This week’s Miyazaki Monday’s featured film is from 1997 and is called Princess Mononoke.
Princess Mononoke is a mix of history and fantasy. The film is set during what was know as the Muromachi period in Japan (which is roughly 1337 to 1573). A young warrior prince named Ashitaka is cursed by a demon while fighting to protect the village. The curse gives him superhuman fighting abilities but has doomed him to death. The village’s wise woman tells him that there may be a cure but he must make a long journey to the west to find it.
Along his journey, Ashitaka runs into Jiro, a monk who tells Ashitaka that he may find what he is looking for from the Great Forest Spirit. The two then travel together to Irontown, which is run by Lady Eboshi. Before they get there, they run into a clan of wolves led by the wolf goddess Moro. A part of the wolf clan is also a human female named San.
Ashitaka learns that Lady Eboshi and the people of Irontown are clear cutting the forests to procure material to make iron. Because of this, there is growing emnity between the people of Irontown and those who live in the forest. He also learns about San and her background. San was raised by the wolves and mistrusts humans but grows to develop feelings for Ashitaka. A battle is brewing and in order to bring everything back into harmony, Ashitaka must fight for San as well as the forest while trying to bring the humans of Irontown to understand their place.
Princess Mononoke was initially going to be Miyazaki’s last directorial film. Miyazkai had a protégé lined up to take over (that being Yoshifumi Kondo, who had directed Whisper of the Heart). However, Kondo passed away suddenly in 1998. That news made Miyazaki consider retirement and that Princess Mononoke would be his last film. However, we know later that he had a few more films left to direct.
The film has a lot of ties to the environment and powerful female characters, two recurring themes in Miyazaki films. There was also an interesting mix of history and fantasy, which had been seen in some ways before in the film My Neighbor Totoro.
It was released in Japan on July 12, 1997. It would go on to be the highest grossing Japanese film that year and was the highest grossing film in the country (both foreign films and domestic) until Titanic came out. An English dub of the film came from Disney (under the Miramax production company) in the fall of 2000. The English dub translation was headed by fantasy writer Neil Gaiman (best known for his work on the graphic novel series The Sandman). The voice actors for the English dub featured Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Claire Daines, Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thornton and Keith David.
Princess Mononoke was actually the first Miyazaki film I ever saw. I was in college when a roommate of mine recommended it to me. We ended up renting it at Blockbuster and watched it. To this day, it is still one of my top 3 favorite Miyazaki films. To close, here is another clip from John Lasseter from Pixar talking about the film during the monthlong celebration of Miyazaki films on TCM back in 2006.