Princess Mononoke: a tragic tale of revenge

Princess Mononoke is a tragic tale about a young prince named Ashitaka who finds himself embroiled in a bitter battle between humans and spirits. The film was directed by Hayao Miyazaki through Studio Ghibli in 1997.

Forced to leave his people after being curse, Ashitaka travels west to find a cure from the Deer God. On his journey, he comes across a settlement of outcasts, called Irontown, led by Lady Eboshi.

It is there that he discovers the town has been under attack by the spirits of the forest, who are angered about the destruction of their home by human hands. San, called “Princess Mononoke” (Princess of the vengeful spirits) by the villagers, is a human raised by the wolves of the forest; Ashitaka falls for her immediately. However, he must try to find a balance between  the needs of the humans with the needs of the spirits.

Ashitaka at the beginning of the film

The film was praised for its animation, plot, characters and themes of environmentalism, war, the ambiguity of human growth and progress. It was also noted for its depiction of the disabled and its roster of strong, well-developed female characters.

There are a lot of important themes in the film.

One that isn’t discussed much by other reviewers, is the dangers of revenge. Many of the conflicts in the movie are caused by one of the characters seeking revenge. For example, San seeks revenge on humans because they abandoned her and because they have destroyed her home. However when she targets Lady Eboshi, this only goads the woman into continuing her path of destruction. This eventually leads to Eboshi killing San’s adoptive mother and the Deer Spirit itself.

Not to mention, the whole story begins because a boar spirit who had been turned into a demon sought revenge on humans. Ashitaka killed the boar to prevent it from harming his people. He paid dearly for his actions.

Heck, the name the villagers give San deals with revenge as well.

It’s hard to know how the conflict would have been resolved had Ashitaka not interfered. It’s likely neither side would have survived the battle. But at the end of the movie, thanks to Ashitaka, the humans agree to live closer with nature and respect it, due to guilt. Yet ,the pain of revenge scars all the characters.

I found the gray morality presented in this film to be one of the most interesting parts. Although Pom Poko presents a similar conflict between humans and spirits, the tank in the film eventually accept their lot in life.

The spirits in Princess Mononoke don’t; they have their reasons, of course. But their refusal to adapt and their rightful anger towards the humans speaks wonders about Miyazaki’s feelings about indigenous cultures.

Kodama, tree spirits who live in the forest

Like most of Miyazaki’s films, this one also has a bittersweet ending. The innocent people of Irontown lose their home and must rebuild everything, and most of the forest spirits are dead. Jigo, a monk who assisted Eboshi and stole the head of the Deer Spirit lives. Ashitaka’s curse is lifted, but he can’t still return to his home and decides to settle in Irontown. San refuses to forgive the humans, but is willing to see Ashitaka.

This was my first time watching the film and I heavily regret not seeing it in theaters through GKIDs release. I have the movie on DVD and decided to watch at home, but ran into issues with playing it. But nonetheless, I found deeply beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. It’s a truly great film, for both fans of animation and fans of historical, and fantasy focused epics.

I really wish I had time to explore this movie more in-depth, but there’s just so much to discuss. Perhaps, I’ll give it a second look in the future.

That’s the scoop.


Movie: Princess Mononoke

Rating: PG-13

Length: 2 h 15 min

Available: On DVD


Ultimate Score: 9/10

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