Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime) (1997), Studio Ghibli
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
The Scene: Departure from Emishi village and Journey to the West
This is possibly one of my favourite scenes, coupled with one of my favourite pieces of film music, placed together to present such an amazing moment in this brilliant film.
In this scene, Ashitaka learns of the curse that has been placed upon him, after the previous scenes events, foretold by the wise woman of the village in front of a council of elders.
The scene begins with a drastic contrast to the previous, which was action-packed and vibrant, and has the Emishi village bathed in monochrome and in silence. The gravity of the scene is immense, the lack of background music forcing focus on the spoken words. The wise-woman speaks to Ashitaka, saying that the curse will “…cause you great pain and then kill you”. Suddenly, the nature of this film changes. The audience knows that this is no ordinary hero film. Ashitaka is foretold to die. However, he is given the chance to meet his fate and find the origin of his curse; beginning his quest. The dialogue of one of the village elders at this moment brings the mood even lower, speaking of the Emishi tribe and their sorrows, after banishment by the Emperor, they are the last remnants of the Emishi, and now they must watch their last Prince- one who protected them selflessly, the hero, leave them forever, with no return. The elder’s words “…sometimes I think the Gods are laughing at us” is probably one of the most profound lines I’ve heard in any film, and sets the sorrowful and hopelessness mood of the scene at its lowest point.
…Profoundly moving and contrasting, the scenes ‘Departure from Emishi Village’ and ‘Journey to the West’ will take away your hope, fill you with grief, nerves and then open you up to the magnificently vast and mysterious world of “Princess Mononoke”…
The visual element of the scene and, in particular, Ashitaka leaving the hut, although quite a small segment to focus on, I find to further enhance this essence of this loss and sorrow and is profoundly moving to me. The dialogue of the scene explains the Emishi villagers are forbidden to see Ashitaka leave, and must see him as dead, forever. The scene in the hut is animated to reflect this restriction- when Ashitaka walks out of the doorway. The viewer has to watch this segment from the back of the room, still, unmoving and restricted- no cuts, no extra angles. The faces of the other characters in the hut are either obscured or in misery, forced to avert their gaze, as their Prince disappears. The audience is treated with the same restriction, watching, fixed, as the main character silently slips out of view. It is an incredibly powerful moment in the film, and places the audience directly in the world, in the elder woman’s hut, being one with the villagers, watching their Prince leave forever.
A quick segment in the village shows Ashitaka gathering his steed, Yakul, and saying goodbye to his sister before leaving- although it is a touching scene I don’t find it to add anything to the overall mood, perhaps adding some hope, and therefore provides a good transition to the next scene which I want to talk about in depth.
“The Journey to the West” is the scene that follows, and instantly hits the viewer with wide landscape visuals and powerful music. The scene shows Ashitaka’s travels across sweeping plains and mountains, indicating the start of his epic quest. After the previous scenes, which feigned a smaller world to the audience, the small village, the hut, the surrounding farmland- this scene fills the screen with luscious landscapes with a mounted hero galloping through them. This contrast is building the film and gives it magnitude. The audience is not only given an idea of the scale of the world surrounding the hero, but also the vastness of his journey, his quest. The world is shown to be huge, vast and beautiful, but also, with Ashitaka’s determination, constantly galloping, constantly moving; I can’t help but feel that this world and his journey will also be a difficult challenge. The music, “Journey to the West” by composer Joe Hisaishi, fits the scene perfectly, and easily one of my favourite pieces of music used in a film. It is a large, climatic piece, with volume and power. It slowly builds in the previous scene, in the hut beginning quiet and sombre however as soon as we are greeted with the first large landscape, the music bursts into an epic crescendo filling this new world, this new quest with its volume and grandeur. Every time I watch it (I have watched this film many times) I get a tightness in my chest, my eyes widen to take in the largeness of the world and of the film and I’m instantly on the edge of my seat, getting that feeling of “what will happen next?” Because that is what this scene is; it takes away some of your hope, fills you with nerves and then opens you up to this wide, vast and unknown world – reflecting the nature of Ashitaka’s journey and the rest of the film. It’s going to be large, it’s going to be difficult, it’s like nothing the hero has ever seen before, and it’s going to be like nothing you’ve ever seen before.