- It is a phenomenal dub. Great cast, fantastic performances, wonderful adapted script by Neil Gaiman, just amazingly well done.
- Miyazaki himself prefers his movies to be watched rather than read and supports his films being dubbed into foreign languages.
- I don’t want subtitles clogging up my screencaps when I’m makin’ mah dick jokes.
- It’s easier for me to come up with jokes for the American voice actors. “Perhaps I wasn’t clear, I’m Hisaya mother fucking Morishige” doesn’t quite have the same ring.
- Watching the subbed version means I don’t get to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice. I want to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice. Why don’t you want me to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice? Try and take it away from me and see what happens. Just. Try.
Well said. The opening narration solemnly sets the scene for us:
We begin in the village of a tribe of people called the Emishi. The Emishi were a real historical group who came into conflict with the ancient Japanese and…well, it’s called “Japan” and not “Emishiland” so you can probably guess how that shook out. Ashitaka, the prince of the Emishi, rides his red elk, Yakul to a sentry point on the outskirts of the village. The village wise woman has warned him that something is headed towards the village but can’t say what. As Ashitaka and the sentry watch, a huge, writhing….thing comes bursting out of the forest and makes a beeline for the village.
And Hayao, c’mon man. Now you just showin’ off. The demon is both a masterclass of creepy and inventive character design and just insanely complex animation. Every inch of this damn thing is moving, it’s literally a monster made of writhing worms. Ashitaka rides desperately in front of it calling out “Whatever you may be, god or demon, please leave us in peace!”
Is…is that really up for debate?
Ashitaka begs the thing to stop being a dick but it keeps charging on and almost kills Ashitaka’s little sister.
Ashitaka is probably the most purely moral hero of any movie I’ve reviewed. He’s utterly selfless, kind, compassionate, fearless, unprejudiced, polite, respectful to both men and women and only uses violence as an absolute last resort. He sounds like he should be as boring as a workaholic mole but he’s actually a very compelling protagonist thanks to Miyazaki’s skill as a storyteller and also the fact that the dude is a STONE COLD BADASS. Yeah, I said he only uses violence as a last resort. But when he does, shit gets resorted, yo (I don’t know what I’m talking about).
Anyway, Ashitaka realises that this is one insane worm monster that won’t listen to reason and shoots the creature in the eye. The demon lashes out and burns a mark onto his arm. Ashitaka manages to fatally wound the thing and it’s revealed to be a gigantic boar god under all the writing black worms. The wise woman arrives. There are two things you must know about the wise woman. Firstly. She is wise. And second, she is a woman. She approaches the dying boar, bows solemnly and says: “Oh nameless god of rage and hate, I bow before you.” Pro tip: Great way to introduce yourself to your future mother in law. The boar god curses them, saying they will soon know his hate and suffer as he’s suffered and then dies. So on the downside the whole village is now cursed.
The village elders have a pow-wow and the wise woman asks Ashitaka to show everyone the mark that the demon burned into his flesh.
The wise woman tells him that the curse will progress, slowly rotting his flesh and bone and driving him mad before he dies in unspeakable agony because she’s the wise woman, not the break-it-to-you-gently woman. She tells him that he must leave the village forever and go into exile. Ashitaka takes this with the stoic resignation of a man who’s been asked to go to the shops for a packet of smokes.
One of the old men says that the Emishi have been driven from their lands and their numbers are dwindling and now their young prince has been sent in to exile. He says that it feels like the gods are laughing at them. And frankly, that’s just not the case. The gods are giant boars covered in worms who are trying to kill them. Which is honestly, much, much worse. This scene really shows off just why Miyazaki is a such a master. Ashitaka cuts his hair while the elders watch in silence. Now, as a Westerner, I don’t really have much context for the significance of that, or why it matters, but the scene is so expertly staged that I am in no doubt as to the gravity of what’s going on. There’s one old man, visible over Ashitaka’s shoulder who buries his face in his hand when he begins to cut his hair.
In that second of screentime, I understand what that man is feeling. His body language is so clear, so expertly rendered, that I instantly understand the grief of this man as he watches his future and the future of his people go off to meet a certain death. I empathise with this nameless, voiceless old man more than with characters who I’ve watched for two hours or even more. That’s what Miyazaki does, he creates worlds that are populated with full realised characters, even when you only glimpse them for an instant. The wise woman tells Ashitaka that they recovered an iron ball from the boar’s stomach, and that’s what caused him to turn into a demon. She tells him that there is evil at work in the west and to go sort that shit out.
Ashitaka rides for several days before coming across a village that’s being ransacked by samurai. He tries to defend some of the villagers and discovers that the demon’s brand has given him super strength when, instead of knocking a samurai’s sword out of his hand, he rips his arms clean off.
Ashitaka escapes and arrives at a village to stock up on potions and burn heal and tries to pay with a lump of solid gold. The merchantwoman raises a stink until Jigo, a passing monk, explains to her that Ashitaka has just paid her in solid gold and just SHUT UP AND TAKE THE GOLD LIKE JESUS GOD! Jigo and Ashitaka travel together for awhile and Jigo explains that he saw what Ashitaka did to protect the last village from the samurai and wanted to pay him back. He also reveals that he’s figured out that Ashitaka is one of the Emishi but promises that he won’t tell anyone. The Emishi were sent into exile by the Emperor hundreds of years ago and are all supposed to be dead. Jigo gives Ashitaka a lead on where he might be able to get the curse lifted, saying that where the Great Forest Spirit dwells the animals are supposed to be giants like the boar that attacked Ashitaka’s village. Jigo warns him that the forest is extremely dangerous to humans and that it is certain death to enter. Ashitaka takes this news with all the concern of a man who’s been told that it may rain on the way to the shops so he’d better bring an umberella in case the smokes get wet.
We cut to a forest road outside of Iron Town, a mining village ruled by Lady Eboshi which contains an ironworks and a barracks.
Lady Eboshi is leading an oxen train laden with supplies back to Iron Town in the pouring lane. Lady Eboshi is a tall, thin, cold, haughty woman with an aristocratic bearing.
Villain. Got it.
The train gets attacked by a young girl and two white wolves. Eboshi’s men fire their rifles and drive the wolves off and Eboshi’s head lackey, Ganza, says “They weren’t so big.” Eboshi replies “They’re just pups. You should see their mother.”
And then we do, as Maro the wolf god attacks. Maro is a friggin’ HUGE two-tailed white wolf who savages several men and oxen before making a beeline straight for Eboshi. But as Maro is about to learn, you come at Eboshi, you best not miss.
Eboshi shoots Maro in the chest and then sets her on fire with a goddamn flamethrower because Eboshi’s clock broke one day and is now stuck permanently on “Not Fucking Around” o’clock. Maro goes flying over a cliff and ladies and gentleman please welcome back after a prolonged absence the, the one! The only! The lazy bastard kookaburras joke!
It’s like he never left.
Eboshi tells her men to gather up the wounded but leave those who fell over the cliff behind because they’re almost certainly dead. At the bottom of the mountain, Ashitaka comes across two of them who are still alive. He pulls them out of the river and tends to their wounds because he’s a selfless gent. He also see Maro, whose wound is still being tended by the young girl. This, incidentally, is San, and she is the Princess Mononoke. It’s never quite clear just what San is, or at least, it’s not clear to me. She’s called a guardian spirit of the forest at times, but later Maro says that she was abandoned by her parents in the forest and raised by her. In the English dub San is voiced by Claire Danes and of all the English voice actors she’s probably the weak link. She’s not terrible, far from it, but to me she sounds less like “savage child of nature” and more “whiny valley girl”. It’s a minor quibble though. Alright, so considering Ashitaka’s introduction to this girl is seeing her sucking blood out of a ten foot tall wolf, he’s clearly intrigued as she may be the only human being on earth who’s badassery rivals his own.
He calls out to her but she tells him to screw off and he goes back to the two men he rescued. One them has woken up and is freaking out at the sudden appearance of a kudama, a weird little forest sprite who I can’t decide whether it’s creepy or cute.
The guy who’s freaking out is Kohroku, an oxen driver.
Kohroku is probably the only straight up comic relief character in this movie, a loud mouthed buffoon dressed in blue with his brown hair tied up in a pony tail partnered with a much more sensible and dependable female character wait just a damn minute here!
Alright, so the wolves chase the apes off and San takes Ashitaka to the grove of the Great Forest Spirit to heal his wound.
Meanwhile, Jigo is hiding out in the forest with some hunters. See, it turns out that Jigo is not the simple monk he’s pretended to be, but is actually on a mission to bring the Emperor the head of the Great Forest Spirit which legend says will make him immortal. Jigo and his hunters then see the Night Walker, a massive blue kaiju that walks through the forest at night because it’s…guys, c’mon it’s in the name, do I really have to do all the heavy lifting around here? I mean really, this is basic stuff. So the Night Walker starts to transform, because morning is coming and when day comes, the Night Walker becomes…c’mon, you can do this.
Okay no, but I can certainly follow your logic. No, actually the Night Walker and the Great Forest Spirit are one and the same, and Jigo says they’ll have to attack him during the day to get his head (because the Night Walker’s head doesn’t make you immortal. It’s just a big blue head.) Jigo also sees a huge army of boars arriving in the forest, led by Lord Okkoto, a massive, ancient white boar voiced in the English dub by one of my favourite voice actors, Keith David.
At the grove, the Great Forest Spirit comes and heals Ashitaka’s wound, but doesn’t lift the curse from his arm. One big difference I’ve noticed between this movie and Disney’s is that Miyazaki is not afraid to use silence. Joe Hisaishi’s score for this movie is incredible, but some of the most powerful moments are when everything goes completely silent. No music. No sound effects. No more talking. No more singing. Zip-ah. He usually saves it for moments when the Great Forest Spirit appears. And now we get to really my only slight quibble with this movie.
I kinda think the Great Forest Spirit looks a little silly.
It’s really not the movie’s fault it’s just…okay, has anyone here seen The Mighty Boosh?
I realise that the vast, vast, vast majority of you have no idea what I’m talking about. Alright Maro and her wolves arrive and so do Okkoto’s boars and for a moment it’s looking all Sharks and Jets up in this bitch. The boars demand to know what happened to Nago and Maro tells them that Nago turned into a demon because he was afraid to die. The boars don’t buy it roaring “You are not fooling us! Nago was beautiful and strong!”
Lord Okkoto arrives and Ashitaka tells him what happened to Nago. Okkoto thanks him for putting Nago out of his misery but says that the curse can’t be lifted and that Ashitaka must leave the forest. Okkoto tells Maro that the boars are losing their intelligence as the forest becomes smaller and smaller, and soon they will be nothing more than dumb pigs. Okkoto has brought his army here to make one last desperate stand against the humans, and that even if they all die, they will give the humans the battle of their lives.
Alright, hold on tight because this shit’s about to get Games of Thrones level complicated. So Lady Eboshi is fighting off an attack from Lord Asano’s samurai. Who he? We never see him, he’s just this random guy who wants to take over Iron Town.
Jigo shows up and tells Eboshi that the boars are readying for war and that he’s calling in a favour. See, it was Jigo who provided those riflemen to Eboshi, and now he wants her to help him collect the Great Forest Spirit’s head. Eboshi is reluctant to leave Iron Town in the middle of a war but she doesn’t really have a choice. Eboshi leaves Toki and the girls in charge of defending Iron Town and heads out into the forest with the Iron Town men and Jigo’s hunters.
Maro, San and the wolves watch as the humans flood the forest with smoke to dull the boars’ sense of smell and make them pissed off. San tells Maro that she has to help Okkoto because he’s blind and Maro gives her blessing.
Ashitaka leaves the forest with Yakul and passes by Iron Town only to see it under attack from Asano’s men. Toki begs him to get Lady Eboshi to come back and save the town. Ashitaka heads back into the forest, stopping only to decapitate a few samurai with his arrows. He arrives at the siite of a massacre, with hundreds of dead humans and boars. He tells the Iron Town men that their town is in danger and they turn on Jigo’s men, and help Ashitaka free one of San’s wolves who’d been trapped under a ton of dead boars (which, for a wolf, is a nice problem to have). The Iron Town men head back and Ashitaka and the wolf heads deep into the forest to reach Eboshi and stop her killing the Great Forest Spirit.
Meanwhile, San is leading a desperately wounded Okkoto through the forest to the grove of the Great Forest Spirit. They’re surrounded by Jigo’s men, dressed in boar skins and smeared with boar’s blood to disguise their scent. Poor Okkoto, bleeding like a Westerosi wedding, thinks that his dead herd have returned to life and marches onward to the grove while San pleads desperately with him that it’s a trap.
In the grove, Ashitaka finds Maro, almost dead from the wound Eboshi gave her earlier. Okkoto arrives, now consumed with hate and transformed into a demon
San has been absorbed into the mass of tentacles because Japan and Maro uses the last of her strength to rescue her. As Jigo and Eboshi watch from the shadows, the Great Forest Spirit arrives and takes away the life of Maro and Okkoto, finally ending their pain. The spirit then start to transform into the Night Walker and Jigo tells Eboshi that it’s now or never.
Eboshi turns to her men and says: “Now watch closely. I’m going to show you how to kill a god. A god of life and death. The trick is not to fear him.”
She fires an explosive round into the spirit’s neck, decapitating him.
Aaaaaaand then his headless body turns into a gigantic goo monster that destroys everything in its path.
Jigo and his men get the head and skedaddle, and Maro, who was only pretending to be dead, bites off Eboshi’s arm before finally, actually dying for real this time, no backsies.
As the massive glutinous remains of the forest spirit rampages towards Iron Town looking for its head, San and Ashitaka manage to catch up to Jigo. They fight him and manage to get the head off him and return it to the great spirit. They’re bathed in it’s energy which lifts the curse from Ashitaka and the forest spirit vanishes. San thinks he’s dead, but Ashitaka tells her that the spirit is life itself and that he’ll always be with them. I dunno. They said the same thing about my dog. And if he wasn’t dead then burying him in the back garden was probably a huge mistake.
The movie ends with Lady Eboshi standing in the ruins of Iron Town surveying the devastation wrought by the Great Forest Spirit and promising her people to build a new “better” town. What she means by “better” is up to the viewer’s interepreation. San tells Ashitaka that she loves him but that she can’t forgive the humans for what they’ve done and he says that he’ll help rebuild Iron Town and come and visit her in the forest. And the last shot is of a single kudama, giving hope that the forest may survive.
I started this month reviewing without a doubt the single worst cartoon I have ever seen in my life. I finish it having reviewed quite possibly the best. I saw Princess Mononoke many years ago, but honestly I don’t think I saw all of it and I was probably too young to really appreciate it. This movie is simply stunning, as close to perfection as its possible for a film to get. Awesome, breathtaking, life-affirming art.