Princess Mononoke: The First Story
Set in the late Japanese Muromachi Period, on the dawn of industrial revolution, Princess Mononoke explores the literal, tense relationship between man and the environment. The plot of the film has haunted renowned animator Hayao Miyazaki for quite some time. Initial drawings and storyboards for Princess Mononoke centered on the basic premise of a daughter bring shunned by her father and betrothed to a frightening beast. There were however, elements that were incorporated into Mijazaki’s 1988 film My Neighbor Totoro, which called for a revision to the story. In 1995, after taking a break from the storyline, Miyazaki returned to researching and commenced animated production.
The first draft of the story focused on the shortcomings of a King, who comes face to face with the inhabitant of a cave – a large wildcat mononoke, who threatens to kill him, until he offers one of his daughters as a bride to the mononoke. Agreeing, the mononoke returns the King to his palace and announces he will return on the next full moon for his bride. Once home, the King is faced with the onset of yet another attack from an enemy army in addition to an angry wife, who then leaves home with her elder daughters while the youngest stays behind. Fearful, he allows an evil spirit to reside in his body. The spirit completely consumes him and the King destroys the advancing enemy. He allows the mononoke to take his youngest daughter. The pair begins their relationship at odds, but come to care for one another as they embark on a new adventure to save the King from the evil spirit.
Evidently, there were numerous changes made from the preliminary story. By 1995, the story had evolved to focus on a prince, Ashitaka, who defeats a demon, Nago before it reaches the core of the village. Unfortunately, Ashitaka’s right arm is attacked and he learns the curse will eventually kill him. He travels into the western lands Nago originated from, in a desperate attempt to find a cure. Along the way he hears of the Great Forest Spirit, who might be able to cure him. He meets with men heading into Irontown, led by the powerful Lady Eboshi. The group is nearly killed by a pack of wolves lead by a young woman named San. Lady Eboshi explains that San, whom she calls Princess Mononoke, was raised by wolves and hates humans. He also learns that Eboshi is responsible for changing Nago into a demon. Ashitaka discovers Irontown and its inhabitants, lepers and former brothel workers. The village is at war with the forest gods, as a section of the forest was devastated to create the village.
It is obvious that the story has been consistent with overarching the themes of the environment and supernatural elements, though the focus completely shifts from a familial point to a communal one. Miyazaki works to understand their co-existence and the identification of boundaries between humans and animal spirits. The film was a big hit when it was released in 1997, shattering previous expectations of animated films. The film was a celebration of sorts for Miyazaki, for the collaboration with Disney marked a profound turning point in his career. Following its success, Miyazaki enjoyed a semi-retirement from the film industry, before inspiration led to the creation of Spirited Away; released in 2001.
Princess Mononoke also does a spectacular job of merging the mystical world with the practicalities of the human reality, creating an epically strong female lead who rejects the societal expectations of womanhood and elects to live in the forest with animals. There are features to this story that are bound to be adored by all - whether it be examining the issue of metaphysical relationships, or simply admiring the talent that went into producing such a wonderfully animated film. Miyazaki’s first vision of the story is now available in an illustrated storybook format, titled Princess Mononoke: The First Story.
In 2013, creator Hayao Miyazaki stated that he was “quite serious” about retiring from the world of animation, though he continues to work with magazines on manga creations. ~Nadira Chand