Ahh, another great anime movie to watch. Man, when I first heard about today’s movie in the late 90’s, I was really excited to see it because I have enjoyed Miyazaki’s other works. I managed to get a bootleg copy of it but unfortunately, it wasn’t a very good copy. Luckily for me, this movie got a US theatrical release (which doesn’t often happen for anime’s) and I managed to catch it in theaters. Then when it was released on DVD, I obviously had to buy it. So here is today’s movie, Princess Mononoke.
The plot: In ancient Japan, much of the land was covered in forest and human’s lived in peace with the forest spirits, which took the form of large animals. In an Emishi village, Ashitaka, the last Emishi prince, is heading for the village’s watchtower, telling some girls he passes to head back to the village. When he gets to the tower, he sees something strange in the forest and is shocked when a large demon, looking like a mass of worms, bursts out of the forest. When the demon steps out of the shade, the worms briefly move off the main body to reveal a large boar before they surround it again as it attacks the watchtower. Ashitaka manages to save the lookout and then rides off to try and stop the demon from attacking the village. When the demon heads towards the girls he passed earlier, Ashitaka is forced to shoot it with an arrow, and the wounded creature lashes out at him, ensnaring his arm in some of the worms. Ashitaka fights back and kills the demon then falls to the ground in pain as the worms disappear from the boar’s body. The villagers, led by their wise woman, approach him and while she gives one of the girls some holy water to cleanse Ashitaka’s wound, the wise woman approaches the boar and offers a prayer, saying they will have a funeral and begs the boar to depart this world in peace. The boar says that they will feel his hate before it dissolves into a pile of bones. That night, the wise woman tells Ashitaka that the boar came from the western lands and that an iron ball, which they found in the boar’s skeleton, is what injured it and caused it to turn into a demon. The wise woman says that Ashitaka must go to the western lands and find out what is going on, possibly finding a cure for his now cursed arm in the process, but because he killed a forest god, he is forever dead to the village. Riding off on Yakul, his antelope/elk steed, soon comes across some samurai killing some villagers and when he is attacked, he makes his way through, killing two of the samurai in the process. In a nearby village, Ashitaka is buying some supplies and meets a monk named Jigo and as they make camp for the night, the two start talking. When Ashitaka shows him the iron ball, Jigo tells him to head further west but warns that the area is very dangerous to humans. Far to the west, a caravan is travelling up the mountains towards their home when they are attacked by two large wolves, with a girl riding on one of them. The caravan guards fire at the wolves and chase them off but they were merely a diversion as the wolves’ mother, the god Moro, attacks the caravan, knocking several of the oxen and men off the cliff before she is shot and knocked off the cliff herself. The next morning, Ashitaka manages to find two of the men in the river and after pulling them to shore, he sees Moro and the other wolves. The girl jumps off the wolf she was riding and begins sucking the poisoned blood from Moro’s wound but stops when they notice Ashitaka. Ashitaka asks them if this is where he can find the Spirit of the Forest but the girl tells him to go home and leaves with Moro and the other wolves. Hearing a scream, Ashitaka returns to the wounded men and sees one of them awake and scared of a kodoma, a small forest spirit. Knowing that the kodoma are not dangerous, he asks the kodoma if they can pass through the forest, as one of the men needs serious medical attention, and the spirit guides them through the woods. As they follow the kodoma through the woods, they come across a hidden swamp where they rest for a minute. Noticing some strange tracks in the ground, Ashitaka sees some deer going by in the distance as well as the Spirit of the Forest, in stag form, but it causes his cursed arm to act up and he quickly dips it in the water until the throbbing stops. They eventually leave the forest and reach Irontown, where the townspeople rejoice in seeing the two men still alive. As Ashitaka eats with some of the men, he learns some of the history of Irontown and it’s leader, Lady Eboshi. He learns that Eboshi employs social outcasts such as lepers and prostitutes to help make iron from the land to make weapons and have been fighting with the forest gods. When he hears about Lady Eboshi using her rifles on the boar god Nago, he realizes that Nago was the boar that had attacked his village. Later that night, he speaks with Eboshi and tells her what happened and she tells him of Princess Mononoke, the wolf girl. That night, Princess Mononoke and the two young wolves rush towards the town and Mononoke manages to get inside. Eboshi tries to lure her into a trap and ends up fighting with Mononoke herself. With the curse manifesting itself in his arm, Ashitaka breaks up the fight, telling everyone to stop what they are doing as the hatred will eat them alive just as it is doing to him. He then stuns the two women, handing Eboshi over to some of the women while he plans to carry Mononoke back outside but as he turns away, he is shot. Continuing walking, Ashitaka makes it to the front gate and manages to push it open by himself, thanks to the strength from the curse, and tells the wolves that Mononke is unharmed. Riding off into the woods, Ashitaka collapses from his wound and one of the wolves rushes to attack him but is stipped by Mononke, who the wolves call San. San asks why Ashitaka stopped her from killing Eboshi and says that she should kill him but stops when he tells her she is beautiful. Suddenly, the ape tribe, who are always attempting to replant the forest at night, start throwing sticks and rocks at San and the wolves, wanting to eat Ashitaka as they think it will give them the strength to defeat the humans but the wolves chase them off. San sends the the wolves back home, then takes Ashitaka to the mystic swamp, hoping that the Forest Spirit will choose to heal his wound. As dawn approaches, the Forest Spirit, in it’s giant nightwalker form, heads to the swamp, unaware that it is being observed by Jigo and some hunters. As they watch where it goes, they move away but witness an army of large boars, led by a giant boar god named Okkoto, heading towards the forest and they decide to leave. The Forest Spirit heals Ashitaka’s gunshot wound, but not the curse, and as he comes too, San shows up and starts to feed him. Suddenly, Moro and the wolves appear just as the boars show up and the boars want to know why Ashikata is there. Ashikata tells the boars that Nago was poisoned by the bullet and turned to a demon and Okkoto approaches him and after smelling him, says he believes him, then tells Moro that he plans on leading the boars to attack the humans before they grow to stupid to be anything other than game for the humans. Elsewhere, Eboshi and her soldiers are fending off an attack from a samurai lord that wants their iron. She meets up with Jigo, who says they had a deal for her to help him kill the Forest Spirit and when he mentions the boar army, they come up with a plan. That night, Ashitaka wakes up and speaks with Moro about San and they argue about whether she should die with the wolves. The next day, Ashitaka wakes up to find himself alone and heads out, guided by one of the wolves and he thanks it and gives it a crystal to give to San. Ashitaka heads to Irontown and finds it under attack by the samurai lord’s men. Ashitaka heads out to find Eboshi and finds that the men have killed all of the boars and warns the surviving men about what is happening in Irontown. When he finds one of the wolves trapped underneath a boar, he tries to free it but Jigo’s men try stop him until they are stopped by the men from Irontown. San and the other wolf are attempting to lead a severly injured Okkoto to the Forest Spirit’s swamp when they notice they are beiung followed by Jigo’s hunters, wearing the boar’s skins to disguise themselves from Okkoto. San sends the wolf to get Moro while she tries to stop Okkoto but Okkoto starts turning into a demon and he engulfs San. Ashitaka reaches the swamp to find Moro there and when Okkoto appears, he tries to rescue San but is flung into the water. Moro attacks Okkoto to free San and Ashitaka is able to take her as the Forest Spirit shows up and kills both Moro and Okkoto to prevent them from becoming demons. As the Forest Spirit starts to change into the niightwalker, Eboshi shoots it and decapitates it, but the body transforms into a blobbish creature that kills anything it touches. Eboshi throws the head to Jigo but her arm is bitten off by Moro’s revived head. Ashitaka helps save Eboshi and Gonza, her bodyguard, and takes them to the island for safety, then convinces San to help him stop the spirit from destroying everything. They race to Irontown and warn them to run to the lake just before the creature attacks Irontown while they go to stop Jigo and his men from leaving with the head. When they finally get the head, Ashitaka calls out to the spirit and it engulfs them as it merges with the head, then it falls onto Irontown, and the lake. As it disappears, the forest around the mountain starts growing again while Asitaka and San regain consciousness and discover that the curse that was infecting both of them has been cured. While San admits her feelings for Ashitaka, she can’t trust the humans and Ashitaka says that he will help rebuild Irontown and visit her when he can.
Princess Mononoke met with high praise from the critics, holding a certified fresh rating of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is that, “With its epic story and breathtaking visuals, Princess Mononoke is a landmark in the world of animation.” When the movie was released in the US, some changes were made to make it easier to understand for those not familiar with Asian phrases and culture, particularly related to the mythological elements. When it was released in Japan, Princess Mononoke was the highest grossing movie of all time in Japan, earning over 14.5 billion yen, until it was eventually topped by Titanic. Unfortunately, the movie did not have the same success in the US when it was in theaters but did find much higher success when it was released on video.
This is definitely one of my top 3 anime movies to watch. The voice acting, as far as the English is concerned, did a good job of conveying a lot of the emotions that was displayed in the movie. The story was really good, blending equal aspects of feudal Japan with elements of their mythology into a terrific fantasy movie. The animation was absolutely incredible in this movie and some of the most fluid and beautiful animation I had seen in a while. Definitely well worth watching whenever you get the chance.
Rating: 5 out of 5