(TLDR Review at the bottom, and as always, thanks for reading in advance)
I have watched this movie twice now. It is indeed great.
Studio Ghibli is a well-renowned studio known by fans of anime, and those who aren't interested in the medium. Some call the studio Japan's Disney, some say it is the best studio for all audiences to enjoy, some say it is flamboyant overrated hype. One thing is certain though, Ghibli has gone places far and wide no question. It's movies have made a cultural impact on the medium of anime movies and all movies for that matter. In Ghibli's voyage through movie making, one particular movie outplays in appearance from the rest in more ways than one. It is a strange fit for the collection the studio offers, but it is a story that still cannot be interpreted as some random outlier to the equation Ghibli uses.
That movie is Princess Mononoke.
A ruby in the stack of emeralds. It doesn't follow the general pattern, but it is of value regardless.
The narrative of the story is pretty simple. Ashitaka is made to leave his village in hopes of finding a cure for a curse placed upon him. In doing so, he sees where the true hate and violence which caused his cure, in person. There is a synopsis for relevant details, so I won't go too much into the start. The true value for the movie goes to the themes it shows and how it presents it. I could go on and go full literature mode on themes and presentations of them, but maybe I will save that if I end up coming back to this review.
With Ghibli movies, it isn't really expected to focus too much on the story. Spirited Away focuses on Chihiro and her change. Kiki's Delivery Service focuses on Kiki's time in Koriko. My Neighbour Totoro focuses on Kusakabe's family. Within each of those stories, there is no underlying theme to be played, they are just merely a supernatural tale to be told, though Princess Mononoke plays as if it were a legend, one that wouldn't be surprising if it were passed down into many many generations ahead of time to come. The movie does have a premise allowing for the exploration of the themes presented, such as hate and war, which would inevitably differentiate it from the rest of Ghibli movies, however, it doesn't take that for granted. The plot uses respectable elements to play with such as pride, the will of deities, imperialism, I could go on. What I am meaning to say is that the movie is one that despite background and an unequal playing field, still prevails as something that wouldn't be too far off a "masterpiece" without any kind of benefit. It is amazing really, I haven't watched everything Ghibli has made, but from their big titles, not many would have guessed Ghibli would go this far in with storytelling. For a movie, as opposed to a TV anime, it still does well in conveying what it must with concise and efficient writing. So little time, but powerful regardless. It is like those anime commercials that feel so great to watch due to an embellished simplicity of the narrative within. I guess that is another plus for the story too, simple, yet meaningful. Feels as if one is rummaging down a treasure chest when looking into this movie.
There are elements to pick and reflect on with the story, making it seem like more than just that one "dark Ghibli movie" as WatchMojo called it. One of my favourite things to look at with the movie was the motif of peace and how it is a missing part of people's lives, the antichrist to peace, being war, truly does affect all indirectly whether you want it to or not. You could probably get a few of your own ideas out of the movie too.
The characters are good as well, maybe not as much as the story, but still very respectable. They all feel like representations of some kind of mood. San being anger, Ashitaka being peace, Eboshi being incentive, Moro and Okkoto being prideful. You could even link the deadly sins if you wanted to. I am not sure if this was intended or not, but the themes that have embedded these characters made for a real experience when watching the movie, no one was poorly written, no one suddenly made a swift change for the sake of plot please go forward my audience is watching, it was all set in motion, and released not too fast, or too slow in a relative sense to add on. Each individual character in the movie has their own personality to dwell on too, there is no character who doesn't feel uninteresting or "that one side character". The writing and behaviour of each individual leave a pleasing memory on one to keep evermore. Although, what I will point out is that the storey seems to focus a lot on Ashitaka, never really gives enough screen time for other characters such as San and Eboshi, I understand it is a story about him, though the emphasis on other characters would have made them even more loveable, nothing too wrong but something that could have been fixed upon indeed. Regardless, for a Ghibli movie, that is nothing short of exceptional creations.
With every Ghibli movie, though this now applies mostly to the older ones, there are great visuals accompanying the movie as they progress, this is no exception for Princess Mononoke. This isn't so surprising that the art is good, what did you expect from a Ghibli movie, though that isn't to say that that would be a means of the way for me to suddenly dislike it, consistency in visuals, and I will consistently rate said art accordingly. What I will say, however, is that the movie had its advantageous times to shine, not everything is set in a forest, battlefield, and industrialisation period. To be fair though, Ghibli can make anything look good regardless of where it is set. In any case, the movie looks spectacular with hand-drawn scenery, almost as if it were out of a landscape, clearly being visible when meets the eye. A consistent blessing for all.
With audio, I won't lie, I only came out remembering the theme, I usually do for every Ghibli movie, however, having a listen over the OST and it is fairly obvious that they are amazing and well made, I am not sure what was going down behind the scenes, maybe an orchestra was on job, but everything sounded amazing. Although it is to be said that there is repetition via innovation with the OST, you can get two soundtracks that sound somewhat similar in the movie. Nothing I would call close to a carbon copy, but recognisable. Despite that though, the sound is great. Seiyuus are in the same boat too, every seiyuu played their character well conveying their personality with utmost individuality. You just can't go wrong with Ghibli audio.
I enjoy pretty much everything, and if you didn't get the drift already, Princess Mononoke was something I enjoyed. What I will say however is that the movie doesn't dive too deep into the world. Some movies go and make the most fantastic worlds to look back on, but the movie didn't feel the same, the reason why I say this for the enjoyment side of things is that I was really interested in the world of Princess Mononoke as an extrapolated look from watching this. Questions such as, "Are there other animals around?" are vaguely answered, and if I am not wrong you are never shown the enemy emperor at any point. A little let down, but you can only do so much before attention is shifted onto the wrong people too much. I won't complain too much about this because honestly, I still really liked the movie. Universal enjoyment would probably be the same for many others with compelling action scenes that don't need to be bombastic for the sake of action, a glorious adventure and just downright very watchable. There is something for all in this movie.
Overall - 9.4 (9)
Story - 10: An amazing tale that would make well as a story passed down the line of humans, one of which goes well into a few philosophical topics, magnificently decoding the idea of such.
Visuals - 10: Not surprisingly, amazing scenery accompanied with fluid animation.
Audio - 9: Great OST though some repetitive innovation with other soundtracks, still great though. Great voice acting too.
Character - 9: Characters can relate to some mood or theme that the story has presented. Makes it great to view how each evolves and interacts. Though there is a lot of focus on Ashitaka. All around, great characters.
Enjoyment - 9: Slight hiccup with the worldbuilding, though that is a minor flaw that can be looked over. This is very watchable.
Overall - 9.4 (9)
I have said this before with my Wolf Children review, not every day a "masterpiece" comes out for fans to enjoy. I wholeheartedly would tell anyone to go and watch Princess Mononoke as it is one of those films for most to enjoy regardless of who you are. People should really take in the good anime more every now and then, as I have just done so. Too many people complaining about the bad things that come out lol just go and watch the good things that are already there, like this certified gem.
What can I say, looks like "grandmaster" Miyazaki isn't just Ghibli make movie, people like movie and money go brrr. The man does actually have amazing works under his belt, one of which made me praise this. As I have said, there is something for all in this movie.
Princess Mononoke has something for meatheads.
Princess Mononoke has something for literature lovers.
Princess Mononoke has something for casual viewers.
Princess Mononoke has something for families.
Princess Mononoke has something for lovers of art.
Princess Mononoke has something for all to enjoy.
I recommend Wolf Children too if you haven't seen it already.