It’s pretty evil, really. The most scary thing about watching a Japanese cartoon like this one, is that well, it’s not a Disney. You have no idea what goes, you don’t know if the characters will end up dead and you feel that your happy Disney ending is very much uncertain all the way through it. That does render you incapable of looking away, simply because you have no idea how this is going to play out.
Ashitaka is a prince, the last prince of his people actually. You will excuse me if I haven’t watched it more than once, and as such I may not have caught all the Japanese words in it… It is in English if you want it to be, but still, names and titles are not really, so…
Ashitaka saves his village from an attack of a daemon. During the fight, he gets wounded and the wound turns out to be evil, spreading a virus through his body that will tear his soul apart and kill him… Oh well, cool then… As such, the village sends him away. He must cut his hair in shame and leave, seeking a cure, or well, dying without endangering his people…
Here is where I had my first Disney moment. Imagine that set up in a Disney movie? Just take a second and imagine how any Disney hero would respond to being sent away in shame after having saved his village and possibly killed himself by doing it? The injustice is so profound, any Disney hero would have had to spend at least five minutes singing, whining and bitching about it, before he might arrive at the conclusion that if he did leave he would find a cure and come back home!
Ashitaka doesn’t. He just cuts his hair and leaves. That does leave you slightly startled as the viewer. What kind of a man is this? Could it be a true hero, not a classic western unwilling hero, but actually a man who will take responsibility for his actions and face his fate without a fuss?
That has to throw you off your feet as the viewer.
Ashitaka is looking for the great forest spirit, because it might be able to cure him of the evil virus that runs through his veins.
Along his way, he comes across Iron Town, a town led by a woman and her girls, which she has picked up at local brothels and offered them a better life. It’s not exactly a children’s story, even though as direct as those girls might be sometimes in their language, they come no where near what goes in a Disney movie, so well… Disney wouldn’t have had brothel girls in their stories, but with a guy like Ashitaka amongst a bunch of girls, they could have, (and have done in the past) got away with much clearer sexual references.
I can’t help it. I am so used to watching Disney movies. And in some way, they are all the same. Princess Mononoke is very different from anything I have ever seen before.
But, Iron Town. Yes. By this time you are beginning to wonder why this movie is called Princess Mononoke, because you haven’t met her yet and it’s been at least half an hour…
I am told that Mononoke translates as spirit or monster, so turns out it is just a title the villagers of Iron Town has given the wolf girl. San is human, brought up by wolves in the forest, and for all intense and purpose, she isn’t human at all. In fact, she hates humans with a vengeance, for their killing of the forest and their disregard for the animals.
I love her because she is so… true. She truly is a person brought up in the wild, she IS a wolf and she is not going to take one look at a fellow human and change. Nothing like Tarzan or Mowgli… San is wild and remains so. She is not unimpressed by Ashitaka and his charm, but her hatred for humans wins out. She is a pretty perfect example of how you don’t just change your upbringing in a heartbeat.
San is trying to kill the leader of Iron Town, hoping that if she is dead, the town will stop killing her forest. Ashitaka tries to reason with both of them, but he doesn’t really get anywhere. And the virus is spreading… You are wondering all the way through this movie, truly are they going to let him die? Is this going to be utter destruction? Would they let the village kill the forest spirit? Could there be a script writer that dared to not have a happy ending where the hero gets the girl and lives happily ever after?
And as you are thinking that, you realize that you miss Disney. By the end, you are truly hoping for that stupid, happy ending. Can’t they just kiss and be together and not die?
I won’t say it is a traumatizing cartoon, but it does have its truly evil moments. Which is why I love it.
Should you watch it? Absolutely. No question about it.
But don’t expect singing and dancing and that fussy warm feeling in your chest you always get from watching Disney movies.
Still, it is more than worth your time. It might even make you think.
What does create daemons? Could it be human ignorance and stupidity? Or something as simple as hate and intolerance? And how is it that it is always the innocent that gets hurt along the way?
That’s the kind of movie this is.
And it’s brilliant.