My Favorite Things part one: Princess Mononoke
Ever notice how one gives a damn about about “best” when naming their favorite movies? Anyone who loves movies can list the small handful of movies that have been deemed, historically, the “best”. “Citizen Kane.” “The Godfather.” “Casablanca.” “2001: A Space Odyssey.” If we add foreign films, we can include films like “The Bicycle Thief”, “Breathless”, “A Tokyo Story”, and your choice of films from the canon of Akira Kurosawa (preferably “Rashomon”) Ingmar Bergman (preferably “The Seventh Seal”) and Federico Fellini (preferably “8 1/2” and “La Dolce Vita”). I’m not disputing any of these films’ place in the canon. Most of them would make my personal top 100 list. These films are considered great because they’re magnificant stories told with perfection.
But I don’t give a damn about that right now.. Determining our favorite films is never a technical exercise. My two favorites are “Princess Mononoke” and “Three Colors: Red”. If I was forced to save two films from the inevitable alien invasion/zombie apocalypse that’s going to hit on December 21, these would be the two.
Why? I’m glad you asked. “Princess Mononoke” is the film I’ve seen more than any other, apart from “The Lion King”, which I viewed every day on video during the summer of 1995. I’ve watched “Princess Mononoke” about 25 times. I’m not particularly an anime buff. I am an unabashed fan of Hayao Miyazaki. I discovered “Princess Mononoke” when I was 14, when I watched in on Starz one lazy afternoon. I was gobsmacked. I never knew animation could be that… sophisticated. It was beautiful and smart, breathtaking at times. Yeah, it was choppy compared to Disney animation, but the images were so creative and gorgeous, I didn’t care. I still don’t. A year later, I realized that the same director had made another film, called “Spirited Away,” that had just won an Oscar. I watched it and fell madly in love. Here was the movie that I had long dreamed about and never thought would actually exist. It was a celebration of the imagination, an endlessly creative ode to daydreams and things that made you scared at night.
I became a Miyazaki fanatic, and “Princess Mononoke” became the film of his I revisited more than any other. I still can’t say for certain why. There’s something about the movie’s patience that appeals to me. My mind moves too quickly for its own good (I eat fast, talk fast, do everything too fast) and I appreciate films that slow me down. “Spirited Away” is more headlong in its approach (although it has moments of meditation that are truly sweet). “Princess Mononoke” is, at its core, not about anything. It’s as in its own moment as a “This American Life” tale. It just happens to be about forest gods, wolf-girls, and decapitations by arrow. It’s about these characters and their story, and it’s a beautiful, simple story, told with elegance and beauty. More than that, it, along with “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” shows one of the most creative directors of our time at his imaginative apex.