The Magical World of Miyazaki: Princess Mononoke
By Geeky Gem
In The Magical World of Miyazaki, I have looked at Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro. This week, our magical journey continues, with a look at the epic Japanese fantasy, Princess Mononoke. Hitting the screens in 1997, this film was again written by Hayao Miyazaki. The title Mononoke, is not a name as such, but the Japanese term for Spirit or Monster.
Believe it or not, this film is actually a period drama set in the late Muromachi Period, with a few fantastical elements thrown in for good measure. The film involves Ashitaka and the struggle between the supernatural guardians of the forest, and the humans of Iron Town. The people of Iron Town are consuming the forest’s resources. The overall theme of the story is that the humans and forest spirits can live in harmony, or more broadly, humankind and nature should live in harmony, a very environmental message.
The story opens with a giant boar demon attacking Emishi village and Ashitaka. Ashitaka is forced to fight and kill the demon. However in the struggle Ashitaka receives a curse which grants him superhuman power, but will eventually kill him. Under the advice of the village wise-woman, he leaves the village in order to travel west in search of a cure.
After a few days on the road, he meets Jigo a wandering Monk, who tells him that he might be able find help from a forest spirit who lives in the mountain range. However, this task won’t be easy, the inhabitants of the area are gigantic animal Gods, and complicating matters, Iron Town is also near by. The people of Iron Town are consonantly clearing the nearby forest, in order to get charcoal, to smelt iron sand which they use to make firearms. This leads to a battle with the giant forest beasts. Among these animals there are a pack of giant wolves, accompanied by San, a human girl, who the wolves adopted. It is she that the people of Iron Town call Princess Mononoke.
Ashitaka finds two villagers injured by the wolves near a river, and helps them back to Iron Town. It is here where he gets his first look at forest spirit. A Kirin-like creature by day and a towering night walker by night.
While in Iron Town Ashitaka learns from Lady Eboshi, the manager of the town, that she made the boar-demon by shooting it. Ashitaka is not too happy to hear this, but then also finds out that Iron Town is a refuge for ancient Japan’s social outcasts, such as prostitutes and lepers. Because of this he finds it hard to hate Eboshi. That night, San breaks into Iron Town, and tries to kill Eboshi. However Ashitaka gets in the way, using his curse power’s to stop the fight between Eboshi and San. San leaves with Ashitaka, but as they are leaving, he is shot in the chest and dies. San takes him to the forest spirit, who brings him back to life, but does not remove the curse.
Shortly after, Boars, led by the boar god Okkoto, arrive to attack Iron Town. San joins them. Eboshi gets ready for the attack and sets out to destroy the Forest Spirits. Jigo now reveals himself to be a mercenary-hunter, he intends to give the head of the Boar to the emperor, in return for Iron Town’s protection.
The hunters devastate the boars, and Okkoto is driven mad by a gunshot wound. The Forest Spirit comes and kills Okkoto, but Eboshi appears and shoots the Forest Spirit in the head, decapitating it. Jigo takes the head of the fallen spirit, but it’s body transforms into a mindless god of death, which starts to destroy everything in it’s path, in search for it’s stolen head.
Ashitaka and San go looking for Jigo, in order to take back the head, so they can return it to the Forest Spirit. The Forest Spirit falls in to the lake, turning the land green, and healing all the lepers and accursed, including Ashitaka and San. They both then go back to their old lives, but promise to meet again. Ashitaka decides to rebuild Iron Town, with a now reformed Eboshi, who vows to make a better village. The film ends with the lovely Kodama appearing to help the forest.
The are many reason’s why you should watch this film. The first is, this is one of the rare Studio Ghibli films where the main protagonist is male. Another is the music. Studio Ghibli have this fantastic way of matching the music to the film just perfectly, something that I think goes astray in western films sometimes. One of the other reasons has to be the story. I think what Miyazaki is trying to tells us here, is that we need to look after our planet, before we do way too much damage that we can’t fix.
The animation is beautifully done, and I know I have repeated that statement every week so far, but it doesn’t stop it being true. The film went though some alterations when coming out here in the West, the story remained unchanged, however specific Japanese terms were replaced to make things a little easier on us Westerners. Terms like Jibashiri and Shishigami, that appear in the Japanese version, were changed to more general terms, such as Mercenary and Forest Spirit. These changes where made by Neil Gaiman, writer of Sandman.
It was also given two thumbs up from Harry Knowels of Ain’t It Cool News. Now if Harry gives it two thumps up, that should tell you that you need to see this film immediately, at least, in my opinion. I hope if you do get your hands on it, you enjoy it as much as I did, and that with repeat viewings, you will grow to love it as much as I do.