The last Emishi prince, Ashitaka, engages in battle with Nago, a giant boar demon attacking his village. During the fight, Ashitaka is wounded on his arm. After the boar is killed, the village wise woman tells the prince that the wound is cursed and will spread to the rest of his body, eventually killing him. Ashitaka resolves to journey to the boar's origin, the lands to the West, and find a cure for the curse. He cuts his hair, signifying his permanent departure from his village, and leaves on Yakul, his red elk. Ashitaka passes by a village being attacked by samurai. Some of the men attack him, forcing Ashitaka to defend himself. His cursed arm displays supernatural powers, causing his arrows to remove limbs and even the head of one man. In a nearby town he meets Jigo, a wandering monk who aids him in buying rice. That evening, he tells Ashitaka that the god of the forest in the mountains of the west may be able to help him.
A nearby town in the mountains of the west, called Iron Town, continually clears the nearby forests to make charcoal to smelt ironsand, leading to battles with beasts attempting to protect their diminishing forest. In one such battle, a pack of wolves, led by the wolf god Moro, attack villagers transporting rice. They are accompanied by San, a human girl adopted by the wolves whom the people of Iron Town call "the wolf girl". In the attack Moro and several villagers are injured. The day following the battle, Ashitaka finds two injured villagers near a river. While rescuing them, he sees San treating Moro's wounds, and she disappears quickly. He returns the villagers to Irontown passing through a forest full of bestial gods, including diminutive sprites called kodama. Also in the forest is the Forest Spirit (Shishigami in the original Japanese), described as a "god of life and death", who takes the form of a deer-like kirin during the day and a large shadowy "night-walker" (Daidarabocchi) at night.
Ashitaka is given a warm welcome when he reaches Irontown. He learns from the leader of Irontown, Lady Eboshi, that the giant boar which cursed him was once a forest god called Nago and that Eboshi had shot the boar, driving it to madness. On hearing this Ashitaka is filled with rage and must restrain his right arm from killing Eboshi. He is dissuaded from doing so by lepers whom Eboshi has taken under her care and employed as gunmakers. She also employs former prostitutes in her famous ironworks in order to free them from brothels. Irontown is then infiltrated by San, who attacks Eboshi. Ashitaka intervenes to stop the two sides' fighting and takes San back to the forest, but is severely wounded when he is shot through the chest. With his curse's power, he manages to open the gate and leave the town, but collapses soon afterward. San presents Ashitaka to the Forest Spirit who heals his wounds but does not remove the curse.
San soon learns that the boars, under the leadership of the boar god Okkoto, are planning another attack on Irontown. Eboshi prepares for the assault and sets out to destroy the Forest Spirit. The head of the Forest Spirit is believed to grant immortality. Jigo, who is now revealed to be a mercenary-hunter, 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. Meanwhile, Ashitaka recovers and falls in love with San. Even though she has fallen in love with him as well, she has difficulty accepting it due to her lifelong hatred of other humans.
In the ensuing battle, Irontown successfully sets a trap for the boars, devastating their army. Jigo's hunters also succeed in corrupting Okkoto in the same way as Nago, and San becomes entangled in Okkoto's demonic tentacles. Moro, also badly wounded, saves San, and then is killed, along with Okkoto, by the Forest Spirit, in mercy for their suffering. Eboshi then succeeds in shooting off the Forest Spirit's head while it is transforming into the night-walker. Jigo collects the head while the body is transformed into a god of death covering the surrounding land with a lethal black ooze that completely destroys all life and turns the land barren. The hunters scatter before the ooze and the population of Irontown moves into the surrounding lake, leaving Irontown to destruction. Ashitaka and San manage to take the head from Jigo and return it to the Forest Spirit. It collapses into the lake and the land becomes green again. Ashitaka and San part, vowing to see each other occasionally while Ashitaka, finally freed of his curse, will help rebuild Irontown. Eboshi survives, albeit without an arm, and vows to rebuild Irontown along more harmonious lines. The film ends with a kodama appearing in the rejuvenated forest.
Ashitaka, un giovane guerriero della dinastia Emishi, è costretto ad
uccidere un cinghiale-demone diventato pazzo a causa di una ferita di
arma da fuoco. Ferito dall'animale, il giovane deve lasciare il suo
villaggio per evitare ai compaesani la maledizione del Demone e,a
causa dell'avvelenamento ricevuto, è destinato ad una morte certa.
Durante il suo viaggio si imbatte nella giovane San, allevata dai lupi
e chiamata Principessa Mononoke,e nei suoi nemici umani, guidati da
Lady Eboshi, volitiva leader di un villaggio che basa la sua esistenza
sulla fabbricazioni di armi da fuoco, la quale ha come obiettivo la
distruzione delle foreste abitate dai lupi e dagli altri animali cari
a San. E' chiaro che non si è di fronte ad una semplice favola di
stampo disneyano : Princess Mononoke è una storia di valori, di magia,
di crescita. E' una rappresentazione a volte crudemente realistica,
tuttavia ricca di quella filosofia e poesia tipiche del popolo del Sol
Levante. Mononoke è il film della svolta per Miyazaki: nonostante
molti temi trattati siano usuali nella sua cinematografia, come
l'attenzione all'ambiente, le difficoltà dell'uomo in un epoca di
cambiamenti, il rapporto tra progresso e natura e il ruolo centrale
che hanno nella storia i personaggi femminili, Mononoke colpisce per
la crudezza di alcune situazioni e per il generale pessimismo che
promana dal film. Lontano anni luce dal Giappone ipertecnologico e
caratterizzato dalle stramberie che fanno sorridere (a torto) gli
occidentali, il sol levante di Miyhazaki è un luogo pregno di
spiritualità che è sempre messa a rischio dai gesti degli uomini.
Mononoke è stato un film storico anche dal punto di vista commerciale:
ha incassato l'equivalente di 150 milioni di dollari nel solo Giappone
ed ha riscontrato un buon successo di pubblico e critica anche negli
Stati Uniti. Caso unico, è stato anche distribuito in Italia, dove
ahimè, il doppiaggio ha stravolto la parte finale del film facendolo
apparire molto più buonista e felice di quanto non sia in realtà.