Directed by Hayao Mizayaki
Japanese, Animated, in English
Long ago, in a Japan far far away, the Amici village suffers attack by the horrid, worm-infested Boar monster. Brave Ashitaka saves the village only to suffer an incurable wound. A quest to the far western lands holds his only hope for cure, for without the grace of the Forest Spirit, he’s toast. Riding his trusty red elk Yarkul, he leaves home searching for the source of a mysterious iron ball. Noxious Iron Town holds an answer, consuming the vast forest with its creeping industrialism. Princess Mononoke and her wolf parents defend the forest, home to the cannibal ape tribe, great Boars, Casper-like Kadamos and the supernatural Forest Spirit himself. Reasonable Lady Oshi runs Iron Town when not building fine rifles or liberating brothel girls to work the foundry. As evil villains go, Oshi has some amazingly modern personal policies, and operates a fairly sophisticated Bessemer steel process. When swords and body parts fly, big daddy Forest Spirit loses his head to bounty hunter Ji-go. The industrial revolution is winning, and the times they are a changin’.
Stunningly drawn and expertly dubbed, Princess Mononoke is a multi-layered movie. Superficially an exciting adventure with a modicum of romance, the story combines elements of Japanese folklore with the ambiguously rendered tale of modern technology displacing traditional animist beliefs. The gods fade as mankind’s clever manipulation of the earthly elements represses the spirit world’s dominance of those very same elements. In the depths of the story lies a fable about Japan’s response to the recent Asian financial crisis. As western practices change Japan, traditional groups and the environment suffer. Just as the Ministry of Trade fights to protect the old ways, the Wolves and Princes M struggle against Iron Town and the free market forces Lady Oshi embody. Stubborn Boars would rather risk all in a final battle, rather than change as must the industrial combines that once dominated the landscape. Apes and Yakuza both see opportunity shrink. As now the Forest Spirit must transform upon decapitation, so must the Bank of Japan change its ways, lest everything be lost. These are trying times not only for the Kamado who inhabit the great forest, but for the Japanese people. Is America the villain? Perhaps. A new world dawns, and the old irrecoverably fades. When you kill a god, better let someone else do your dirty work.