Princess Mononoke is a Japanese animation epic telling the story of a young prince, Ashitaka, sent from his home to find the source of a boar-demon that attacked his village. On killing it, Ashitaka finds a small iron ball inside the carcass, and it leads him to a small town on the outskirts of a forest, inhabited by spirits and wolf-gods.
It is in this town that he meets Lady Eboshi. She has built the town on top of a field of iron, and its main industry is iron and firearm production. Her desire is to destroy the forest and expand her town, but the spirits within the forest are hindering her progress. Ashitaka learns of a child who has been reared by the wolf-gods, who Eboshi is determined to kill, and vice versa.
The wolf-child, Princess Mononoke, or San as she is known to the wolf who raised her, is ambushed by Irontown’s inhabitants, but Ashitaka rescues her, and she soon returns the favour.
Eboshi’s quarrel is not just with San, but from samurai who want her iron, unless she can give them the head of the most powerful spirit in the forest. Of course, taking the head of a god is never a good idea.
Princess Mononoke is written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, four years before he gave us Spirited Away. Much as I enjoyed the latter, Princess Mononoke cannot be beaten for the emotional chord it so firmly strikes. The angst and fury of all of the characters is well explored, whether they be human, animal or god.
The artwork and detail of the animation is quite simply unparalleled in its beauty. The scenery in particular brought a lump to my throat that I have not felt since I first gazed upon the Grand Canyon.
The character and culture of 14th Century Japan is exquisitely brought to life, and although it is easy to forget that this is animation, it would be a crime to do so. It would be a great shame not to appreciate the care and devotion that has gone into every frame, and Joe Hisaishi’s beautiful yet haunting soundtrack only adds to the magic of this Japanese mythology.
Yet it is not just mythology. The social, racial and environmental message that underlies this complex story is as relevant today as it will ever be. Let us hope that the Pokémon generation will be lead to Miyazaki’s work, as it does not simply tell a wonderful tale, but hopefully can inspire them for the better.