Saturday, 7 February 2009

Mononoke (Japan, 2007)


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
(Japanese with English subtitles)

Mononoke is a 12 episode-spanning animated series which follows a nameless medicine seller (pictured above, I'd like to call him Link) in his travels and the various people — and monsters, so-called "mononoke" — he ends up encountering. A mononoke results when an "ayakashi", a spirit that simply comes into being, unites with strong human emotions such as vengeance, sadness or fear. The medicine seller is capable of defeating these spirits by using the sword of exorcism, but in order to unsheathe the sword and slay the mononoke he must find the shape ("katachi"; its true form), truth ("makoto"; the reason for its existence), and regret /reasoning ("kotowari"; what it hopes to accomplish) in order to defeat it. This exorcism technique is based on the Mikkyo Buddhism concept of "San Himitsu," which translates to "The Three Secrets."

Apart from the most striking feature, its highly experimental and unconventional visual style which juxtaposes and combines the traditional Japanese art of "ukiyo-e" with elements of Western art movements such as art nouveau, surrealism, expressionism and cubism (read more about this here and here), the series clearly serves as a great demonstration of Japanese mythology and culture. For instance, I had read about the "ko-kwai" in Lafcadio Hearn's In Ghostly Japan which he translates as "incense-party", a meeting of people with the object of playing a curious game which depends upon the participants' ability to remember and name different kinds of incense by the perfume alone (read the respective chapter here). I was, then, delighted to see a slightly altered version of this procedure visualized in the 4th of Mononoke's five story arcs where the female heir of a famous school of incense has to marry one out of four guys vying for her hand. The lucky person is to be determined by a game called "genjikou," where everyone needs to smell different scents and try to discern which are the same. As the word might indicate, this game refers to a chapter from the Tale of Genji where five "kiki-gouro" (incense cups) are prepared by covering lit charcoal with ash and placing a mica plate with incense wood on top to be passed among the contestants.

If you want to give this a try, I suggest you could start with the last arc (episodes 10-12) which is set in what appears to be the 1920s rather than historical Japan. I certainly thought these to be the most astonishing episodes, as far as style is concerned at least. The landscape is predominated by a bleak and I'd say expressionist tone in comparison to the rest of the series. For me, it was partly reminiscent of Angel's Egg and Serial Experiments Lain, and I really love the style of setting in both of these works. The fourth arc (8-9) which I've already mentioned is also one of my favourites and is mainly monochrome with selected parts being tinged with colour (a feature which has already been put to some prominent use in Sin City). The first and second arc, most of all, are studies in space, geometry and perspective, and probably the most colourful in the series. There's an interesting article on the interior design in Mononoke at Iwa ni Hana, a blog I've already mentioned when I happened upon the Leviča short, Labirynt. She's also uttered some interesting and more elaborate thoughts on the episodes here.

9 comments:

wm said...

Good to see you back!
Any of the new Univive Rallizes recordings on the horizon?

Thanks for all your efforts!

Nikos M. said...

an amazing work of art... I have known this and "angel's egg" through your blog-so thank is the least to say!

philippe Cavaleri said...

thank you very much!! for this and all the other wonderful posts...
& for the link to this amazing article on chinese & japanese aesthetic.

Duck said...

This is really great - thank you! I particularly liked eps 8-9 ("Nue"). I have also found the theme songs running through my head at inopportune moments...

Hans said...

Thank you! I don't think I have ever seen animation like this before.

fslmy said...

thankyou thankyou thankyou for introducing me to this series

nightlight said...

Hey, I was just commenting on surreal-moviez to say thanx for the series and found out it's you... Well, I owe u a link with this one. Thanx again.

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