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In ancient times, the land lay covered in forests, where from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of the gods. Back then, man and beast lived in harmony. But as time went by, most of the great forests were destroyed. Those that remained were guarded by gigantic beasts, who owed their allegiances to the Great Forest Spirit. For those were the days of gods and of demons.
— Opening narration
Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫 Mononoke Hime) is an acclaimed 1997 film from famed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, with a rather dark, serious plot and ambience (compared to most of his other works), yet lacking none of the trademark stunning visuals of a Studio Ghibli production. The score was written by Joe Hisaishi. Also worth noting that Neil Gaiman adapted the film's English dub.The story is set during the 15th or 16th century, and begins in a small village of the Emishi, the indigenous inhabitants of Japan who by this time have mostly been conquered or driven into hiding in remote corners of the east. The village's peace is shattered by the attack of a terrible demon; their last remaining prince, Ashitaka, is injured during the fight against it, and even worse, the mortally wounded demon is revealed to be a powerful spirit — a giant boar that curses the Emishi with its last breath and reveals that the wound Ashitaka suffered will kill him too. The village elders decide, with much reluctance, that Ashitaka must leave the village before the curse takes full possession of him, and travel west in search of his destiny. Ashitaka leaves immediately, with only his trusted red elk Yakul. The young prince follows the demon boar's trail of destruction with the only clue he has about what transformed it into a demon: an iron ball found embedded in its body.Ashitaka travels through the war-torn countryside, discovering that his curse has also imparted superhuman strength along the way. He eventually comes upon Irontown, a mining settlement on the edge of the wilderness that's in the midst of a three-way war between the strong-willed Lady Eboshi (who protects the town through the use of firearms), the spirits of the forest (who want to stop Irontown's expansion to protect their homes from destruction), and an influential samurai warlord (who wants to seize the town for the wealth it generates). In Irontown, Ashitaka tries his best to create some peace between the various sides, cure his curse, and pursue a relationship with San, a human girl who was raised by wolves and fights alongside the spirits as events seem to be heading towards an inevitable disaster.Not to be confused with the anime Mononoke.
This film contains examples of:
Action Girl: San is the foremost example. Lady Eboshi also has a place here. Toki and the other gun-wielding girls, too.
Aluminum Christmas Trees: Yes, there were quite a lot of firearms in pre-Edo Japan (first appearing in the form of Chinese cannons in the 13th century); even after unification, the shogunate maintained gunpowder-weapon arsenals in case of rebellion.
An Aesop: War, greed, and hatred only escalate, corrupting everyone in the process.
Annoying Arrows: Justified and averted. The Gods shake them off (justified), Ashitaka's demonic strength makes his arrows far deadlier than they would usually be: he can easily decapitate people, and how about hitting the hilt of a mook's sword causing the poor guy's arms to fly off? Ashitaka is also seen catching an arrow as it shoots by him (with his demon arm), spinning it around and notching it, then firing it back in the space of about three seconds. Normal arrows aimed at non-gods or non-demon-possessed characters are treated as as lot bigger deal than usual; one of them cripples Yakul near the climax.
Archer Archetype: While a skilled swordsman, Ashitaka's truly badass feats are performed with his bow. He also proves himself perfectly capable of living alone in the wilderness without other people.
Aristocrats Are Evil: Eboshi is shown to be gray, but her samurai opponent, Lord Asano, is only described as "A greedy bastard". To be fair, Asano was described as such by Jigo, while he was sucking up to Lady Eboshi — that and he chuckled about it immediately after.
Arrow Catch: Ashitaka not only can catch an arrow, but use it to fire back at the attacker. He also cuts arrows in half mid-air.
Attack Its Weak Point: Ashitaka is instinctively shooting his arrows into Nago's eyes which turn out to be his weak spot.
Audible Sharpness: Many blades make a distinct sound-effect, even when swung through the air. At one point, San swings a blade towards Ashitaka's throat, and creates a particularly sharp "metal on metal" sound despite only air being in its path.
Badass: Ashitaka doesn't brag about it, but boy, can he act the part! Lady Eboshi, San and Moro more than fit the bill too.
Badass Normal: Applies to Lady Eboshi in particular. Her enemies are the gods themselves, but it is they who fear her. Ashitaka himself applies; even before receiving his curse, he's able to defeat an enormous boar demon singlehandedly.
Badass Boast: Lady Eboshi. "Now watch closely, everyone. I'm going to show you how to kill a god. A god of life and death. The trick is not to fear him."
Bad Black Barf: In both instances where a boar is turned into a demon, they start to bleed and drool dark purple/black slime. In addition, the Forest Spirit starts releasing massive gobs of toxic black glop that instantly kill everything they touch.
Bandage Mummy: Most of the lepers are wrapped up head to foot, which is probably what would have happened to them in Real Life.
Beware the Nice Ones: Ashitaka is very kind, helpful and polite to those he likes, and would rather promote peace than fight. But when he's serious nothing can get in his way.
BFS: Gonza's nodachi. During his Unflinching Walk, Ashitaka bends it into a circle with his demon-infected arm when Gonza tries to stop him.
Big Brother Instinct: During the demon attack at the beginning of the film, Ashitaka the pacifist is initially very reluctant to attack and spends quite a while trying to pacify Nago. When he sees the demon boar charging towards Kaya, however, he doesn't hesitate to shoot it square in the eye.
Comforting Comforter: When Ashitaka goes back to the cave to sleep off his injuries San wakes up setting up the perfect opportunity for him to tuck her in with his blanket. Ashitaka wakes up the next morning with the blanket on him. D'aww.
Cooldown Hug: Ashitaka gives one to San after she stabs him in the chest.
Cranium Chase: The film plays this for horror with the Forest Spirit, whose body turns into an enormous Eldritch Abomination draining life from nearly everything in sight, seeking reunion with its severed head, which can still move.
Crapsack World: Face it...this world stinks. To the especially negative, it's a frighteningly accurate thematic representation of man and the modern world- how, despite the philanthropic intentions of respectable and powerful people, there is no balance between man and nature, and that nature is rapidly losing its struggle to resist urban development and stay a habitable place for non-humans.
Curb-Stomp Battle: The animals get slaughtered whenever they try and attack the humans head on. Asano's forces also seem to be on the receiving end of this, due to Iron Town possessing gunpowder and the enemy only having conventional weapons. Despite this, they do manage to break into the city near the end.
Cursed with Awesome: Sure, whatever Ashitaka has will kill him, but, while he's still alive, he's strong enough to decapitate people with arrows or single-handedly open gates that normally take ten strong men. He doesn't consider this a good thing though, and mainly uses his powers to do good.
The Determinator: One of the reasons the land suffer so much is that Okkoto, Moro, and Lady Eboshi are all implacably determined. Then a new Determinator shows up...
Not even getting shot through the lung slows Ashitaka down.
Moro spends most of the film with a bullet lodged in her chest and absolutely refuses to give up despite being paralyzed at one point. She may be a god, but she's getting on in years. She still bites after her head was cut off. It doesn't get much more determined than that.
Did Not Get the Girl: San cannot bring herself to leave the forest and live with Ashitaka because she hates the human race.
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Less blatant than many examples, as Gods and spirits are shown to be more vulnerable than in most stories, but still obvious at points.
Eboshi: He's a god, you fools — it'll take more than one shot.
Disappeared Dad: Neither of Ashitaka's parents are ever even mentioned in passing, which seems odd as his father would be the leader of the Emishi. For that matter, the father of Moro's wolf cubs is never mentioned either.
The original language seems to hint that just as the women want to avenge their husbands, San has come to avenge her own tribe — sounds like there were more wolves before.
Dramatic Irony: When Ashitaka intervenes in the fight between Lady Eboshi and San, Eboshi exclaims that she's tired of Ashitaka's cursed right arm, before shouting "let me just cut the damned thing OFF!". Later in the film, Eboshi loses her right arm to Moro.
Dramatic Wind: Played with — rather than merely being a dramatic convention, this effect seems to signal the presence of magic in action - usually the actions of the Deer God or of Ashitaka's curse.
Eldritch Abomination: Any of the tartari-gami; they don't drive people mad, but they can lay a death curse on anything they touch. The Forest Spirit becomes one after it gets decapitated.
There's also Nago, the initial boar demon, and later Okkoto.
Epic Movie: The movie was the top film ever in Japan when it came out, features an all-star cast of characters in a dark and serious mythological setting, and cemented Miyazaki's reputation as Disney's partner overseas.
Everyone Has Standards: When San is told by the apes they plan to eat Ashitaka in order to become as powerful as the humans, she tries to tell them that would just make them into something far worse than humans.
Fertile Feet: Te forest god's footsteps don't just make plants bloom; they immediately wither away as it passes. The deity gives life and takes it away, and in the end, rot is just fertile material for new growth.
Feuding Families: It has an element of this as part of the main plot. Who started the vicious cycle of disrespect? Eboshi by not asking if they could clear a way to the mountainside, or Nago for refusing to listen to a human? After all, the boars are a "proud race", according to Moro.
Ghibli Hills: Well, it's by that studio... and the whole movie seems to be set there.
The Ghost: Lord Asano, the man besieging Irontown, despite being referred to at several points, is never seen on screen.
Glowing Eyes of Doom: The wolves have these at night, due to eyeshine. However the apes seem to keep their bright red eyes at all times.
Greed: This is Jigo's main motivation. It also plays a role with Eboshi as well, though ambition is clearly the stronger influence in her case.
Green Aesop: It might seem like that at first glance, but Miyazaki uses the "humanity vs. nature" theme to thinly veil the other major message: a blatantly pacifist one that, in particular, shuns the "us vs. them" mentality so commonly seen in society, as clearly evidenced numerous times throughout the story. Additionally, it shows that, while technology has a tendency to pollute and corrupt the natural world, it also allows people to become strong.
Grey and Grey Morality: Everyone has their own reasons for fighting, and Audience Surrogate Ashitaka finds it hard to blame anyone completely. Heck, San hates all humans...but she can't bring it in herself to kill anyone but Lady Eboshi, who has hurt her. Lady Eboshi meanwhile indeed sets out to kill gods and animals who get in her way, but it seems to be out of a genuine desire to help (human) people: the lepers say she's the only one who looked at them as human and she regularly buys women from brothels to give them a home and work.
It is interesting to note that Eboshi initially favors the smooth method to assert the domination on humanity on nature - it is when Jigo threatens her that she turns to more drastic ways.
Honor Before Reason: The boars are a proud warrior race and would rather fight and die than than to make deals with the humans about the usage of the forest. They all die in a final Curb-Stomp Battle.
Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Former hookers, anyway. Toki and many (if not all) of the other women in the town used to work in brothels. They are very kind, if sarcastic, and all bravely take up arms and defend Iron Town from the invading samurai.
Hope Spot: After the climax, it seems like a Bittersweet Ending, until you see one of the little kodama walk to the water and rattle its head. Take into consideration that Ashitaka had earlier stated that they were a measure of the health of the forest...
Important Haircut: A symbol of Ashitaka's eternal banishment from his people. It's odd because the gesture is samurai in nature and Ashitaka's people quite clearly belong to the ancestors of the Ainu, who lived in Japan before the arrival of the modern Japanese people. The symbolism must have been too hard to pass up.
Improbable Aiming Skills: Eboshi's matchlock-men, all things considered. Especially since their "guns," as opposed to the actual muskets used by her guardswomen, more accurately resemble small cannons on the end of polearms and are much harder to aim. The only reason San wasn't blasted ten times over was that she's supernaturally agile too, but every single shot was a close call, and even she couldn't avoid all of the shots.
Eboshi takes the cake. She got Nago, and Moro, and two Samuraď generals from a very long range, and the Forest Spirit, in the head, twice. Her full name is probably Lady Eboshi Amidala.
Informed Species: Yakul is referred to as a Red Elk. Yakul really looks more like a wild sheep or antelope.
Intimate Healing: When San feeds a wounded Ashitaka, who is too weak to even chew, by chewing up the meat for him and then transferring it from her mouth to his.
Jerkass Gods: The nature gods are seen this way by the humans because the gods hate them and the gods hate them because the humans seen by them as a threat.
Karma Houdini: Jigo precipitates a plot that destroys an ecosystem and pretty much gets away scot-free.
Lady Eboshi turns two gods into demons and kills two other gods, including the god of life and death himself. She is also as responsible as Jigo for the destruction of the forest and preferred to continue hunting for the Deer God instead of returning to defend her people. Possibly hundreds of people died after she shot the Deer God's head off. She suffers - she's maimed and sees the beloved town that she built demolished - but the punishment could still be considered light considering her crimes.
Lady of War: Lady Eboshi, quite literally. Though her favored weapon is a very unladylike gun.
Large And In Charge: The most powerful gods, such as Moro, Okkoto and Nago are all huge, whereas their subjects are smaller. This makes sense as they're the oldest, and it's implied that as time goes by and the gods lose power, they become smaller.
Eboshi is also a very tall woman, and leads the ladies of Irontown.
Lip Lock: Not really, but the gods seem to have the ability to speak without moving their mouths. There are animal noises in the background of them speaking, which sync up with the mouths just fine. Presumably there's some sort of Translation Convention at work.
Made of Iron: Flaming arrows don't affect the boar gods at all, and Moro is seen to be mostly unhurt after being set on fire and thrown off a cliff.
The Magic Goes Away: Despite everything, the Forest Spirit is killed and the elder gods have died. Earlier on, Okkoto had bemoaned the fact that the spirits were getting smaller and stupider, and would eventually devolve into dumb beasts. It isn't completely gone though, as in the final shot, a single kodama appears.
Major Injury Underreaction: Ashitaka gets shot through the chest, but doesn't collapse until he's pushed open an impossibly heavy gate, lifted San onto Yakul, gotten on himself, and ridden away. Possibly a result of his Iron Woobie or The Determinator nature, possibly the fact that the demonic curse won't let him die by mundane means.
Ashitaka seems more distraught by the fact that his girlfriend said she hated him than by being stabbed. (Granted, that dagger's blade is tiny.)
Eboshi gets her whole arm ripped off, and not even a scream (though she does pass out). Her only reaction was "I told you it can still bite..."
Mark of the Beast: Ashitaka's curse manifests as a large, nasty rash or tumor which starts on his arm and spreads throughout his body.
Oblivious Adoption: San never questions that she's not a wolf. She knows that her species is human, but she identifies with wolves.
One-Man Army: Ashitaka. It's already established he has the strength of ten men, but then he takes on the forces of Irontown, Lord Asano and Okkotoall at once!
Opening Narration: The original Japanese version places a brief text narrative at the beginning of the film; the English-dubbed version replaces it with a verbal narrative explaining the setting to viewers.
Pet the Dog: Eboshi gets a number of these moments, such as when it's shown that she gives shelter and work to lepers. The movie is unusual for Green Aesop stories in that the traditionally evil Humans Are Bastards representative gets several chances to Pet the Dog, while the environmentalist side represented by San is more often kicking it. See Hanlon's Razor; it's shown that both sides are capable of quite a bit of good, and the source of their conflict stems entirely from their refusal to coexist.
Physical God: All the gods are physical. In fact, "god" in this movie essentially means "sentient animal". The exception is the Deer God, who lives up to both parts of his name quite well.
P.O.V. Boy, Poster Girl: Ashitaka is the POV protagonist and The Hero, while San is the wild Princess Mononoke who serves as the movie's titular character and poster girl.
The Power of Love: During the climax, Ashitaka gets knocked out and is slowly drowning in the lake while San is trapped inside Okkoto's demon-flesh. At this point Moro calls on to Ashitaka's love for San which then gives him a Heroic Second Wind. He comes back up to the surface and manages to pull San out of Okkoto's flesh.
Punch Clock Villain: Jigo is the most villainous character who actually appears in the movie. Despite that, he's also one of the most likable. Basically he's a sort of Punch Clock Villain who's motivated mostly by greed.
Shirtless Scene: Ashitaka steadily loses more and more of his clothes throughout the movie, until he is running around in just his pants and his... sleeves?
Shown Their Work: It isn't amiss to call this movie an animated Shōgun. There are quite a few elements from Japanese history and culture that aren't obvious to American audiences:
The movie is set in the Muromachi period of Japan, when the central government was weak, local warlords (the shogunate) were powerful and bands of samurai were not at all above sacking and massacring peasant villages in their paths.
The Emishi tribe was a real ethnic group until around the 9th century, when they were wiped out by the shogunates; the presence of a holdout village in the 14th century was Rule of Drama, however.
The presence of both Shinto kami (gods) and yōkai, including one (Daidarabotchi, the Night Walker,) well known example from Japanese folklore. Moro's two tails, much like a kitsune yōkai's multiple tails, are a sign of her age and power. The "demons" are actually tartari-gami - curse-gods; they can either be kami or yōkai completely overtaken by rage. Etc.
Silence Is Golden: There are several times in the movie where the dialogue and the score are absent, leaving only the animation and occasional sound effects.
Speaks Fluent Animal: Apparently, San and Ashitaka can communicate with the animals of the forest and with Yakul.
Suck Out the Poison: San tries this with Moro's bullet wound. It apparently didn't work, as Moro later says the bullet is still inside, slowly killing her.
Talking Animal: The animals of the forest talk to another and to Ashitaka and San. Yakul cannot speak but still seems to be able to communicate with the Action Duo.
Tap on the Head: Ashitaka ends the fight between San and Lady Eboshi by knocking them both out with a couple stiff shots to their respective abdomens. To be fair he is imbued with superhuman strength.
This Means Warpaint: Just before the boars attack the mining town, there's a sequence of them using their snouts to warpaint each others' faces with mud.
Tranquil Fury: Ashitaka when striding slowly in to break up the fight between San and Lady Eboshi.
When Eboshi tells him how she plans to defeat all the gods with her new guns, he is noticeably angry, but then his right arm moves to attack her by itself. He holds it back and calmly states that he would kill her with his left if he thought it would solve anything.
Tsundere: Toki is this toward her husband; loving but also gives him a hard time. San has elements of it.
Unexplained Recovery: Averted. Eboshi tells Ashitaka earlier in the film that it is said that the blood of the Forest Spirit could potentially grant immortality, heal her lepers and cure Ashitaka's curse. It could be said that the Forest Spirit's blood has the power to heal all things, and it ties into the aforementioned 'power to give life/take life away'.
Worthless Yellow Rocks: Some of the characters do not recognize gold. This is justified by the fact that peasants are extremely unlikely to have seen gold up close before and would be hard pressed to recognize it.
Wretched Hive: Completely subverted, as in the case of the Ironworks the first impression from a distance is highly misleading.
Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Ashitaka subverts this in order to stop a fight between Lady Eboshi and San.
Ashitaka is told his curse will eventually kill him, and that his chances of finding a cure are very slim indeed.
Moro to some extent. She tells Okkoto that she's dying from Eboshi's bullet.
Zerg Rush: The boars' primary method of attack. It works really well at first, until the humans get firearms. In the climactic battle, the humans have the high ground AND are armed with grenades and bombs, so it... doesn't work out very well for the boars.