DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
From the opening scene it becomes very clear that this is not an animated film for small children. It would give them horrible nightmares. No, this will be one for the big kids, those of us who don’t mind that they are watching a bunch of drawings relate a story.
Princess Mononoke is a beautiful film with an absolutely stunning story. Whenever I watch a Miyazaki film, I am always impressed by the fact that even though the animation can feel a bit wooden sometimes, it is the creativity in the design of, in this case, the creatures and the impressive attention to detail in the backgrounds that immerse me so easily in this fantasized version of an ancient Japan. No CGI, just pure animated craftsmanship. I am in no way trying to diminish the creativity of modern animators that use a computer to express themselves, they are artists in their own right. But I often find myself marveling at the technology when I watch the latest Pixar for example, here I marvel at the artistry and the manual work.
As much as I appreciate the visuals, it is the story where this films wins me over completely. As an allegorical fable depicting the conflict between nature and technology it worjs beautifully, mainly because it isn’t a simplistic good vs evil schtick. It manages to bring nuance in its characters and while, for example, Lady Eboshi who rules Irontown is unmistakably evil, she also helps out the weak and needy. These are all archetypes, but with depth, something that impressed me a lot.
The pacing is immaculate, deftly switching between intimate moments and grand epic battles. With a stunning orchestral soundtrack to accompany you every step of the way, it does not set a for wrong and creates something that borders on perfection and should be seen as a shining example of storytelling of the highest order.
There is a lot to take from Princess Mononoke. The main message it seems to want to bring across is that progress is inevitable but that we should never lose sight of what it costs us. This may seem like a left, hippie pro environment film, but it is a lot more nuanced than that. It leaves a lot up to the viewer to decide and that is something not many films like this dare to do.
There have been many films that tackle these themes and fail to do so convincingly (I’m looking at you Avatar). This, however, gets everything right.