Princess Mononoke

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Princess Mononoke Japanese Poster.jpg

In ancient times, the land lay covered in forests, where from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of the gods. Back then, man and beast lived in harmony. But as time went by, most of the great forests were destroyed. Those that remained were guarded by gigantic beasts, who owed their allegiances to the Great Forest Spirit. For those were the days of gods and of demons.

Opening narration

Mononoke Hime (もののけ姫) is an acclaimed 1997 film from famed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, with a rather dark, serious plot and ambience (compared to most of his other works), yet lacking none of the trademark stunning visuals of a Studio Ghibli production. The score was written by Joe Hisaishi. (Also worth noting that Neil Gaiman adapted the film's English dub.)

Set in Japan during roughly the 16th or 17th century, the story begins in a small village of the Emishi (similar to but not the same as the Ainu), the indigenous inhabitants of Japan, who by this time have mostly been conquered or driven into hiding in remote corners of the country where they can live in some semblance of peace. The village's peace is shattered by the attack of a terrible demon; the village's last remaining prince, Ashitaka, is injured during the fight to kill it, and even worse, the mortally wounded demon is revealed to be a powerful spirit—a giant boar that curses the Emishi with its last breath and reveals that the wound Ashitaka suffered has cursed him as well. The village elders decide, with much reluctance, that Ashitaka must leave the village before the curse takes full possession of him and travel west in search of his destiny. Ashitaka leaves immediately, with only his trusted red elk Yakul and a necklace from his sister, Kaya. The young prince follows the demon boar's trail of destruction with the only clue he has about what transformed the spirit into a demon: an iron ball found embedded in a wound on its side.

Ashitaka travels through the war-torn countryside, discovering that his curse has also imparted superhuman strength along the way. He eventually comes upon Irontown, a mining settlement on the edge of the wilderness that's in the midst of a three-way war between the strong-willed Lady Eboshi (who protects the town through the use of early firearms—hence the iron ball), the spirits/gods of the forest (who want to stop Irontown's expansion to protect their homes from destruction), and an influential Samurai warlord (who wants to seize the town for the wealth it generates). In Irontown, Ashitaka tries his best to create some peace between the various sides, cure his curse, and pursue a relationship with San, a human girl who was raised by the powerful wolf god Moro and fights alongside the forest creatures as events seem to be heading towards an inevitable disaster.

Not to be confused with the anime Mononoke.

Tropes used in Princess Mononoke include:
  • Action Girl: San is the foremost example. Lady Eboshi also has a place here. Toki and the other gun-wielding girls, too.
  • Affably Evil: Jigo, oh so very much.
    • Lady Eboshi is as close to this as an Iron Lady can be.
  • All of the Other MONKEYS
  • An Aesop: War, greed, and hatred only escalate, corrupting everyone in the process.
  • An Arm and a Leg: The aforementioned "MY AAAAARRRRRRRM!" in addition to Lady Eboshi getting her arm bitten off.
  • Animal Companion: Yakul. (The wolves are more like relatives).
  • Animal Motifs
  • Annoying Arrows: Justified and averted. The Gods shake them off, (justified), Ashitaka's demonic strength makes his arrows far deadlier than they would usually be: he can decapitate people with his arrows. And how about hitting the hilt of a mook's sword with one of his arrows, causing the poor guy's arms to fly off? Ashitaka is also seen catching an arrow as it shoots by him, spinning it around and nocking it, then firing it back in about three seconds.
  • Anti-Hero: San, type III or IV
  • Anti-Human Alliance
  • Anti-Villain: Lady Eboshi; also Jigo.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Eboshi is shown to be gray, but her samurai opponent, Lord Asano, is only described as "A greedy bastard". To be fair, Asano was described as such by Jigo, while he was sucking up to Lady Eboshi—that and he chuckled about it immediately after.
  • Arrow Catch: Ashitaka not only can catch an arrow, but use it to fire back at the attacker. He also cuts arrows in half mid-air.
  • Badass: Ashitaka doesn't brag about it but boy, can he act the part. Lady Eboshi, San and Moro more than fit the bill too.
  • Bandage Mummy: Most of the lepers are wrapped up head to foot, which is probably what would have happened to them in Real Life.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Ashitaka is very kind, helpful and polite to those he likes, and would rather promote peace than fight. But when he's serious nothing can get in his way.
  • BFS: Gonza's nodachi. During his Unflinching Walk, Ashitaka bends it into a circle with his demon-infected arm when Gonza tries to stop him.
  • Big Badass Wolf: Two big badass wolves, and a huge badass one.
  • Big Brother Instinct: During the demon attack at the beginning of the film, Ashitaka the pacifist is initially very reluctant to attack and spends quite a while trying to pacify Nago. When he sees the demon boar charging towards Kaya, however, he doesn't hesitate to shoot it square in the eye.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Lady Eboshi is a rare well-intentioned version of this.
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • Blood From the Mouth: Okkoto, big-time.
  • Body Horror: Rather mild examples, as body horror goes, but the fates of both Nago and Okkoto are not for the faint of heart particularly when San is trapped inside Okkoto's demon-flesh.
    • Not to mention Ashitaka's right arm, which is slowly going rotten from the curse and often moves against his will, contorting itself into weird and extremely painful-looking positions.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: While killing the boar-demon, Ashitaka receives a curse on his right arm, which grants him superhuman strength but will eventually kill him.
    • Also, Lady Eboshi succeeds in cutting off the Deer God's head, and shortly after loses her arm. And then it gets worse.
  • Catch and Return: With an arrow!
  • Changeling Tale: San is a Foundling who was Raised by Wolves after being left at the feet of the Wolf God.
  • Chekhov's Aesop: Courtesy of Jigo -

"So you say you're under a curse? Well so what? So's the whole damn world."

    • And later, also by Jigo -

"Look, everyone wants everything, that's the way the world works, but I might actually get it!"

  • Chekhov's Gun: "Cut off a wolf's head and it still has the power to bite."
  • Chick Magnet: All of the Irontown women think Ashitaka is gorgeous and fawn over him constantly, and even San seems attracted to him.
  • Cool Horse: Yakul, despite being an elk.
  • Comforting Comforter: When Ashitaka goes back to the cave to sleep off his injuries San wakes up setting up the perfect opportunity for him to tuck her in with his blanket. Ashitaka wakes up the next morning with the blanket on him. D'aww.
  • Cooldown Hug: Ashitaka gives one to San after she stabs him in the chest.
  • The Corruption
  • Cross-Popping Veins: Gonza is prone to this when angry.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Sure, whatever Ashitaka has will kill him, but, while he is alive, he is strong enough to decapitate people with arrows or single-handedly push gates that take ten strong men to open. He doesn't consider this a good thing though, and mainly uses his powers to do good.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Lady Eboshi
  • The Determinator: Ashitaka, full stop. Not even getting shot through the lung slows him down.
    • Moro spends most of the film with a bullet lodged in her chest and absolutely refuses to give up despite being paralyzed at one point. She may be a god, but she's getting on in years.
  • Did the Research: The Emishi people were a lesser-known tribe of indigenous peoples in Japan, unrelated to the Ainu. They were indeed wiped out by one of the Japanese emperors long before this movie takes place - making the secretive status of Ashitaka's remnant people a lot more meaningful.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Less blatant than many examples, as Gods and spirits are shown to be more vulnerable than in most stories, but still obvious at points.

Eboshi: He's a god, you fools -- it'll take more than one shot.

  • Disappeared Dad: Neither of Ashitaka's parents are ever even mentioned in passing, which seems odd as his father would be the leader of the Emishi. For that matter, the father of Moro's wolf cubs is never mentioned either.
    • Possibly a dash of Fridge Brilliance...? I mean, has anyone noticed that San is wearing a wolf pelt throughout the whole film?
  • Dramatic Wind: Played with—it seems to happen whenever Ashitaka gets angry, even if he's indoors. Given that whenever this happens, it's immediately followed by something weird going on with his arm, it seems something to do with the curse.
    • Really, it seems like it happens whenever there's supernatural power about, as it also happens when the Forest Spirit is approaching.
  • Dying Like Animals
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Forest Spirit becomes one after it gets decapitated.
    • There's also Nago, the initial boar demon, and later Okkoto.
  • Epic Movie: The movie was the top film ever in Japan when it came out, features an all-star cast of characters in a dark and serious mythological setting, and cemented Miyazaki's reputation as Disney's partner overseas.
  • Everything's Better with Samurai: Subverted; practically every samurai in the movie is a murderous asshole, which according to some historians is a much more accurate depiction than what we normally get in pop culture.
  • Evil Brit: In the English translation, the only person who speaks with a British accent is the Anti-Villain aristocrat Lady Eboshi.
  • Eye Scream: Ashitaka shoots a demon in the eye early in the film, which happens to be its only weak spot.
  • Facial Markings: San's distinctive red wolf-fangs.
  • Fertile Feet: In an interesting subversion, the forest god's footsteps don't just make plants bloom; they immediately wither away as it passes. The deity gives life and takes it away.
    • But in the end, rot is just fertile material for new growth...
  • Feuding Families: It has an element of this as part of the main plot. Who started the vicious cycle of disrespect? Eboshi by not asking if they could clear a way to the mountainside, or Nago for refusing to listen to a human? After all, the boars are a "proud race", according to Moro.
  • Foe-Tossing Charge: Played with - simply put, it's rare to see one that's pulled off with Tranquil Fury.
  • Forest Ranger: San.
  • Foreshadowing: When Lady Eboshi says "Cut off a wolf's head and it still has the power to bite" , she unknowingly spells out her own fate
  • Full Boar Action: Cranked Up to Eleven.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: The situation that Irontown has found itself in.
  • Gambit Pileup: The human world is filled with these.
  • Ghibli Hills: Well, it's by that studio... and the whole movie seems to be set there.
  • The Ghost: Lord Asano, the man besieging Irontown, despite being referred to at several points, is never seen on screen.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: The wolves have these at night, due to eyeshine. However the apes seem to keep their bright red eyes at all times.
  • A God Am I: Jigo's attempt to take the head of Shishigami/The Forest Spirit for the Emperor, who believes that it will grant immortality.
  • Green Aesop: It might seem like that at first glance, but Miyazaki uses the "humanity vs. nature" theme to thinly veil the other major message: a blatantly pacifist one that, in particular, shuns the "us vs. them" mentality so commonly seen in society, as clearly evidenced numerous times throughout the story. Additionally, it shows that, while technology has a tendency to pollute and corrupt the natural world, it also allows people to become strong.
  • Grey and Grey Morality: Everyone has their own reasons for fighting, and Audience Surrogate Ashitaka finds it hard to blame anyone completely.
    • Heck, San hates all humans...but she can't bring it in herself to kill anyone but Lady Eboshi, who has hurt her. Lady Eboshi meanwhile indeed sets out to kill gods and animals who get in her way, but at the same time, the lepers say she's the only one who looked at them as human and she regularly buys women from brothels to give them a home and work.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Okkoto freaks out when he becomes the only survivor after the battle between boars and humans. And the Assassins disguised as boars to kill him don't help.
  • God Save Us From the Queen: Inverted. The enigmatic Lady Eboshi. She's actually "saving" her people from the gods, though, not viceversa...
  • Happily Married: Toki and Kohroku, although she does give him a bit of a hard time.
  • Hanlon's Razor: Ignorance on both sides is a bigger cause of violence and suffering than outright maliciousness.
  • He's a Friend: Inverted.
  • Horse of a Different Color: Ashitaka's faithful red elk, Yakul. In addition, San often rides one of her wolf brothers into battle.
  • Historical Fantasy
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Played with. Most humans are pretty much normal people, and Eboshi has a lot of good as well as bad. Some others, however...
    • Moro tells Ashitaka that San's parents abandoned her when facing the wolf gods just so they could get away faster, which pretty much cemented her opinion of humans.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Ashitaka is shot through the torso unintentionally in this way.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Eboshi's matchlock-men, all things considered. Especially since their "guns," as opposed to the actual muskets used by her guardswomen, more accurately resemble small cannons on the end of polearms and are much harder to aim. The only reason San wasn't blasted ten times over was that she's supernaturally agile too, but every single shot was a close call, and even she couldn't avoid all of the shots.
    • Eboshi takes the cake. She got Nago, and Moro, and two Samuraï generals from a very long range, and the Forest Spirit, in the head, twice. Her full name is probably Lady Eboshi Amidala.
      • Perhaps. It's never stated whether the barrels are rifled. It seems unlikely that the pole-guns are rifled, but as for the others...? A musket without rifling is only good for volley-fire at a hundred yards or less at best. A rifled musket could give a shooter firing independently accuracy enough to hit a man at twice that range, say.
  • It Got Worse: Pretty much the entire plot. The ending is a minor deviation from the general trend. Things still suck, they just suck a bit less.
  • Immortality: What the Emperor believes the head of the Forest Spirit will grant him. While this is never proven, it at least heals Ashitaka's curse.
  • Important Haircut: A symbol of Ashitaka's eternal banishment from his people.
    • Which seems a bit displaced, as it's a samurai gesture and Ashitaka's people quite clearly belong to the ancestors of the Ainu, who lived in Japan before the arrival of the modern Japanese people. As the creators would most probably have been aware of this, they most probably just didn't care, rather than not doing the research.
  • Intellectual Animal: Moro; the elder boar Okkoto.
  • Intimate Healing: When San feeds a wounded Ashitaka, who is too weak to even chew, by chewing up the meat for him and then transferring it from her mouth to his.
  • Karma Houdini: Jigo precipitates a plot that destroys an ecosystem and pretty much gets away scott free.
  • Lady of War: Lady Eboshi, quite literally. Though her favored weapon is a very unladylike gun.
  • Large and In Charge: The most powerful gods, such as Moro, Okkoto and Nago are all huge, whereas their subjects are smaller. This makes sense as they're the oldest, and it's implied that as time goes by and the gods lose power, they become smaller.
    • Eboshi is also a very tall woman, and leads the ladies of Irontown.
  • Last of His Kind: Ashitaka is the last prince of the Emishi. Without him, his people face a dark and uncertain future.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: All the boars. For more information see the Dying Like Animals entry. On Boars.
  • Lip Lock: Not really, but the gods seem to have the ability to speak without moving their mouths, however they regularly open and close them anyway, making it appear that their lines were just badly synced.
  • Losing Your Head: Played for Drama and Up to Eleven; the body of the Forest Spirit goes on an omnicidal rampage to reclaim its head.
  • Love At First Sight: Ashitaka took one look at San and he was hooked.
    • It's especially striking because the first time he see her, San's face is covered in blood (above picture).
  • The Lost Woods: Where the Forest Spirit dwells.
  • Made of Iron: Flaming arrows don't affect the boar gods at all, and Moro is seen to be mostly unhurt after being set on fire and thrown off a cliff.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Despite everything, the Forest Spirit is killed and the elder gods have died. Earlier on, Okkoto had bemoaned the fact that the spirits were getting smaller and stupider, and would eventually devolve into dumb beasts.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Ashitaka gets shot through the chest, but doesn't collapse until he's pushed open an impossibly heavy gate, lifted San onto Yakul, gotten on himself, and ridden away. It's probably thanks to the strength he's channeling from his demonic infection.
    • Ashitaka seems more distraught by the fact that his girlfriend said she hated him than by being stabbed.
    • How about Eboshi? The woman gets her whole arm ripped off, and not even a scream (though she does pass out). Her only reaction is: "I told you it can still bite..."
  • Mark of the Beast: Ashitaka's curse manifests as a large, nasty scar which starts on his arm and spreads throughout his body.
  • Mascot: The kodama (tree spirits).
  • Meaningful Name: San's name can mean "three", which would make sense as she is technically Moro's third child.
  • Memento MacGuffin: The crystal necklace. It's almost an Orphan's Plot Trinket since Ashitaka gets it from Kaya for good luck and so he won't forget her. He later gives it to the wolves, as a token for San.
  • Milky White Eyes: Okkoto has these, being old and blind.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Arguably Ashitaka, the one young, attractive male in the cast who frequently performs feats of great badassery and/or takes his shirt off.
  • Multiple-Tailed Beast: Moro, the female Wolf God that raised San, has a two-pronged tail.
  • Multishot
  • Nature Hero: Despite the Princess in the English title, San is much closer to being this than a Jungle Princess.
  • Nature Spirit: Lots of 'em, including the kodama (mentioned above) as well as several deities.
  • No Arc in Archery: Ashitaka's arrows are almost like medieval cruise-missiles. Justified in that this is due to the curse.
    • Also, it's implied to be averted. A later battle shows characters holding umbrellas up to protect themselves from arrows.
  • Noblewoman's Laugh: Eboshi
  • Oblivious Adoption: San never questions that she's not a wolf. She knows that her species is human, but she identifies with wolves.
  • One-Man Army: Ashitaka. It's already established he has the strength of ten men, but what about when he takes on the forces of Irontown, Lord Asano and Okkoto all at once?!
  • One Sided Battle: The animals get slaughtered whenever they try and attack the humans head on. Asano's forces also seem to be on the receiving end of this, due to Iron Town possessing gunpowder and the enemy only having conventional weapons. Despite this, they do manage to break into the city near the end.
  • Pet the Dog: Eboshi gets a number of these moments, such as when it's shown that she gives shelter and work to lepers. The movie is unusual for Green Aesop stories in that the traditionally evil Humans Are the Real Monsters representative gets several chances to Pet the Dog, while the environmentalist side represented by San is more often kicking it. See Hanlon's Razor; it's shown that both sides are capable of quite a bit of good, and the source of their conflict stems entirely from their refusal to coexist.
  • Physical God: All the gods are physical. In fact, "god" in this movie essentially means "sentient animal".
    • With the exception of the Deer God, who actually does live up to both parts of his name quite well.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Okkoto and, supposedly, Nago.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Jigo is the most villainous character who actually appears in the movie. Despite that, he's also one of the most likable. Basically he's a sort of Punch Clock Villain who's motivated mostly by greed.
  • Raised by Wolves: Literally for San, albeit the wolves are gods that can speak.
  • Rampage From a Nail: The boar at the beginning of the movie is crazy/evil because of a bullet.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Eboshi, fitting for a lady of high status.
  • Red Right Hand: Ashitaka, in a more literal sense than usual.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Subverted, as several characters learn better without dying, although most are faced with near death or life changing injuries first.
  • Reverse Grip: How San holds her knife most of the time. In this case, it also makes it easier for her to block.
  • Roof Hopping: San does this at one point to get to Lady Eboshi, with Ashitaka following her.
  • Rousseau Was Right: All of the major characters are generally good people, and from their point of view are totally justified in their actions to protect their way of life from out side forces.
  • Scenery Porn: Oh so very much of it! Ashitaka's journey west in particular is full of this. Shortly followed by Scenery Gorn as everything goes to hell.
  • Secondary Character Title
  • Smug Snake: Jigo.
  • Shirtless Scene: Ashitaka steadily loses more and more of his clothes throughout the movie, until he is running around in just his pants and his... sleeves?
  • Shout-Out: The movie opens with The Messiah racing to save otherwise defenseless loved ones from an enormous, unstoppable, rage-filled monstrosity with demonic red eyes. Said messiah pleads with it desperately before using force, putting himself in its path and asking it to return to the forest and leave them alone. Hmmmm...
    • Hardly a shout out- Miyazaki knowingly reuses a lot of Nausicaa in Mononoke, as well he might. Overall, it can be treated as a more mature revisiting of the earlier movie, with the environmental message presented a little less black-and-white and the somewhat internally inconsistent character of Nausicaa divided into two characters: the idealistic Ashitaka and the bestial San. Also, Lady Eboshi, Gonza, and the Boars should be very familiar to anyone who's seen Nausicaa...
  • So What Do We Do Now?[context?]
  • Sobriquet: "Mononoke Hime" means "the princess of vengeful spirits". Not knowing her real name, the villagers call San "Princess Mononoke" out of fear.
  • Suck Out the Poison: San tries this with Moro's bullet wound. It apparently didn't work, as Moro later says the bullet is still inside, slowly killing her.
  • Tap on the Head: Ashitaka ends the fight between San and Lady Eboshi by knocking them both out with a couple stiff shots to their respective abdomens. To be fair he is imbued with superhuman strength.
  • The Archer: While a skilled swordsman, Ashitaka's truly badass feats are performed with his bow.
  • The Time of Myths: When the great forest covered all the land... "For this was the time of gods... and of demons."
  • Too Long; Didn't Dub: "Mononoke".
  • Tranquil Fury: Ashitaka when striding slowly in to break up the fight between San and Lady Eboshi.
    • When Eboshi tells him how she plans to defeat all the gods with her new guns, he is noticeably angry, but then his right arm moves to attack her by itself. He holds it back and calmly states that he would kill her with his left if he thought it would solve anything.
  • Tsundere: Toki is this completely toward her husband. San also has elements of it.
  • Unexplained Recovery:
    • Nature.
    • Ashitaka as well, with some help from the aforementioned.
    • The Spirit cures all the lepers at the end.
  • Unfamiliar Ceiling: Ashitaka gets one of these when he wakes up in a cave.
  • Understatement: "A little crisis and they panic!"
  • Unconscious Objector: The detached head of wolf goddess Moro wiggles across the ground and bites the arm off of her Arch Enemy, Lady Eboshi.
  • The Wise Prince: Ashitaka, who is also a prime example of a Warrior Prince.
  • Walking Wasteland: Nago became this when he turned into a demon. Also, the Forest God after losing its head.
  • Walking on Water: A habit of the Forest Spirit. After the first time he's shot, he briefly sinks into the water, then begins walking on it again as if nothing happened.
  • War Is Hell
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Moro, and Eboshi as well. San, being Moro's adopted daughter, is also this. Sure she hates humans, but the only one she really wants to kill is Eboshi.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not for Kids?: Sure, it's a Ghibli movie. So is Grave of the Fireflies. A lot of kids were traumatized by this movie when their parents took them to see it because Pokémon came out in America at around the same time. So logically, they'd love another Japanime type skit, right?
    • There were reports of more than one parent storming out with their kid at the first decapitation.
  • Why Can't I Hate You?: San on her opinion of Ashitaka. "I hate him! I hate all humans!" Then when she gets Ashitaka's necklace, "From Ashitaka? For me?... Pretty..."
  • Wild Child: San. She can speak, what with being raised by wolf gods rather than mundane wolves, but she otherwise fits the bill.
  • World-Healing Wave: After reattaching the god's head.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Lady Eboshi.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Some of the characters do not recognize gold.
  • Wretched Hive: Completely subverted, as in the case of the Ironworks the first impression from a distance is highly misleading.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Ashitaka subverts this in order to stop a fight between Lady Eboshi and San.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Ashitaka.
  • Youkai
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Ashitaka is told his curse will eventually kill him, and that his chances of finding a cure are very slim indeed.
    • Also, Moro to some extent. She tells Okkoto that she's dying from Eboshi's bullet.