Well, here we are at number one, though I have to say that Princess Mononoke is not only my favourite animated film, but one of my favourite films, full stop.
I’m a massive fan of the Studio Ghibli films, and I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve seen (even Tales of Earthsea), and I’m still working my way through their impressive library (Porco Rosso next, methinks). Of the Ghibli films I’ve seen, there are two that stand out; Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke. Spirited Away is great for the first two-thirds or so, but I feel it goes downhill in the last act.
Now, I like anime. Elfen Lied, Outlaw Star, Gurren Lagann… all great series that I loves to bits. However, there are times when I grow a little weary of the standard anime tropes of broody wangsty heroes, stupid comic relief, and embarrassing fan-service in the form of huge-breasted schoolgirls. I’m not ignorant enough to say that all anime is like that, but there’s a lot of dross out there.
However, the films that Hayao Miyazaki (i.e. the dude behind Mononoke) is involved in tend to skirt the usual stereotypical anime guff. Characters can be brooding, but there’s a depth to their emotions. Any humour is genuine and fitting with the film’s overall tone, and there isn’t stacked stick-thin wank-material in sight.
So, Princess Mononoke. Where to begin…
Princess Mononoke is an animated historical-fantasy drama set in (according to Wikipedia) Japan’s Muromachi period (1337 – 1573) with various fantastical elements, namely the gods being real and taking the form of enormous talking animals. The story’s main theme is that of the pursuit of industry and progress at the sacrifice of the environment, though it also touches on social issues of acceptance within the group. It’s a classic theme seen in many films, because it’s one that’s always relevant; Mankind versus Nature, seeking to conquer it rather than protect it.
The film starts with a rural village coming under attack by a demon. The prince of the village (and our protagonist), Ashitaka, slays the demon, but not before suffering a cursed wound on his arm. Upon death, it’s revealed that the demon was actually one of the gods of the land, the boar god Nago.
Back at the village, the wise woman speaks with Ashitaka, and shows him an iron bullet that was lodged in Nago’s body. The wise woman tells Ashitaka that he may find a cure for his wound in the lands to the west. If he doesn’t find a cure, the wound will eventually corrupt his body and soul, and turn him into a demon as well. Ashitaka accepts exile, and leaves his village. During his travels, Ashitaka discovers his curse gives him superhuman strength when he casually wrecks the ever-loving shit of some mercenary samurai. He also meets a monk called Jigo, who mentions that the Great Forest Spirit may be able to provide a cure.
In the nearby settlement of Iron Town, the people of the town are under constant attack by wolves, led by the wolf goddess Moro, and a feral human girl who the townsfolk call Princess Mononoke. While travelling, Ashitaka encounters the survivors of one of these attacks, and leads them back safely to Iron Town. Along the way, he catches a glimpse of Princess Mononoke and the wolves, the childlike kodama forest spirits, and even the Forest Spirit, which makes his cursed wound react violently.
Upon arriving in Iron Town, Ashitaka meets with the town’s leader, Lady Eboshi, who states that she built the town by clearing a great expanse of forest to lay claim to the iron ore in the area. Eboshi takes in social outcasts such as brothel workers and lepers, who help her make firearms to defend against attacks from the gods, who want revenge against her for destroying the forest. Ashitaka discovers that Lady Eboshi is the one who shot Nago, and is ultimately responsible for his curse. This does not go down well.
Eboshi also explains that Princess Mononoke (her real name is San) was raised by the wolves, and hates humans just as much as they do.
San manages to get into Iron Town and makes an attempt to assassinate Eboshi. The two duel, but Ashitaka intervenes, and leaves Iron Town with a now-unconscious San. In doing so, he suffers a gunshot wound, but manages to shrug it off despite having an exit wound the size of a grapefruit in his sternum. After recovering, San takes Ashitaka to the forest, where he is healed by the Great Forest Spirit. After this, San decides to tolerate Ashitaka, despite the fact a) he’s a human, b) his hat is silly, c) he’s cursed by a demon, and d) seriously, look at that goofy-ass hat.
Meanwhile, Moro and the wolves form an alliance with the boars and the boar god Ekkota in a plan to wipe out Iron Town and take back the forest. Jigo returns, revealed to be a mercenary who is trying to claim the head of the Forest Spirit for the Emperor of Japan. There’s a battle, and Ekkota is corrupted by a rifle bullet, turning into Mr Tentacle McGribbleface. The Forest Spirit appears and cleanses Ekkota of the corruption, which kills him. Best fucking doctor here, right?
Eboshi then appears and beheads the Forest Spirit, turning it into a Lovecraftian cosmic horror that immediately begins destroying and corrupting the forest. Ashitaka and San make a desperate escape from the deadly tide, and eventually return the Forest Spirit’s head, restoring the Forest Spirit, and healing both the land and Ashitaka’s cursed wound.
The film ends as Ashitaka and San go their seperate ways. San still hates the humans for what they have done, and chooses to remain in the forest with the wolves. Ashitaka vows to help the people of Iron Town rebuild, and promises that he will visit San in the forest, because he totally wubs her.
If you have not seen Princess Mononoke, you owe it to yourself to watch it. Even if anime isn’t your thing, give it a go. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. To me, Princess Mononoke is the perfect film; I could quite happily sit down and watch it again and again. It’s a film I find incredibly inspiring and beautiful, and that’s why it’s firmly at the top of my list of favourite animated films.
I hope you all enjoyed this little series, and that it’s been amusing and, dare I say, informative. I hope that by reading this, you’ve become aware of films you’ve never heard of and want to watch, or have just come to appreciate the films you like even more.
I’ll be calming down on posts for a little while (one 800+ word post a day for nearly 8 straight days has been a little taxing), but I’ll see you inFebruary, and, if all goes according to plan, you’ll see me too…