A bit of break from Hiyazaki’s usual fantastical fare of fun family movies is Princess Mononoke. This movie is set in a time of mystery and feudal states, when gunpowder is becoming more common of a weapon in Nippon, and the Emperor is looking to find immortality in all the wrong places. Ashitaka (Billy Crudup) is a prince of a tribe that was thought to be wiped out. When a possessed boar attacks his homeland, he takes up defenses, and the hateful demon infects his arm. He is banished to prevent any more damage from coming to his people. In his travels, he runs into Jigo (Billy Bob Thornton), a monk on a mission for the Emperor. Jigo is to bring back the head of the Great Forest Spirit, a creature that looks like an elk with a human face during the day, but at night become a celestial being that protects the forests.
As Ashitaka goes along on his travels, he helps out a group of villager being attacks by some samurai, and he finds that his shooting arm, the part of him that is infected with demon energy, has taken on a whole new kind of strength as his arrows brutally slash threw the warriors in rather graphic ways. No, this is not a conventional animated movie, nor is it a conventional Hiyazaki movie, thus the PG-13 rating.
After this attack, he sees some workers and a noblewoman on a mountain. There are some huge white wolves and a girl dresses in furs and a mask bearing down on them. The wolves attack, and it appears that two men are thrown down into the valley and left for dead. Ashitaka goes to check on them, and finds them wounded, one, very critically. As night falls on the forest, tiny tree spirits that look very similar to small children guide them to a pool where the Great Forest Spirit drinks, and the men heal a little. One of the men regains some strength and asks that they be taken home to a fortress that is run by the Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver). This is truly a fortess, but more of a factory where they process iron for weapons. Even though it may seems that Eboshi is a evil woman be destroying the nature around her, she really is not.
She has taken in many girls from working the brothels in the region and put them to work in the factory. She even found them husbands among her male workers. She has taken in lepers, and trained them to be weapons engineers. She really does care for her people, but this is at the expense of the woodlands and animals around her.
San (Claire Danes) and Moro (Gillian Anderson) are on their own mission to protect the forest and the Great Spirit from Lady Eboshi’s destructiveness and that of the other forces looking to take everything from them. The boars have already been infected with the madness of bloodlust and hatred that the iron weapons cause, and they do not want the rest of the forest to fall to it.
This is just another of the many amazing movies that Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki has created over the decades, and even though it is a bit more mature in its subject matter than most of their movies, the movie magic is just as strong as before, and will keep you in suspense all throughout as one mystery leads to another and comes to fruition with some intense battles between man and beast and more. Featuring a line-up of English speaking voice actors that we all know, like Jada Pinkett Smith, Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thornton, and more, it makes getting the message of going green in an ancient time of natural magic and legends even more important now. Enjoy the dark beauty of Princess Mononoke as soon as you can.
I give this film a Musing review of