If you want to know why Hayao Miyazaki is famous for his environmentalist movies, then you should watch Mononoke Hime, as the struggle between humans and nature forms a huge focus in this movie. This is the movie that ranks for many people as the best movie that came from Studio Ghibli. While I don’t share the same views, this does remain a worthy addition to their repertoire.
The setting of Princess Mononoke has actually quite some similarities with Nausicaä: humans need space, forest doesn’t like it and fights back, humans fight back and come to hate the forest and an ever-increasing cycle continues, until of course, the main character appears. The only change is that while Nausicaä took place in the future, Mononoke Hime is set in a past-like world, in which the industrial revolution has just begun.
If I had to compare the two settings, then I’d say that Nausicaä wins in terms of creativity. On the other hand though, Mononoke isn’t held back by a manga that went on for too long to make a proper movie about it. Most of the major characters and parties are fleshed out pretty nicely, and the major villain walks into an excellent line between good and evil. You can see why she’s doing the things she does, even though they’re morally unacceptable at times. One thing that also adds to the movie’s value is that there are many different parties that all have their own reasons to fight and be involved with the story, both on the human and forest-side. The side-characters are really the ones who make his movie shine.
And yes, there we go again: the same can’t be said for our two lovely main characters, like in most other action-anime that start a bunch of teenagers. A lot of predictability in the movie comes from the two of them, especially the male one. While most characters aren’t really good or evil, the two of them are clearly meant to be on the good side, and I blame them for the rather Disney-ish ending. This really is a mainstream movies: both in the good, and in the bad ways. Be also aware that near the ending, a few inconsistencies in the storyline appear, though to delve in them would be a bit spoilerific.
And while the setting may be less creative than other of Miyazaki’s movies, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any creativity at all. For Mononoke Hime, Hayao created a fascinating world, especially the iron-factory where the women have basically become equal to the men is something I’ve never seen delivered in such a believable way, especially considering the time in which the movie is set. You can clearly see that Hayao is a huge feminist as well.
I finally understand why Ghibli has become such a big name. Hayao Miyazaki knows exactly what it takes to make a movie mainstream, and yet creative and good. While a few things had to be sacrificed for this (most importantly, the rather dull male lead and the cute and mysterious girl that is the female lead), this turned into a worthy movie. While the animation isn’t as revolutionary new as the movies that he produced in the 1980s (apart from perhaps the few elements of CG), they still look as beautiful as ever, with quite a nice musical score added to it.