Comfortable and Furious

Princess Mononoke

One would think that after most of my peer group having spent two
hours a day over the last decade or so watching The Simpsons, studios
would get the hint and make intelligent cartoons adults could watch
without feeling guilty or insulted. They might have tried with The Iron Giant,
but even that film was still aimed at kids. As good as it was, parts
were a little too… well, they had a child demographic in mind. Plus
it made like $11,300, so the studios saw it as a total out and out
flop. Anyhow Hayao Miyazaki’s Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke
to us round-eyed hairy devils) kicks so much ass it will have you
screaming, “Fuck Bambi!” This shit is Ruthless. [Ed Note: If you happen
to be an Asian fan of Ruthless, we apologize for Jonny’s
insensitivities. Oh and fuck Snow White.]

I really loved this movie. I can’t stop thinking about it. I
want to watch it again. Luckily my girlfriend has it on DVD, which not
only means that I can watch Mononoke-hime whenever I
want to, but also that I can watch it with subtitles instead of the
dumb dubbing. I was talking to a coworker about the dubbing, and while
he admittedly scoffed at the idea of watching a dubbed Fellini film, he
saw nothing wrong at all with a dubbed cartoon. Horsepuckey I say. With
attitudes like that, studios will do nothing but pump out more and more
cartoons with 20 dozen overly cute talking animals and plots so fatuous
that only those whose age has but a single digit will like ’em.
Animation as a medium has quite a bit of maturing to do, at least
outside of Japan. We’re ready for it.

Mononoke opens up with an eight-legged worm-ridden demon
thingy attacking a far-off village. This is where we meet our hero,
Ashitaka, who proceeds to slay the monster. We learn that the
worm-monster is really an ancient Boar God who has become possessed by
something sinister. Before Ashitaka kills the fading god, the great
boar is able to put a curse on him. One of the most Ruthless parts of
the movie then occurs. As the Oracle explains it to Ashitaka, “You are
cursed and will die as result.” Could you imagine that shit in Monsters Inc.?
Hell no. Ashitaka then sets out to see with “eyes unclouded by hate”
the larger world and possibly find a cure for his flesh-eating curse.
Without reciting the plot point by point, rest assured that all sorts
of cool adventures befall Ashitaka. It is better if you just go and
watch the film. Because it is just so damn good.

There are just a few more things I need to point out, though.
One is Princess Mononoke herself. Holf shit!! [Ed Note: We’re leaving
“Holf” in cause Mononoke was raised by wolves and… we just think it’s
funny.] When we are first introduced to her, she is sucking blood out
of a Wolf God’s wound and spitting it out while staring at Ashitaka.
And not just like once, but about four times. And she keeps wiping the
blood off her mouth with her hand. If I ever have a daughter, Mononoke
is going to be her role model. Imagine if that was how Disney
introduced Pocahontas. Anyway, for a lead in a cartoon, she is even
more ass kicking than Ashitaka. Actually, no, that’s not true. As a
result of his curse, Ashitaka has super-human powers and can do things
like shoot a samurai’s head clean off with a single arrow. Which he
does at least twice. Also very cool and very refreshing are the talking
animals. Instead of just being cute, cuddly bags of crap developed by a
marketing team just so they can be turned into children’s toys, the
animals in this movie say things like, “Ah, you’re awake. I was hoping
you’d cry out in your sleep, and I could bite your face off.” I imagine
little kids would cry or get upset by that – some bad reaction at any
rate. As I have said, I loved it.

I also need to talk about how mature the storyline is overall. Demons and Forrest Gods aside, the mythic pool underlying Mononoke is both deep and
thought provoking. At first glance we have what appears to be another
“evil man vs. innocent nature” fight for survival type of film. But
then you learn that “evil man” is not only a woman (Eboshi), but that
she rescues young whores and destitute lepers from otherwise horrid
lives of misery. True, she employees them in her iron foundry where
they manufacture firearms. However, she treats them all very well and
her workers genuinely seem to have affection, and even admiration, for
her. The Gods, who represent nature, are by no means perfect or wholly
good. There is much infighting. The Ape Gods are primitive and cruel,
and the Boar Gods have grown “fat and dumb.” Nature oftentimes kills
man. Or, in the case of the Apes, wants to eat man. Come to think of
it, all the Gods try to eat man at one point or another. In the end,
when the supreme God, the Deer God, gets its head chopped off, it
begins killing indiscriminately, both nature and man. Basically, the
lines separating the two are fuzzy, and there is no clear side to root
for. Which causes you to think about the various characters and
alliances and draw your own conclusions. Amazing.

Contrast this with Pixar’s latest, Finding Nemo, a good movie by all accounts, but still aimed at the Rugrat demographic even if they managed to sneak the phrase “Pony Boy” past the censors. In Nemo,
nature is all good. Sharks feel guilty about killing fish, pelicans can
learn not to eat fish – basically, the whole ocean would be one big
happy love nest if it wasn’t for man. [Ed Note: There’s probably more
than a single grain of truth in that sentiment.] Pixar portrays humans
(both in Nemo and in other movies) only as bumbling,
unthinking, petty fools. While none of the preceding is untrue, it is
only of course half the story. Miyazaki chooses to tell the entire
story with nuance and balance. Man is no saint, but he ain’t no wolf,
either. Unlike Pixar/Disney/Dreamworks flicks, which while being very
entertaining are nothing more than eye-candy, celebrity cameos and
mass, mass-marketing, Mononoke-hime is an actual and
fully-realized work of art intended for all people to watch, not just
little kids. It makes you think, which in the end might actually be the
best part of the movie and the reason why we won’t be seeing too many
more cartoons like it.

Special Ruthless Ratings

  • Number of times you didn’t want to see this movie as a result of it being marketed as a Disney Flick: 17
  • How does the crow taste: Pretty good
  • Do you think that the actual title, “Mononoke-hime.” translates to “Princess Mononoke”: No
  • Did you like this better than Spirited Away: Yes
  • Don’t you have anything mean to say about Mononoke: Nope
  • Don’t you have anything bad to say: Kids are stupid