charlie_made_me’s review published on Letterboxd:
Princess Mononoke is a story that follows a boy, Ashitaka, who must learn to “see with eyes unclouded by hate.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect to this film is its unique view of morality. Before my third viewing of Princess Mononoke, a friend said that Hayao Miyazaki criticizes manufacturing in this film. And while that might be a subtheme within this movie, I think it overlooks the main point. There isn’t really a rigid good vs. evil in this film. Sure, one could argue that the wolves and other beasts are the “good guys” and that the humans are the “bad guys” but it’s not that simple. Both sides have their positives, but both sides are also extremely flawed. Almost every character in this is full of complexities and nuance, an amazing and rare feat in fiction.
No character can be diminished to a single statement except maybe “Jigo is selfish”. Some might say “Lady Eboshi is evil,” but is she? Sure, she may not care for the forest nor the beasts living there, but she still cares for her people. She took lepers in and treated them like humans while the rest of society outcasted them. She tries to protect her people, except of course, when she’s blinded by hate and is determined to kill the Forest Spirit. Another common generalization of this film is “The animals are good.” This also isn’t entirely true. While yes, they are defending their land, they are also close minded and unwilling to compromise. They grow hateful towards the humans, which eventually leads to their downfall. Hate blinds the boars who are ambushed by the humans. The leader of the boars, Okkoto, is physically blind, but it is not his physical disability that kills him. It is blindness driven by hate, anger, and stubbornness.
Hate is ultimately what drives almost every character to their end. At the beginning, Nago has become a demon because of hate. Similarly, Okkoto too becomes a demon as a victim of hate. The Forest Spirit is killed because of Lady Eboshi’s hate until its head is eventually restored. “Look everyone! This is what hatred looks like! This is what it does when it catches hold of you! It's eating me alive and very soon now it will kill me. Fear and anger only make it grow faster." Ashitaka perfectly sums up how hate destroys the characters with this quote.
Princess Mononoke is ultimately a movie about peace. The Forest Spirit represents peace. At one point towards the end of the film, Okkoto, now a demon, lets out screams of rage. But then it cuts to the Forest Spirit, and as he’s walking there is silence. The point isn’t about morality in the sense of right vs. wrong. Rather it approaches conflict in a different light. “If there is a conflict, is there truly a right and wrong at all,” it asks.
Possibly Miyazaki’s best work, this masterpiece has an amazing story on the surface level, but where it truly shines is its deep themes of morality and peace. Personally, I can resonate with these themes and find them to be portrayed in a complex, yet nonetheless entertaining way. That’s why Princess Mononoke is now my fourth favorite film of all time.