allowing viewers to gain a new perspective.

The film’s protagonist is young Prince Ashitaka who sets out on a journey to lift his curse.

Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki previously held an image established by previous films that expressed nature as “sweet” in a family-friendly setting. Movies such as Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away highlighted the beauty of nature through art. Miyazaki aimed to change this narrative by portraying the darker sides of the world in a society where he saw corruption.

Miyazaki’s films, including Princess Mononoke, reflected the world he was surrounded by. During the 1990s, Japan experienced a bubble period or economic boom. Miyazaki was disgusted by people’s greed and obsession with material goods without concern for their consequences. Much like the protagonist Ashitaka, Miyazaki thought the world had fallen under a “curse.”

In the beginning, Ashitaka is cursed by a dying bear god who has been corrupted due to an iron ball in their stomach. Seeking a cure far and wide, Ashitaka searches for the Shishigami, a deer-like forest spirit who can control life and death.

On his journey, Ashitaka discovers a “world out of balance” where the ironworks of Tatara are in constant conflict with the wolf goddess Moro and her feral human daughter, San (Princess Mononoke). Ashitaka finds himself stuck in the middle of endless violence, expected to restore peace to Tatara with “unclouded eyes.” Much like Miyazaki’s inner torment, Ashitaka is portrayed as conflicted, confused, and experiencing his own inner war as to how to end the fighting.

Going against Studio Ghibli’s happy-go-lucky status quo, Princess Mononoke made an emphasis on displaying brutal acts of violence. Rivers of blood flow from humans and animals alike. The reasoning behind all the severed heads, especially from animators known for making children’s movies, is because only cruelty could best showcase the rage that Ashitaka felt.

This week, the world celebrates the anniversary of Princess Mononoke, a film that changed Studio Ghibli’s status quo and made viewers rethink society and the ways they view the world.


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