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Princess Mononoke

Entry updated 3 May 2021. Tagged: Film.

Japanese animated film (1997). Original title Mononoke Hime. Studio Ghibli. Directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki. Voice cast includes Yuriko Ishida, Yōji Matsuda, Akihiro Miwa, Sumi Shimamoto and Yūko Tanaka. 134 minutes. Colour.

In fifteenth- or sixteenth-century Japan, Prince Ashitaka (Matsuda) kills the maddened boar god (see Gods and Demons) attacking his village. During the fight his arm is poisoned: it now has increased strength but, untreated, will eventually kill him. Ashitaka goes west in search of the Great Forest Spirit (or Deer God) that might be able to cure this curse.

The Forest Spirit inhabits the ancient Cedar Forest, encroached on by the industrial town of Tataraba, run by Lady Eboshi (Tanaka): its workers include the prostitutes she has rescued and the lepers she has helped. Eboshi is at War with the forest dwellers, most notably the apes, boars and wolves: she had earlier wounded the boar god. San, or Princess Mononoke (Ishida), a girl raised by the wolf goddess Moro (Miwa), wishes to kill Eboshi: Ashitaka gets caught in the middle and wants to find a peaceful resolution. The Forest Spirit's head is reputed to give Immortality, which Japan's Emperor desires; as Eboshi wants his support against a territorially ambitious rival, she shoots its head off. The now-headless Forest Spirit transforms into a nightmare creature that threatens to destroy the region (see Disaster), but Ashitaka and San join forces and return its head. A chastened Eboshi, having had her arm torn off by Moro, promises to rebuild her town, but better this time: Ashitaka, now cured, will help her, but will visit San in the forest.

Though Ashitaka is the main protagonist, he sees himself as a peacemaker not a warrior. The remarkable personalities of Eboshi, San and Toki (Shimamoto), the leader of the ex-prostitutes, are the film's strongest characters and reflect the film's Feminist leanings. There are no real villains: the nearest is Eboshi, who cares for her people and wishes to create a Utopia – but her concern is for humanity, not for the environment (see Ecology) and she is prepared to clear the forest and kill the forest animals' gods – even though doing so will reduce their Intelligence from a human level to that of beasts (unromantically, the intelligent animals are not depicted as being any wiser than people).

Surprisingly violent for a Miyazaki film – there are several decapitations – it strongly conveys his environmentalism, without being wholly anti-industrialization (at the fifteenth-century level at least). Fantasy and Japanese Mythology elements aside (which make this an Alternate History), historical fidelity is usually maintained (see History in SF), with a reasonably accurate depiction of the Tatara-buki method of iron production in Tataraba. However, though Japan had hand cannons and the Portuguese brought muskets in the sixteenth century, Eboshi's guns (see Weapons) are more advanced Technology, capable off blowing off a giant Supernatural Creature's head.

As is to be expected with Studio Ghibli, the animation is excellent, whilst the story and characters are memorable: this is an exceptional film. As of July 2020 Princess Mononoke is the seventh highest grossing film in Japan and the eighth highest grossing Anime in the world. James Cameron has acknowledged its influence on Avatar (2009). The English dub was adapted by Neil Gaiman. [SP]

see also: Kaze no Tani no Nausicaä.


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