Soon after its theatrical release, Princess Mononoke became the highest-grossing film of all time at the Japanese box office. It was eventually displaced by the landing of Titanic. And perhaps a comparison of the two films would prove instructive. Like Mononoke, Titanic swims in contradiction: It is a tragedy of nature over technology made possible by a triumph of technology over art. Where James Cameron and company spent their millions building an ocean and a ship--a monument to hubris--in order to re-create history, Miyazaki drew a vision of the world as it was, and might yet become. Titanic was titanic, where Miyazaki's film is elegant and controlled, directing its message beneath the radar of cynicism. Even as Miyazaki himself looks deep into the past, his secret purpose is to open our eyes to the possibility of all things.
Princess Mononoke is, in that respect, the resolution of everything the filmmaker had worked toward in his earlier movies. The Promethean effort of producing his summa poetica--he personally drew 80,000 of the film's 140,000 cells--had nevertheless drained him, and in 1997 he hinted at retirement. Miyazaki wanted to make room, he said, for younger animators. His eyesight was failing as well, and he wished to retreat to his mountain cabin--a master at rest.
Raised by wolves: San answers the call of the wild in Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke