Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫 , Mononoke Hime) is a feature-length animated film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and animated by Studio Ghibli for Tokuma Shoten, Nippon Television Network and Dentsu, and distributed by Toho. It is considered one of Miyazaki's masterpieces, taking sixteen years to design and three years to produce, with a recorded box office revenue of ¥19.3 billion yen, breaking box office records in Japanese cinemas at that time.
It is a jidaigeki (period drama) set in late Muromachi period of Japan, and centers on the struggle between the supernatural guardians of a forest and the humans who consume its resources, as seen by the outsider Ashitaka. Mononoke (物の怪) is not a name, but a general term in Japanese for a spirit or monster.
The advertising slogan used to promote the film is "Live." (生きろ。Ikiro).
The theme song to Princess Mononoke (lyrics by Hayao Miyazaki / composed by Joe Hisaishi) featured countertenor Yoshikazu Mera, a decision considered controversial at the time, but has since become a classic. The film originated in 1980 as early image boards by Miyazaki.
Roger Ebert placed the movie sixth on his top ten movies of 1999. Mononoke also became the highest-grossing movie in Japan until Titanic took over the spot several months later. Overall, Mononoke is the third most popular anime movie in Japan, next to Spirited Away (2001) and Howl's Moving Castle (2004), both by Miyazaki.
How Princess Mononoke Was Born, a 400-minute documentary covering the film's production was released on home video on November 21, 2001, and a book with the same name was published by Tokuma Shoten on October 1, 1998.
- 1 Opening
- 2 Plot
- 3 Characters
- 4 Director's Proposal
- 5 Background
- 6 Behind the Scenes
- 7 Localization
- 8 Release
- 9 Reception
- 10 Music
- 11 Accolades
- 12 Stage Show
- 13 Voice Cast
- 14 Credits
- 15 References
- 16 External Links
- 17 Navigation
To the West
“We are the last of the Emishi. It's years since the Emperor destroyed our tribe... and drove the remnants of our people to the east. Some managed to survive here for all these years, but the blood of our tribe has grown thinner and weaker with each generation."
"Now our last prince must cut his hair and leave us, never to return? Sometimes I think the gods are laughing at us.""Our laws forbid us from watching you go, Ashitaka. Whatever comes to pass now, you are dead to us forever..”
- —Ashitaka is cast out by Hii-sama and the village elders
Princess Mononoke follows the journey of the last Emishi prince, Ashitaka, and his attempts to make peace between the human settlement, Irontown, and the creatures living in the forest that surrounds it.
The film begins with Ashitaka saving his village from a vicious assault by killing a demon who is actually the giant boar god Nago embodied by rage. During the fight, Ashitaka receives a demon mark on his right arm, and he is cursed by the Boar God's hatred and pain. Ashitaka is told that the mark will spread throughout his body, killing him. A ball of iron is found inside Nago's corpse, which is somehow connected to the curse.
Ashitaka resolves to journey to Nago's origin, the lands to the West, to try and find a cure for his curse. He cuts his hair, signifying his permanent departure from his village, and rides out with Yakul, his loyal red elk. Since it was considered taboo to see off one who is banished, only one person dared to say goodbye to Ashitaka: his 'little sister,' Kaya (according to Miyazaki, actually his bride-to-be; calling herself his 'little sister' was a term of affection), who gives him her crystal dagger so that he would not forget her.
The Lost Mountains
"So the boar became a demon..."
"I followed its tracks, but lost them in the village.""I'm not surprised. Look around you. This used to be a fine village.There was a flood, maybe, or a landslide. I'm sure many died. The land teems with bitter ghosts... dead from war, sick or starved and fallen where they stood. A curse, you say? This world is a curse."
- —Jikobo to Ashitaka
Having traveled some distance, Ashitaka arrives in a forest full of animal gods, including the wolf god Moro. Also in the forest is the Forest Spirit, described as a "god of life and death", which takes the form of a deer during the day and a large shadowy "night-walker" at night. The forest lies beside a human settlement called Irontown which continually clears the forest to get to more iron ore, causing many battles as the animals attempt to protect their diminishing forest. It was during one of these battles that Irontown's leader, Lady Eboshi, shot Nago.
During the film Ashitaka travels between the forest and Irontown several times, trying to make peace. During Ashitaka's first visit, the village is attacked by San, a human girl who has been adopted by the wolves. Ashitaka intervenes to stop the two sides fighting and takes San back to the forest, but is injured in the process. With San's intervention, he is healed of his wounds — but not his curse — by the forest spirit.
"We kill for the forest of the Deer God."
"Why is the man here?""The Deer God gives life and takes it away. Have you boars forgotten that?"
"The Deer God healed him. He should leave here alive."
"The Deer God saved him? The Deer God healed a human? Why did he not save Nago?"
"Does the Deer God not protect all in the forest?"
- —Moro to the Boars, referencing Ashitaka
Soon enough Moro and her pups approach and they find an army of Boars have come to save the forest and stop the humans. They become angry by the fact that Ashitaka was saved but Nago wasn't, Moro tells them that Nago was so blind with rage he fled. Ashitaka then tells them that he killed Nago because he attacked his village and after he received his mark, he came to this forest to be healed and while his wound was healed his mark remained and soon the mark will kill him.
Seconds later, the Boar God, Lord Okkoto has come, and Ashitaka tells him that what he said was the truth. Lord Okkoto believes Ashitaka but is sad Nago had become a demon, he tells Ashitaka to leave and will have to kill him if he does return. Before he leaves Moro tries to warn Okkoto that he will be killed if he fights the humans but he refuses to back down, saying that even if every last of them dies, it will be a battle no one will ever forget.
“The ironworks are under attack. Forget the Deer God and go back! The women need help. Your men are on their way. They're waiting for you."
"What proof do you have?""You want me to kill samurai instead of the Deer God?"
"None! I would have stayed and fought if I could!"
- —Ashitaka to Eboshi
Under the influence of Jigo, Eboshi sets out to destroy the Forest Spirit. The head of the Forest Spirit is believed to grant immortality; Jigo plans to give the head to the emperor; in return the emperor promises to give Irontown legal protection against the envious daimyos coveting the town's prosperity. Eboshi, however, suspects (rightly) that the emperor's agents are also assigned to take control of Irontown at the most opportune moment.
A week later Ashitaka wakes up in Moro's den and it turns out San had been nursing him. He and Moro have a talk where Ashitaka says he wants the forest and humans to be at peace but Moro tells him that with the battle tomorrow that won't be possible. They then have a heated conversation and Moro soon tells Ashitaka how she found San. Before going back inside she too warns Ashitaka that if he returns she will kill him. The next day he leaves and gives one of the wolves the crystal dagger for son. Meanwhile, the army is starting to lure the boars out of the forest and since Okkoto is blind San tells her mother that she must help him. Moro agrees and tells San Ashitaka cares for her, right then the other pup comes with the crystal dagger which she is in awe with. Ashitaka soon sees that the Samuri have indeed taken control of Irontown and they need the mens' help. Ashitaka goes to get them, while running Yakul is shot and while he does tell Yakul to stay put, Ashitaka finally lets him come. He soon finds out that the battle of the boars was a nightmare, they were put in front to lure the boars out and to make matters worse, Jigo's men didn't tell them about the mines they dropped, as a result the entire Boar army was wiped out. They soon find a wolf caught under the boars bodies and when Ashitaka tries to save the wolf, poisoned darts are fired. Thankfully the men from Iron-town help him free the wolf, and Ashitaka goes to find San and Lady Eboshi.
Despite Ashitaka's efforts, Eboshi succeeds in cutting off the Forest Spirit's head while it is transforming. Jigo collects the head while the body is transformed into a god of death, as a result the land becomes covered with a lethal black ooze, that completely destroys the forest and turns the land barren. To stop the spreading ooze from reaching the villagers, Ashitaka and San manage to take the head from Jigo and by returning the head to the Forest Spirit, the land becomes green again, and Ashitaka's curse is finally lifted. Even though San and Ashitaka have grown close, they go their separate ways: to the forest and to Irontown respectively. However, Ashitaka promises to visit San in the forest whenever he can. Meanwhile Lady Eboshi realizes that there is kindness in San and decides to rebuild the town, but a better/kinder one.
- Ashitaka (アシタカ , literally translates to "Leap" in Japanese)
- Yōji Matsuda (Japanese), Billy Crudup (English)
- Ashitaka is an Emishi prince who was meant to become a leader of his tribe. While rescuing his village from Nago, the demon boar god, Ashitaka's arm is afflicted with a curse that will eventually consume and kill him. Under the effect of the curse, Ashitaka gains superhuman strength but causes him to grow weaker as time passes. Ashitaka is exiled by his village and sent westward to find the cause of the demon's corruption as well as a cure for his curse.
- After arriving at Irontown, Ashitaka is caught up in the town's war against the mountain gods. Amidst the battle at Irontown, Ashitaka meets San and soon becomes enamored with her. Ashitaka takes San back to Moro and attempts to negotiate a ceasefire between the warring sides. He is unsuccessful. Throughout the film, Ashitaka develops deep feelings for San and eventually falls in love with her. It is stated by Moro that he wanted to share his life with her. At the end of the film, Ashitaka's curse is eventually removed and, though San and Ashitaka have grown close, they go their separate ways: to the forest and to Irontown respectively. However, Ashitaka promises to visit San in the forest whenever he can.
- San (サン , translates to "Three" in Japanese)
- Yuriko Ishida (Japanese), Claire Danes (English)
- When she was a baby, the wolf goddess Moro attacked her parents, who were found damaging the forest. San's parents threw her to Moro as a sacrifice to save their own lives. Moro raised San as her own daughter, and in turn, San treats Moro as her mother and Moro's two natural pups as brothers.
- San's primary concern is protecting the forest and the animals she lives with. San rejects her own humanity and even thinks of herself as a wolf. She has attempted to assassinate Eboshi of Irontown many times, as San believes that Eboshi's death will result in the end of Irontown and human growth into the surrounding forest. It is only by Ashitaka's affection to her that she slowly comes to acknowledge her human side as well.
- After the battle for the Forest Spirit's head, San tells Ashitaka that he is very dear to her, but since she cannot forgive the human race for what they have done to the forest, she will continue to live apart from the humans. San returns to the forest and Ashitaka remains in Irontown.
- Shishigami (シシ神（ディダラボッチ , Shishi-Shin (Didarabotchi)）
- An ancient spirit of the forest. During the day, Shishigami resembles a great stag-like qilin with many antlers, bird-like feet, and the face of a baboon. At sunset, Shishigami becomes Daidarabocchi (translated to the Nightwalker in the English version), a huge god in a humanoid form that appears to be made out of stars with a long pointed face and tentacle-like spikes on the back. Shishigami is protected by the Wolf Clan. As he walks, flowers bloom up at his feet though they quickly wither and die. He is capable of both giving life and taking life away. When Eboshi shoots off his head, he becomes a raging god of death and his starry appearance changes to a dark tar-like liquid that kills anything it touches.
- Okkoto-nushi (乙事主, called "Okkoto" in the English version)
- Hisaya Morishige (Japanese), Keith David (English)
- A huge white boar god with four fangs. One of the oldest gods at 500-years old. He is blind due to his old age, but his sense of smell and insight are extremely sharp. He seeks to avenge Nago and to protect the Forest Spirit. He leads a major offensive against the other wild boar gods against humans at Irontown. He had a good relationship with Moro, but their relationship broke down a hundred years ago. According to Moro, he is a person who 'understands little'.
- His name comes from Okkoto in Fujimi Town, Nagano Prefecture, where Miyazaki's private villa is located.
- Moro (モロの君, Moro no Kimi)
- Akihiro Miwa, Gillian Anderson (Japanese)
- A giant, 300-year old canine god. San's adopted mother. Mother to two other inugami (犬神 lit. Dog god/Spirit). Although feared as an inugami, she has strong maternal personality and dislikes fighting. She despises humans and Eboshi most of all for destroying the forest. She's gravely wounded after being shot by Eboshi during an attack, but unlike Nago, accepts her inevitable death.
- Kodama (コダマ , Kodama)
- A kind of spirit, living in a rich forest. Kodamas have a white translucent body, and make a rattling sound when their face moves. They aren't hostile to humans, only imitating Ashitaka while he was carrying an injured person. The character design was inspired after a Ghibli staff saw something during a research trip in a forest.
- Many Kodamas fell after the death of the Shishigami and a black liquid-like corruption spread through the forest. Only one Kodama survived in the end.
- Lady Eboshi (エボシ御前 , Eboshi Gozen)
- Yūko Tanaka (Japanese), Minnie Driver (English)
- A strong-willed and independent woman. Though seemingly callous and distant to others, she actually cares a lot about the welfare of her people; the guns they produce are primarily intended to secure their independence. She buys off daughters who were sold to sexual slavery and given jobs at the Tatara field, which were originally forbidden for women. She also takes in lepers, treating them as humans instead of parasites, and helps them with their wounds - a fact which Ashitaka acknowledges to the point that he cannot condemn her for inflicting him (indirectly) with the curse.
- Eboshi has many enemies, including San, men, and the animal gods. Eboshi and her ishibiya troops are responsible for the cursed iron bullet in Nago which eventually affects Ashitaka. She shoots Shishigami's head off, causing him to turn into a God of death and send forth a dark liquid that kills anything it touches. The liquid falls on Moro's body, separating the head from it. After Eboshi throws Shishigami's head to Jigo, Moro's head resurrects long enough to bite off Eboshi's right arm. This event redeems her, and she decides to rebuild Irontown not as an industrial center, but as a modest settlement.
- Gonza (ゴンザ , Gonza)
- Tsunehiko Kamijō (Japanese), John DiMaggio (English)
- Eboshi's aide. A cowherd and village chieftain. He is a dignified, yet impatient. He's infatuated with Eboshi. He can't swim.
- Kohroku (甲六, Kōroku)
- Masahiko Nishimura (Japanese), John DeMita (English)
- An ox driver; Miyazaki wrote Kohroku to be "an ordinary guy [who] didn't do anything heroic, right to the end", something he stated was contrary to films he'd made up to that point.
- Jikobo (ジコ坊 , Jiko Bō)
- Kaoru Kobayashi (English), Billy Bob Thornton (Japanese)
- A middle-aged monk and a member of the mysterious organization "Shishōren" (師匠). He's sympathetic towards Ashitaka and the plight of his people. Contrary to popular belief, Jikobo does not work for the Emperor, since during the period, the Emperor was merely a figurehead and had no real power. He seeks to capture the forest spirit for the promise of an entire hill of gold. He used a pack of skilled hunters, and a group of his own men, to help him hunt down the forest spirit. He also manipulated Lady Eboshi to kill the forest spirit for him, in exchange for tracking it down for her.
- Hii-sama (ヒイ様 , Hī-sama),
- Mitsuko Mori (Japanese), Debi Derryberry (English)
- An old shrine maiden in the Emishi Village. She instructs her people to give Nago a proper burial. She foretells Ashitaka's fate, who was cursed by Nago, and tells him to head west to find the source of the corruption.
Director Hayao Miyazaki wrote a proposal for his film entitled "The Battle Between Humans and Ferocious Gods - The Goal of This Film".
"In this film, samurai lords, and peasants who are customarily featured in period dramas hardly make an appearance. Even when they do, they only perform only in very minor supporting roles.
The main characters are humans who do not appear on the main stage of history and ferocious gods of the mountains. The human characters are ironworkers, members of iron-production group: engineers, laborers, blacksmiths, iron sand gatherers, and charcoal makers. They are transporters such as packhorse and ox drivers. They were in those days armed and had formed organizations that we might today call cottage industry manufacturing groups.
The ferocious mountain gods that confront the humans appear as wolf gods, boar gods, and in the form of bears. The Forest Spirit (Deer God), the key figure in the story, and antlers of tree branches.
The young male protagonist is a descendant of the Emishi people who disappeared after being defeated in ancient times by the politically powerful Yamato people. And if we search for likeness for the female lead, she is in appearance not unlike a clay figurine from the Jōmon period (12,000-300 BCE).
The main locations are the foreboding deep forest of the gods and the fortress-like Iron Town where iron is made.
The conventional period drama settings of castles, towns, and farming villages with rice paddies are merely distant backdrops. Rather, what I plan to recreate is the landscape of Japan where there were fewer people, when there were no dams, and when the forests were dense - when nature had a high level of purity with tits deep mountains and dark valleys, pure and rushing streams, narrow dirt roads, and large umber of birds, beasts and insects.
With this setting, my aim is to depict a freer image of characters without being bound by the conventions, preconceptions, and prejudices of traditional period dramas. Recent research in history, ethnology, and archaeology has shown us that our country's history is far richer and more diverse than we are generally led to believe. The poverty in period dramas has almost all been created from the drama in films. Disorder and fluidity were the norm in the world of the Muromachi period (1336-1573), the setting for this film. It was a time when present-day Japan was being formed out of social upheaval, when those below overcame those above from the days of the Southern and Northern Dynasties period (1336-1392), and the those of eccentricity, swaggering scoundrels, and the chaotic rise of new arts held sway. It differed from the period of Warring States (1467-1568), when organized battles were fought between standing armies, and from the Kamakura period (1185-1333) with its fierce and earnest warriors.
This was a more unpredictable and fluid time, more magnanimous and free, with less clear class distinctions between warriors and villagers and women as depicted in the drawings of artisans and tradespeople. In such a time, the contours of life and death were very clear. People lived, loved, hated, worked and then died. Life was not full of ambiguities.
Herein lies the meaning in creating this work, as we face the coming chaotic era of the twenty-first century. I am not attempting to solve the entire world's problems. There can never be a happy ending in the battle between humanity and ferocious gods. Yet, even amidst hatred and carnage, life is still worth living. Is it possible for wonderful encounters and beautiful things to exist.
I will depict animosity, but that is in order to show the fact that there is something more precious.
I depict the bondage of a curse in order to show the joy of liberation. What I will show is the boy reaching an understanding of the girl, and the process of the girl's heart opening up to the boy.
In the end the girl's heart opening up to the boy, "I love you, Ashitaka. But I can't forgive human beings."
The boy will smile and say, "That's all right. Won't you live together with me?"This is the kind of film I want to make."
- —Hayao Miyazaki
This story takes place in Japan during the Muromachi period, which is considered to be the transition period between the medieval period and the early modern period. It is notable that the power of the shoguns greatly declined in this period. The landscapes which appear in Princess Mononoke are said to have been inspired by the ancient forests of Yakushima, off Kyūshū, and the mountains of Shirakami-Sanchi in northern Honshū.
Ashitaka comes from a tribe called the Emishi, which used to be natives of northern Honshū, that had been resisting subjugation by the Japanese emperor for centuries. However, the Emishi were defeated by the samurai of the Yamato clan, which proceeded to become the rulers and government of the Empire. The Emishi thus went into hiding, around the Northeast part of Honshu, Japan's largest island. By A.D. 1300, the Emishi were becoming integrated into Japanese society. However, Ashitaka supposedly comes from a tribe of the Emishi that had resisted integration and still lived in exile.
On why Miyazaki chose to depict the Emishi, "I am interested in the native people, the Emishi. There are no drawings of them and no surviving customs. They don't appear in historical materials. Though they have been obliterated, they were Japanese people, as it were. They had an independent state before Japan became unified. I was interested in what their customs were like, but since we don't have any records, it was a blank slate. So I could do as I pleased. I thought their clothing must be like those worn by minority tribes in Bhutan or Yunnan. They wore a kind of kimono.
Along those lines of thinking, their hair might have been in a topknot with the front part of their head shaved. I asked Ryōtarō Shiba-san (Japanese author best known for his novels about historical events in Japan), "What did the top of their heads look like?" He answered, " I think they shaved." And they wore head coverings. I had trouble figuring out what to do with the main character. Putting a topknot on him would suck me right into the period dramas of the past. So, taking advantage of the lack of historical references, I made it a Chinese-style topknot. I really like working on the clothing of the girls. They wore black costumes, most likely decorating their collars with embroidery, though we couldn't do that in animated drawings. I imagined these from what agricultural mountain tribes around Thailand wear... I had a lot of fun with this."
Period Detail Accuracy
According to Miyazaki, "I was creating a historical period drama, but it was unknown territory for me... The young Ghibli staff, however, don't know how kimono are worn; they match the edges together at the front like Western clothes. And the tie the obi in the same way they would clasp a belt. The kimono sleeves and the hemlines of that period were short. It was only later in the Edo period that people became better off and clothes became longer. But in making films, if we aren't careful, we wind up with characters looking Edo-period yakuza."
- A cavity of children's minds
- Discrimination everywhere
- The relationship between humanity and nature
- Amplification of human hatred, the instinctive push to murder and destroy
- Conflict between mysticism and rationalism
Uratani noted to Miyazaki that the film may be dealing with too many complicated issues at once. The director notes on tackling these issues more directly, "It's an unsolvable problem, isn't it? In the past, movies presented small problems that could easily be solved.."
Motivation of the Hero
Miyazaki shuns the "loss of motivation" that pervaded popular Japanese animation protagonists. He cites this weakness in his own short story, The Journey of Shuna, which was inspired by the Tibetan folk story The Prince Who Became a Dog (written by Hisako Kimishima , Iwanami Shoten). The main character, Shuna, sets out on a journey in search of "golden seeds," a grain seed that can save his village from poverty and starvation. The motive for Shuna's trip may be noble, but it lacked personal stakes and thus cannot be taken seriously. Ashitaka needed a motive that the audience could sympathize with, which then became a journey to cure a curse that was inflicted upon him.
Furthermore, Ashitaka is forced to leave his village, thus becoming a a form of reluctant anti-hero. San is also portrayed as an anti-hero who is repulsed by Ashitaka and his hatred and corruption at first. As the story progresses, Ashitaka reverts to a "normal" protagonist.
Denial of Past Works
Hayao Miyazaki worried that his popular past works such as My Neighbor Totoro and Castle in the Sky gave Studio Ghibli this image that their films portrayed nature as benevolent and passive. With works like Isao Takahata's portraying nature striking back against human progress, he felt it was time and that he himself wanted to work on a film that thoroughly denied his past works. In an interview, Miyazaki said Ghibli should not try to cater to public expectations. He explains that once he perceive those expectations from people, he feels motivated to change them.
The Idea of "Living"
Miyazaki states the beasts and forest spirits in the world are already extinct by the time the film begins:
A population of 10 billion isn't wiped out when it reaches 200 million. In that sense, the beasts around (Mononoke's) world are already extinct and extinct (laughs). That's right. There used to be a hundred, but now there are only two left. I'm sure humanity will meet such a fate one day. It will be a gradual destruction. Our fate is probably like what happened at Chernobyl, when the old men and women who once lived there came back and picked up mushrooms, ate them and said, "I'm contaminated", but despite that, they'll go on living eating potatoes without any problems. You're supposed to live as if you were eating... Well, you can only say so much. Even so, I think I'm trying to live as best as I can, I feel like human beings are like that...
— How Princess Mononoke Was Born, Pp. 136-137.
Behind the Scenes
At the end of the 1970's, Hayao Miyazaki had written a screenplay and made sketches for a film featuring a princess living in the forest with a wild beast. According to French fansite Buta Connection, the story was steeped in Japanese history and folklore, but echoed the Western fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. The story of Miyazaki's version, although very different, is as follows:
A samurai surprised by the storm, finds refuge in a cave. But it turns out to be the lair of a fierce and bestial legendary monster. To save his life, the samurai is forced to agree to deliver one of his three daughters to him in marriage. Back in his home, he explains the pact to his wife who, not hearing it with the same ear, runs away taking her two favorite daughters with her. Decidedly unvarnished, the samurai is again forced to sign a second pact with an evil spirit. He sells his soul to him in exchange for which the spirit grants him the power to defend his own in the face of an imminent enemy. Invested with diabolical strength, the samurai defeats his adversaries then under the influence of the spirit, delivers his third daughter to the first monster, who came to claim her from him.
Back on her land of desolation, the creature nevertheless reveals herself to be extremely kind to the young girl who, saddened at not being able to reciprocate her, explains to her the reason for her melancholy. She promises him to marry her if he helps her exorcise her father. It is the beginning of a journey full of pitfalls which will lead the young girl to discover the qualities of the monster and to love him. But unlike the original tale, the Beast doesn't turn into a handsome prince in the end!
Originally, Mononoke-Hime was denied the children's TV adaptation because of its dark subject matter and themes. It was nevertheless published for the first time in 1983, in a book called Hayao Miyazaki Image Boards, a collection of various unfinished film projects. It's not really a storyboard or picture book, but rather a preparatory draft, a set of illustrations roughly summarizing the plot.
Tokuma Shoten, Studio Ghibli's-then parent company, republished this illustrated tale in 1993 in order to test the public's reaction. But when Hayao Miyazaki decides to take over the Mononoke-Hime project , he could no longer direct the film he had in mind in 1980. Disney had just released Beauty and the Beast and above all there was My Neighbor Totoro in 1988. The monster of the 1980's project was already split into two characters: Totoro and the Catbus. Miyazaki decided to completely modify the content, the plot and the characters of his film.
The story then passes from a fairy tale to a more complex and ambitious work, rather approaching the legend or the mythological story. The main character becomes a young boy, Ashitaka, in search of a cure for a curse he has suffered. As for the princess, by marrying a Mononoke, she becomes a Mononoke herself.
Miyazaki wanted to call the film Ashitaka Sekki, "Sekki" being a neologism coined by the director to mean "word of mouth". Producer Toshio Suzuki found the title weak and preferred Mononoke-Hime, but it was impossible to change Miyazaki's mind. Suzuki finally took advantage of the director's lack of interest in the trailers to "force" his title into them, angering Miyazaki.
While returning to themes he loves and which inspired his previous works (nature, tolerance, importance of life, love), Miyazaki sought to achieve something completely different from anything he has been able to do. The action would take place in the past, during the Muromachi period (1333-1573 BCE), when Japan was experiencing major economic and social upheavals. Miyazaki tries to escape "To the conventions of the genre, preconceived ideas and the usual prejudices when dealing with a subject that takes place within the framework of this period."
Miyazaki insisted that it was not a jidai-geki (period drama) despite its battle scenes reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa. This new proposal would feature fewer samurais, lords or peasants, and those that do make an appearance would be minor characters. The main protagonists are the gods of the forest and marginal figures or people from oppressed minorities. In addition, the castles, the rice fields, the towns and the villages do not constitute the framework of the account. Instead, the author attempted to recreate "the atmosphere of Japan in the days of dense forests." At that time, there were few inhabitants, nature existed in its purest form (...) ”
As the author says, there is no “Happy End” to this war. “In the midst of hatred and massacre, there are reasons for living. Exceptional encounters and wonderful things to discover."
Hayao Miyazaki began working on the detailed script in August 1994. However, he struggled in his writing and by December, he decided to take a break and instead produce On Your Mark for the musical act Chage and Aska. In April 1995, he completed the project proposal and the following month he started working on the storyboard.
A typical Studio Ghibli film would produce around 50,000 to 70,000 drawings, but for Princess Mononoke, more than 140,000 were made. Miyazaki was said to have put an extraordinary amount of effort and quantity into this work with the determination to "use up Ghibli". He personally checked each of the 144,000 cels in the film, and is estimated to have redrawn parts of 80,000 of them. This become a trend as Spirited Away (about 112,000 drawings), Howl's Moving Castle (about 148,000) and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (about 170,000) increased in scale and scope, resulting constant review of Ghibli's production system.
In an interview with Tadao Satō for Kinema Junpo, Miyazaki explained that despite being overworked, he wished the film could have been longer. "We did have people with all sorts of opinions asking why the girls looked sweet but the males all looked disreputable. But I couldn't attend to that kind of detail. It was all I could do to finish the film. In the end I think it was the young staff who were most stressed out and working. Another factor was that we made 130,000 cel drawings for this film, which is 1.5 times the number for a feature film. Though it is a long film, I wish I could have used another 30,000 cels. But that would have been impossible. We really had reached the limit of our abilities."
When released, Mononoke was the most expensive animation ever made, with production of the film cost ¥2.4 billion (approximately US$20 million). The film's production is covered more extensively by How Princess Mononoke Was Born, a 400-minute documentary that was released on home video on November 21, 2001. A book of the same name was also published by Tokuma Shoten.
A major point of delay during production was Miyazaki indecision on the film's finale. He ran several ideas through Toshio Suzuki that were quickly discarded. This gave the animators undue stress until Miyazaki finally finished his storyboards on time.
Yoshifumi Kondō was one of several animation directors for the film. After he completed his directorial debut with Whisper of the Heart (1995), he immediately began working on Princess Mononoke. He was in charge of checking thousands of key drawings, and his workload only increased further after an animator was injured after a motorcycle accident. Shortly after the film was released, he was in talks with Miyazaki regarding their next project until he died of an aortic dissection or heart aneurysm on January 21, 1998.
Kondo’s death led to Miyazaki temporarily announcing his retirement, which he later rescinded to work on Spirited Away (2001).
Transition to Digital
Princess Mononoke became known as the last film to use traditional cel-animation. The earliest use of CG in a Ghibli production was for Chage and Aska's animated music video, On Your Mark (1995) which was made prior to Mononoke. At the time, Studio Ghibli had not had a dedicated IT department and its CG work had been outsourced to other studios.
Computer animation such as fluid simulation and particle effects was used during five minutes of footage, including blood effects on creatures and San's face. Not all effects were completely digital, as one of the film's most iconic effects, the wriggling worms springing forth from the Demon Spirits, was done with a mix of digital and traditional techniques. This idea in itself proved challenging to conceptualize.
According to Miyazaki, "I wondered if it was all right for me to depict such a thing. I worried whether it was all right to give shape to a cursed demon spirit. Not whether to give it form, actually, since it doesn't originally have a form, but how to depict it. My staff were all at a loss as to how to give the image its shape. I have actual and personal experience of being overcome by such a sensation. At times, I have an emotion that can't be suppress, and it explodes so it feels like a viciousness burst out from all pores of my body.
When the young staff members drew the images, there was nothing made it seem like it was an offensive; it ended up being more like black squid-ink spaghetti... It was definitely a lot of trouble. The gooeyness of Lord Okkoto in the latter half also took a lot of time. The staff really did well. You know cutworms that come out at night from soil to eat up al the plants around them? My wife goes outside every night, flashlight in hand, to exterminate them. When she saw the film, she said I had made something incredible, the Demon Spirit looked as if masses of cutworms were growing from it."
A further ten minutes used digital paint due to the tight production schedule. The computer-animated parts are designed to blend in and support the traditional animation, and are mainly used in images consisting of a mixture of CGI and traditional drawing.
According to Steve Alpert in his autobiography, colorist Michiyo Yasuda and a number of Ghibli staff were given a tour by Gary Goldman at Fox Animation Studios to learn about digital coloring. Fox was the only studio at the time that used the same digital coloring program as Studio Ghibli, and Yasuda, despite never using a computer, was a fast learner.
Kazuo Oga, who was in charge of background art, visited Shirakami-Sanchi in 1995 to paint the village of Emishi, where the character Ashitaka lives. He walked around Ajigasawa Town, Tsugaru Pass, Tengu Pass, Hitotsumori Town, etc.
The film took its name Princess Mononoke from an abandoned story idea of the same name by Miyazaki. During the film's production, Miyazaki visited producer Toshio Suzuki and said, "Suzuki-san, I'm thinking of changing the title, let's go with "Ashitaka" instead. Suzuki intuitively liked the name Princess Hime, so he ignored Miyazaki's suggestion and went on with a production announcement on the television programming block Friday Road Show using its original title. After some initial protests, Miyazaki heard what was going on and didn't protest any further.
The film's catchphrase "Live." was coined by Shigesato Itoi. Itoi and Toshio Suzuki initially debated on which slogan they would use, ending with nearly fifty slogan proposals. The main candidates were (loosely translated from Japanese), "Are you scared or loved?" "You are dazzling." "Once upon a time, now." "Which do you prefer, death or life?" "Don't die."
The film was promoted with the tagline "Live" (生きろ, Ikiro). The inflection of the verb here indicates a meaning of encouragement, as in, "Please, live."
The United States and United Kingdom DVD releases have both the English and Japanese soundtracks, together with subtitles for both the English dub and a more literal translation.
At Miyazaki's insistence, the film was uncut for the English release, so that only the soundtrack was altered. The English adaptation script was written by Neil Gaiman, author of The Sandman. Since Walt Disney Studios had made a distribution deal with Tokuma Shoten for Studio Ghibli's films in 1996, it was the first film from Studio Ghibli, along with Kiki's Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky, to have been dubbed in English by Disney; in this case, then-subsidiary Miramax Films was assigned to release the movie in America on October 29, 1999. In response to demands from Miramax chairman Harvey Weinstein to edit the film, one of Miyazaki's producers sent Weinstein a katana with a message reading: "No cuts." Promotion manager, Steve Alpert, revealed that Weinstein had wanted to trim the film down from 135 minutes to 90 minutes "despite having promised not to do so." When Alpert informed him that Miyazaki would not agree to these demands, Weinstein flew into one of his infamous rages and threatened Alpert that he would "never work in this...industry again". According to Gaiman at one of the American screenings of the dub, the release was somewhat delayed because the original recordings deviated from the English script as written. Despite Gaiman's independent fame as an author, his role as scriptwriter for the dub was not heavily promoted: Studio Ghibli requested that Miramax remove some executives' names from the poster for the film, but the executives (Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, and Scott Martin) decided that Gaiman's name was contractually expendable.
The main changes from the Japanese version are to provide a cultural context for phrases and actions which those outside of Asia may not be familiar with. Such alterations include references to mythology and specific names for groups, such as Jibashiri and Shishigami, that appear in the Japanese version, that are changed to more general terms, such as Mercenary and Forest Spirit, in the English version. The rationale for such changes is that the majority of non-Japanese viewers would not understand the mythological references and that the English language simply has no words for Jibashiri, Shishigami, and other terms. However, some critics (Michael Atkinson, Mr. Showbiz) have said that the translation from Japanese to English and the alterations in which it has resulted have weakened the film somewhat.
The English dub received mixed reviews from critics. While most of the reaction was positive, others criticized the dub for most of its casting choices, notably Billy Bob Thornton as Jigo and Claire Danes as San, claiming that they detracted from the experience. Despite this love-hate atmosphere, the dub has been hailed as one of the best ever done alongside Spirited Away, which has been met with the same criticism.
The film was recently dubbed in Mandarin as well. There are not a great number of differences, and the translations seem to be accurate enough. Still, there are three translations mentioned of Princess Mononoke/Mononoke-hime, while most other names use either Chinese or sound translations.
According to Steve Alpert, Studio Ghibli and Tokuma Shoten's liaison to Disney, Miyazaki gave a short list of things to be aware of, or not do do, in making the dubbed version. Miyazaki's comments ranged from casting advice to concern about details in the film.
- Don't bother trying to translate the title, it can't be done.
- No contemporary language or modern slang.
- Choose good voices; the voices are important.
- Ashitaka is a prince. He's well spoken and formal; old fashioned for his time.
- The Emishi people are a people that never made it into modern Japan: wiped out and gone.
- Lady Eboshi's people are very low class; outcasts; former prostitutes, hustlers, crooks and reformed pimps; lepers. But she's not; she's from a different class.
- Jikobo says he works for the emperor. The emperor is not how we think of him now. He would have been living in poverty and making a living selling his signature. Who does Jikobo really work for? We don't know. He has a document signed by the emperor. It means nothing.
- The things that look like rifles are NOT rifles. Rifles are a different thing. These are more like portable cannons. Do NOT translate them as rifles. They are not rifles. Do not use the word "rifles".
|Japan||July 12, 1997||Theater||Toho|
|Japan||Christmas 1997||VHS||Tokuma Shoten|
|USA||November 18, 2014||DVD Re-Issue||N/A|
|USA||October 17, 2017||Blu-ray Re-Issue||GKIDS|
The film was extremely successful in Japan, earning 19.3 billion yen and roughly 14.2 million viewers. As of May 2007, the total number of DVD and VHS shipped in Japan reached 4.4 million copies. During its first TV broadcast on January 22, 1999 on the Nippon Broadcasting block called, Friday Road Show, it recorded a massive 35.1% in the Kanto area and 40.8% in the Western Japan area. It was re-screened in 2020 following the coronavirus pandemic.
The film became a hit for both anime fans and "arthouse" moviegoers in English-speaking countries. In those countries, it was widely interpreted as a film about the environment told in the form of Japanese mythology. Box office revenue in Hong Kong hit a record of HK$6.54 million. Disney's Miramax subsidiary purchased U.S. distribution rights, but wanted to cut the film for American audiences (and for a PG-rating). Weinstein and several executives were worried the film did not fit the typical Hollywood formula at the time, questioning the lack of romance between the two leads to its sparse use of music and sound effects in several scenes. They also demanded more exposition be added to allow Western viewers to follow the story.
However, Miyazaki balked at this, and the film was instead released uncut with a rating of PG-13. Miramax also chose to put a lot of money into creating the English dub of the movie with famous actors and actresses, yet when they released it in theatres there was little or no advertising and it was given a very limited run, showing in only a few theatres and for a very short time. Disney later complained about the fact that the movie did not do well at the box office. In September 2000, the film was supposed to be released on DVD in the U.S., but Miramax announced that only the English dub would be included on the disc. Outraged fans demanded the Japanese track be put on the disc as well, and the threat of poor sales prompted Miramax to hire translators for the subtitles, which held the DVD release back by almost three months. When the film was finally released on DVD it sold very well, due to no limitation in availability. According to Ultimate Disney, the film is due for a two-disc Special Edition treatment in the near future.
It was rated PG-12 in Japan, PG in the UK, M in Australia and PG-13 in the U.S. for images of violence and gore.
Leonard Klady of Variety wrote a positive review of an early release of the picture. On Roger Ebert & The Movies, the film received two thumbs up from Harry Knowles and Roger Ebert. Ebert also gave the film four out of four stars in his print review.
Princess Mononoke (Image Album) (イメージアルバムもののけ姫 , Mononoke Hime Imeeji Arubamu) was released by Tokuma Japan Communications July 22, 1996.
- Best Picture; The 21st Japanese Academy Awards
- Best Japanese Movie, Best Animation, and Japanese Movie Fans' Choice; The 52nd Mainichi Movie Competition
- Best Japanese Movie and Readers' Choice; Asahi Best Ten Film Festival
- Excellent Movie Award; The Agency for Cultural Affairs
- Grand Prize in Animation Division; 1st Japan Media Arts Festival (by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of the Ministry of Education)
- Best Director; Takasaki Film Festival
- Best Japanese Movie; The Association of Movie Viewing Groups
- Movie Award; The 39th Mainichi Art Award * Best Director; Tokyo Sports Movie Award
- Nihon Keizai Shinbun Award for Excellency; Nikkei Awards for Excellent Products/Service
- Theater Division Award; Asahi Digital Entertainment Award
- MMCA Special Award; Multimedia Grand Prix 1997
- Best Director and Yujiro Ishihara Award; Nikkan Sports Movie Award
- Special Achievement Award; The Movie's Day
- Special Award; Houchi Movie Award
- Special Award; Blue Ribbon Award
- Special Award; Osaka Film Festival
- Special Award; Elandore Award
- Cultural Award; Fumiko Yamaji Award
- Grand Prize and Special Achievement Award; Golden Gross Award
- First Place, best films of the year; The 26th "Pia Ten"
- First Place; Japan Movie Pen Club, 1997 Best 5 Japanese Movies
- First Place; 1997 Kinema Junpo Japanese Movies Best 10 (Readers' Choice)
- Second Place; 1997 Kinema Junpo Japanese Movies Best 10 (Critics' Choice)
- Best Director; 1997 Kinema Junpo Japanese Movies (Readers' Choice)
- First Place; Best Comicker's Award
- First Place; CineFront Readers' Choice
- Nagaharu Yodogawa Award; RoadShow
- Best Composer and Best Album Production; 39th Japan Record Award
- Excellent Award; Yomiruri Award for Film/Theater Advertisement
Princess Mononoke 「もののけ姫」 is a live action stage performance by Whole Hog Theater, A British theater company. The theater company proposed the show through Nick Park (of Aardman Animations fame), who the forwarded the idea to his friend, director Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki gave the "GO" signal after seeing test footage created by the theater company. This was the first time that Miyazaki has allowed his own work to be performed on stage.
The play was performed at the New Diorama Theater in London, England. Tickets for April 2-3, 2013 were sold out within 72 hours, and the repeat performance on June 18-29 was sold out in four and a half hours. The show ran for 130 minutes, and was well received by viewers. In particular was the use of recyled material for some costumes and props. One reviewer noted, "Their work, they write, “explores the outer limits of [their] and [their] audience’s imagination” (quote), meaning they envision ways to translate seemingly impossible elements onto the stage, sometimes in straightforward physical forms, sometimes by means of more symbolic representations (e.g. a huge sheet of plastic foil becoming a forest lake) challenging viewers to suspend their disbelief and use their imaginative minds instead."
The use of puppetry was also praised, "The puppetry also delights in its attention to detail, whether it be the glowing eyes of various creatures or the fact that the humans in boar skins are clearly distinguished from the real boars. Surprisingly, the Whole Hog’s marvelous use of puppetry combined with light and sound even manages to triumph with what I expected to be one of the most difficult scenes to adapt to the stage: when the deer god loses its head while transforming into the nightwalker, the world consequently falling to its terrifying doom." The play itself sticks very close to the original film's script, and its fast pace made up for minor inconsistencies and directorial decisions.
In Japan, the show was performed at Shibuya AiiA Theater Tokyo from April 29th to May 6th, 2013. The cast includes Japanese actress, dancer and singer based in New York, Yuriko Miyake. She sings the theme song "Mononoke Hime". Non-human characters were represented by puppets made from used clothing, waste materials such as vinyl and PET bottles.
|Characters||Original Cast||English Dub Cast|
|Ashitaka||Yoji Matsuda (松田洋治)||Billy Crudup|
|San||Yuriko Ishida (石田ゆり子)||Claire Danes|
|Lady Eboshi||Yūko Tanaka (田中裕子)||Minnie Driver|
|Jigo||Kaoru Kobayashi (小林薫)||Billy Bob Thornton|
|Kohroku||Masahiko Nishimura (西村雅彦)||John DeMita|
|Gonza||Tsunehiko Kamijō (上條恒彦)||John DiMaggio|
|Moro||Akihiro Miwa (美輪明宏)||Gillian Anderson|
|Hī-sama||Mitsuko Mori (森光子)||Debi Derryberry|
|Okkoto||Hisaya Morishige (森繁久彌)||Keith David|
|Toki||Sumi Shimamoto (島本須美)||Jada Pinkett Smith|
|Kaya||Yuriko Ishida (石田ゆり子)||Tara Charendoff|
|Kiyo||Sumi Shimamoto (島本須美)||Tress MacNeille|
|Director, Screenplay||Hayao Miyazaki|
|Animation Supervisor||Kitarō Kōsaka, Masashi Ando, Yoshifumi Kondō|
|Character Design||Masashi Ando, Yoshifumi Kondō|
|Executive Producer||Seiichiro Ujiie, Yutaka Narita,|
|Chief Executive Producer||Yasuyoshi Tokuma|
|Key Animation||Atsuko Otani, Atsuko Tanaka (Telecom Animation Film), Eiji Yamamori, Hideaki Yoshio, Hiroko Minowa, Hiroshi Shimizu, Ikuo Kuwana, Katsuya Kondo, Kenichi Konishi, Kenichi Yamada, Kenichi Yoshida, Makiko Futaki, Mariko Matsuo, Masaaki Endou, Masako Shinohara, Masaru Matsuse, Megumi Kagawa, Michio Mihara, Noriko Moritomo, Sachiko Sugino, Shinji Otsuka, Shinsaku Sasaki, Takehiro Noda, Takeshi Inamura, Toshio Kawaguchi, Tsutomu Awada, Yoshinori Kanada|
|Animation Check||Hitomi Tateno, Katsutoshi Nakamura, Kazuyoshi Onoda, Masaya Saito, Rie Nakagome|
|Background Artists||Hiroaki Sasaki, Hisae Saito, Junichi Taniguchi, Kiyomi Oota, Kyōko Naganawa, Masako Osada, Naomi Kasugai, Noboru Yoshida, Ryoko Ina, Sadayuki Arai, Sayaka Hirahara, Seiki Tamura|
|Camera||Junji Yabuta, Tamaki Kojo, Wataru Takahashi,|
|CG||Masafumi Inoue, Mitsunori Kataama, Yoshinori Sugano, Yoshiyuki Momose|
|Color Design||Michiyo Yasuda|
|Art Director||Kazuo Oga, Naoya Tanaka, Nizo Yamamoto, Satoshi Kuroda, Youji Takeshige|
|Production Committee||Akio Ichimura (Studio Ghibli), Daisuke Kadoya (NTV), Eiko Fujitsu (Studio Ghibli), Hidehiko Takei (NTV), Junko Ito (Tokuma Shoten), Kako Nomoto (NTV), Kazuaki Itō (NTV), Minoru Muroi (Tokuma Shoten), Mitsuyoshi Katsurada (Dentsu), Noboru Tsukahara (Tokuma Shoten), Nobuhisa Sakata (NTV), Noritoshi Aoyagi (Dentsu), Ryoichi Fukuyama (Dentsu), Seiji Urushido (NTV), Shigeru Kobayashi (Studio Ghibli), Shogo Komagata (Studio Ghibli), Shokichi Arai (Studio Ghibli), Shozo Katsuta (Dentsu), Sue Fujimoto (NTV), Takaya Noda (Dentsu), Tomoki Horaguchi (Studio Ghibli), Tomoko Kamiya (NTV), Tsutomu Otsuka (Tokuma Shoten), Yoshiko Nagasaki (NTV), Yushin Soga (Dentsu),|
- How Princess Mononoke Was Born by Tokuma Shoten on Amazon.
- "Princess Mononoke was born in this way.", P. 389
- "Turning Point", p.363
- "The Battle Between Humans and Ferocious Gods - The Goal of This Film", Princess Mononoke Film Pamphlet, Toho (July 12, 1997)
- "Turning Point 1997-2008", p.49-50
- "How Princess Mononoke Was Born", Pp. 45-46.
- "How Princess Mononoke Was Born", Pp. 53-54.
- "Turning Point 1997-2008", P.50
- "Yoshifumi Kondō, Studio Ghibli's Forgotten Master", The Diplomat.
- "Turning Point 1997-2008", P.50
- Brooks, Xan (September 14, 2005). A god among animators.
- Medina, Joseph Jammer (June 2, 2020). Apparently, Harvey Weinstein Lost His S**t Over Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke.
- Why People Forget Neil Gaiman Wrote MONONOKE’s Dub.
- "Sharing A House with the Never-Ending Man", Steve Alpert, p. 236.
- Marlies Gabriele Prinzl's review of "Princess Mononoke".
- Whole Hog Theater - Princess Mononoke stage play.
- Princess Mononoke Official Website