TELLURIDE, Colo.--The day began with one of the most wondrous films I ever hope to see. "Princess Mononoke," by the Japanese master of animation Hayao Miyazaki, is a symphony of action and images, a thrilling epic of warriors and monsters, forest creatures and magical spells, with an underlying allegory about the relationship of man and nature. Not a children's film, it is a film for all ages that demonstrates why, for some stories, the special effects wizards are only spinning their wheels, because some images cannot be visualized unless they are drawn.

How appropriate it was that the Telluride Film Festival screening was held in the new Chuck Jones Cinema, at the top of the ski lift. Jones, whose Warner Brothers cartoons are treasures, specialized in shape-shifting, in characters and objects that were infinitely plastic. At 87,he was warned by the doctors not to test his heart against the thin Telluride air, but how much he would have enjoyed the spellbinding opening scene of "Princess Mononoke," in which a watchtower is attacked by a fearsome many-legged beast whose body seems made of writhing snakes.

An image like that simply cannot be made with special effects; it would emerge too complex and murky. It takes the clarity of drawing to bring it fully alive. Miyazaki has resisted computer animation, and less than 10 percent of this film uses it; most of it is drawn by hand, the traditional way, and the master personally did 80,000 of the 144,000 hand drawings. The result is an endlessly enchanting film, visually original and astonishing, about a mythical society poised on the edge of the Iron Age, when beasts and men can still speak to one another, unless the forest spirit is destroyed.

"Princess Mononoke" was the top-grossing film in Japanese history until it was dethroned by "Titanic." It was preceded in the American market by two of Miyazaki's magical family oriented films, "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Kiki's Delivery Service." This one transcends everything else he has done, and is being given a major push by Miramax. If the Motion Picture Academy truly does seek out the five best features of the year, then it is hard to see how it can fail to nominate this one.