Hayao Miyazaki’s second most successful movie (after Spirited Away) is a dark, exciting adventure story that resonates with the power of myth.
Historical Fantasy, Adventure
English, French, Japanese with subtitles
Norobu Yoshida, Youji Takeshige
Kazuo Oga, Naoya Tanaka, Nizo Yamamoto, Satoshi Kuroda, Youji Takeshige
Masahi Ando, Kitaro Kosaka, Yoshifumi Kondo
Region 1 Publisher
Walt Disney Home Entertainment
This was one of the all-time top grossing films in Japan (surpassed by Titanic and Spirited Away) but it was less successful overseas. While it was in production Disney negotiated a long-term multi-film licensing deal with Studio Ghibli, under which they agreed, sight unseen, to give Princess Mononoke an American theatrical release. They were distressed when they received the film and found that it was over two hours long and not particularly child-friendly.
Even though the contract made it clear that the American release could not be re-edited, Disney asked for permission to shorten it and trim out some of the violence. The producer sent Harvey Weinstein an authentic samurai sword with a note attached that said “No cuts.”
Disney ended up giving the film a limited theatrical release and it did not make much money. However the DVD sold well and is a favorite of many anime fans. Disney has indicated that they plan to issue a new 2-disc version of the DVD with additional bonus features.
This movie is not suitable for young children due to violence that includes numerous shots of severed limbs and heads flying around. (These are generally distance shots with much less blood than one might reasonably expect.) Teenagers and most ten-year-olds should be able to handle it.
Premise and Characters
The story is set in the late 15th century at the beginning of the Warring States period, a time of social upheaval and a weak central government, with the country torn apart by battling warlords.
Hidden in the eastern forests is a surviving village of the Emishi, an aboriginal people of the main island of Honshu who fought the Yamato Japanese for centuries before being wiped out or assimilated.
The Emishi are long extinct and little is known about them, but Miyazaki imagines them as noble primitive warriors who live in harmony with nature and ride large antelopes (referred to as “elk” in the translation.)
, the last descendant of the Emishi royal family, is the tribe’s most promising young warrior, brave and idealistic.
His steed Yakkul
is faithful and intelligent.
At the beginning of the story the village is attacked by a horrific monster, a giant boar covered with poisonous tentacles. Any living thing that it touches is blighted and destroyed.
Ashitaka rides to stop it and manages to mortally wound it with his arrows,
…but during the struggle his arm is injured by its tentacles.
, the village shaman, tries to mollify the evil spirit,
…but the dying monster just curses them and expires.
Ashitaka’s arm is festering with the beast’s malevolence. Hii-sama says that he is doomed to be destroyed by it. His only hope is to leave the tribe and travel to the west from whence it came, in order to find the source of the creature’s anger.
On his journey Ashitaka encounters Jiko
, a wandering monk. Jiko is clever and knowledgeable, but seems untrustworthy.
Jiko advises him to seek out the Forest of the Deer God, a primeval forest where animals still grow to the sizes they attained in ancient times.
The forest is infested with kodoma
or tree spirits. They are odd-looking but they seem harmless.
The Deer God 
is a very powerful and mysterious being whose form sometimes resembles a deer with multiple antlers. Legends say that he can be used as a source of eternal life.
A settlement has sprung up next to the forest. The settlers are mining the plentiful iron ore and cutting down trees to make charcoal for their forges.
, the leader of the settlement, has recruited her followers from among society’s outcasts. She cares deeply about her people and will stop at nothing to protect them.
The local lords covet the settlement’s iron. To defend against them Lady Eboshi has equipped her followers with primitive Chinese firearms, and has encouraged them to develop improved models.
is Lady Eboshi’s hot-tempered second in command.
leads the women who operate the bellows for the forge. She is cheerful and high-spirited but has a rather sharp tongue.
Her husband Kouroku
the ox-driver is a well-meaning by ineffectual man. Toki bosses him around unmercifully.
Years ago when the wolf goddess Moro no Kimi
was pursuing some humans through the forest, they threw a baby in her path. Moro adopted the child and raised her. She is now a fierce wolf-like young woman named San
San hates humans and is outraged by the damage that the settlers are doing to the forest. She leads the wolves in attacks on the settlers, hoping to kill Lady Eboshi. The humans call her “mononoke hime”
The boar god Okkotonushi
leads his followers from the southern island of Kyuushu to fight the humans and defend the Deer God’s Forest.
Wikipedia entry (spoilers).
ANN Encyclopedia entry.
Entry on nausicaa.net.
 Actually shishigami or “beast god.”