Princess Mononoke is a fantasy epic depicting the struggle between the forest (nature) and a colony of iron miners (man), done in the style of Anime (Japanese animation). The result is a moving, colourful, and complex film-going experience.
Princess Mononoke is also a love story involving two primary protagonists, Ashitaka (Billy Crudup) and San (Claire Danes). It takes place in ancient Japan, as the Iron Age begins. Ashitaka, a warrior in a Japanese village isolated from the Japanese Emperor and his Samurai, encounters a mad boar god-turned-demon and manages to kill it. However, just before the boar dies, it curses Ashitaka. To overcome his curse, Ashitaka must journey to a distant forest in the West and beg the Forest Spirit to free him from his burden.
On his journey, Ashitaka runs across San, aka Princess Mononoke, a human girl who has been adopted by Moro the Wolf God (Gillian Anderson) as part of the Wolf tribe. Ashitaka then uncovers a conflict between San, representing the forest gods, and the Lady Eboshi who is in charge of mining operations in the forest. Lady Eboshi has set up Irontown, where former prostitutes run huge fans to keep the smelting fire burning, and a colony of lepers go about manufacturing arms so she can defeat the inhabitants of the forest. Her goal is to protect Irontown at all costs, even if it means killing the Forest Spirit and eliminating the sentience of the animal gods (or turning them into demons with iron bullets). Ashitaka must therefore tread a fine line between his love for San and his concern for the inhabitants of Irontown.
The plot is a bit more complex than the description above, but Director Hayao Miyazaki, one of the greatest Anime directors, doesn't disappoint in the execution of this fable. The complex ethical moral dynamic is handled by presenting all sides in an equitable manner. The animation is more of a comic-book style than seen in many Hollywood-based films. The violence is graphic. The drawings are used more actively to illustrate motion (rather than using the animation itself), similar to the kind observed in Tintin by Herge. The depiction of the mythical elements, such as the Forest Spirit, the emergent nature of the forest, is grand and magnificent.
Done originally in Japanese, the English version of the film was adapted by Neil Gaiman (of Sandman and Death fame). Princess Mononoke takes the mythical adventure genre beyond the realm of live-action film-making and elevates it to a higher level. This is yet another great introduction to Anime, and I highly recommend check it out, if only to see what the fuss is all about. It's hard to be disappointed.