This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
NineTailedFox’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Note: This review doesn't contain everything I have to say about this because, if I did, this review would be really really REALLY long. This is a summary of what I think plus a little bit of analysis. Finally, I do have to say that I watched and have reviewed here the original-language version.
Princess Mononoke is quite literally a perfect film. The detail in the animation is just fantastic and very clearly took a lot of work. There are a plethora of colors and make the movie look absolutely gorgeous. Actually, there's some CG in this movie (about 10 minutes or so) but it's blended in so well I couldn't tell where there was any. But the animation is better if watched than explained to be honest.
The editing is fantastic, keeps the viewer involved at all times and contains zero filler because of it. You cannot cut anything out without disrupting the heart and soul of the movie in some way. The pacing is very swift because of this as well. As for sound editing, the pieces of dialogue and music and sound effects are blended in perfectly.
The characters are very good and seem human, even Ashitaka which some may argue has no character flaws. San is extremely complex, but viewers know who she is with no confusion whatsoever. The same can be said for Lady Eboshi and every other character in the movie. [For Ashitaka's flaws, he lets his hatred take over sometimes. Sometimes, it's his fault, like killing the two soldiers at the beginning of the film, while other times it's not. As for the other characters, you can easily figure that out.]
The dialogue fits extremely well for all the situations presented in the film, to say the least, and is subtle enough along with the animation, acting and editing to really ignite the imagination of the viewer. Additionally, the dialogue is very memorable, like "There is a life for you with that boy", "It rots my flesh and summons my death" and "I love you, but I can't forgive the human race."
The music also fits extremely well and is a huge compliment to the film. It doesn't force feelings upon the audience, it connects the feelings of the audience and the characters together. Every piece does this and does it phenomenally.
The cinematography has lots of various types of shots, including long and short ones. They communicate ideas to the viewer (as all cinematography should do) and leave subtle hints in.
The romance is done perfectly as well. You can feel the romance without being spoonfed any information, and when they hug or say "I love you" at the end, it's warranted and feels realistic and unforced. It also takes it one step at a time, something most movies do not do. I'll actually get into this a little in a second...
The voice acting and direction are perfect. The tones come in when needed and out when needed. They really add to the believable characters presented to the viewer and propels the story forward, never back.
And now some ANALYSIS...
The romance between Ashitaka and San has lots of subtle hints. For example, after Ashitaka has talked with Moro, he walks back in into the cave, and San asks if he can walk. Ashitaka says yes, thanks to her and the Deer God. San can fall asleep now because of this, showing her care for him. Another thing is that Ashitaka says San before the Deer God when thanking her, showing that he cares for her too. In the same scene, Ashitaka puts a blanket on her when she's asleep. When Ashitaka wakes up, we see that San put the blanket back on Ashitaka. This is another example where you can tell they care for each other.
Shortly after, Ashitaka gives a special charm from one of the people from his village to one of the wolves to give to San. This represents for Ashitaka that he'll sacrifice something special for San, once again showing that he really cares for San. On another note, this gesture may mean also that he's moved on from his village and is accepting his fate. Anyway, when San grabs it, she says it's beautiful and immediately puts it on before going into battle. I don't think I need to say what this shows.
Speaking of this scene, we get a glimpse into San a little more. Moro says that there's a life for San with Ashitaka, and she says she hates humans. This shows she's generally closed-minded about humans being good, like Ashitaka, and refuses to change her mind about the human race which makes Ashitaka telling her she's beautiful and a human makes it that much more impactful.
Going back to the romance, at the end, San says she loves Ashitaka but refuses to live with and forgive the humans for what they've done but would continue to see Ashitaka despite this. This was a fantastic move on Miyazaki's part, as most movies would just have San follow Ashitaka around and do whatever he says. If that had happened, it would have disregarded the romance completely and fell into some serious clichés.
The animation is subtle, too. For example, when the Deer God gets his head shot off, it falls down. When we see it, the immediate area surrounding it is green while the next is orange and the larger area is black. This shows that the Deer God's head represents life. Also, even though it's much less subtle, when we see San first attack the ironworks, she raises her knife when one of the wolves howl. If you ask me, this means that she's directly obeying their orders, and her soul belongs to the wolves in a way because of it.
Anyway, I'm not going to discuss the themes at all besides what can be interpreted above because it would make this review much much longer.
This movie is simply a must-watch. If you haven't watched a single Miyazaki work yet, I wouldn't recommend watching this first, but this for sure should be some of the first works of his that you see.