Princess Mononoke (FAQ)

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Q: How can I see it?

The original Japanese version is available on video, laserdisc, and DVD.

The English dubbed version is available on video and DVD.

The film has been released in several other languages and countries; please visit the video page for more details.

Q: Is it dubbed?

Yes. The voice cast of the English version includes Billy Crudup as Ashitaka, Claire Danes as San, Gillian Anderson as Moro, Minnie Driver as Eboshi, Billy Bob Thornton as Jiko Bou (he is called Jigo in the dub), Jada Pinkett-Smith as Toki, and Keith David as Okkoto.

Neil Gaiman, writer of such works as "The Sandman", worked on the English script of Mononoke Hime. He did not "rewrite" the script. He just made the literal English translation of the script into "lines that people can say". According to the news release by Miramax, Gaiman stated, "I couldn't be more excited to write this script," and "My goal is to remain faithful to the story while providing a translation that a non-Japanese audience will be able to follow. To that end, I've been researching Japanese folklore." Read this interview with Gaiman for an in-depth look at the translation process.

The English dub has received mostly positive reviews. (See Princess Mononoke (impressions) for reviews by critics and fans.)

Q: Did Disney cut violent scenes for the US release?

No. Not even one second was cut from the English dubbed version.

The contract between Disney and Tokuma states that Disney cannot make any changes to the film other than dubbing it. Mr. Tokuma, the president of Tokuma Publishing, and Mr. Suzuki, the producer at Ghibli, both have stated "There will be no cuts," in various interviews. That did not prevent Disney from asking (or pressuring) Tokuma to make some cuts. However, Ghibli and Miyazaki said "no" to such suggestions.

You can read about the interaction between the parties through Steven Alpert's (Tokuma International Managing Director) The Making of "Princess Mononoke" diary.

For more information, see the Disney-Tokuma Deal page, or join the Miyazaki Mailing List.

Q: I heard that it is a very big movie. How big is it?

It's "big" in several senses. With a 2.4 billion yen (about $20 million) production cost, "Princess Mononoke" is the most expensive animated movie ever made in Japan ("Akira" cost about 1 billion yen). It's about 133 minutes long, and uses some 144,000 cels. (Laputa was 124 minutes and Pom Poko used about 82,000 cels). It earned more than 18.65 billion yen in Japan, with more than 13.53 million attendees. It became the No. 1 movie of all time in Japan, beating the record held by "E.T." for 15 years (Princess Mononoke's record was broken by "Titanic" (Spirited Away later beat "Titanic"). It was also the all-time best selling video in Japan, selling more than 4 million copies, until the record was broken by "Titanic" (the previous video sales record was held by "Aladdin", which sold about 2.2 million copies in Japan).

Q: Did it use computer graphics?

Yes. Ghibli bought several Silicon Graphics workstations and set up the CG division since "Mononoke Hime" uses CG extensively, in more than 100 cuts.

Computers were used in three ways: Digital painting, Digital composition, and Computer generated images. About 15 minutes worth of CG were used in Mononoke Hime, of which, 10 minutes were for digital painting.

You can see that CG was used in the previews of the movie.

For more information, see Princess Mononoke (computer graphics).

Q: What does "Mononoke Hime" mean?

Hime means "Princess" in Japanese. Ghibli has given "Mononoke Hime" the English title, "Princess Mononoke". Mononoke Hime (or Princess Mononoke) is what San, the heroine, is called by other people, since she was raised by a mononoke and looks and acts like a mononoke.

So, what is a mononoke? Good question. ^_^; It's a monster/ghost/spirit.

Mononoke means "The spirit of a thing". Basically, the Japanese blame mononoke for every unexplainable thing, from a major natural disaster to a minor headache. A mononoke could be the spirit of an inanimate object, such as a wheel, the spirit of a dead person, the spirit of a live person, the spirit of an animal, goblins, monsters, or a spirit of nature. Totoro is also a mononoke.

Q: When does the story take place?

It takes place in the Muromachi Era (1392-1573, or 1333-1467, depending on the scholar), around the time of the War of Onin (1467-1477). Miyazaki chose this era since the relationship between the Japanese and nature changed greatly around that time. During the Muromachi Era, iron production jumped, which required great numbers of trees to be cut down (for charcoal), and people came to feel that they could control nature. Also, it was the time before Japan as we know it was formed. It was a confusing, yet lively era. Women had more freedom, and a lot of new arts were born. The rigid class structure of samurai, farmers, and artisans was yet to be established. Miyazaki sees similarities between the Muromachi era and the current era, which is going through various changes and confusion.

Q: What is the thing which looked like a gun?

It is called Ishibiya (Stone Fire Arrow). Ishibiya is old Japanese for "hand cannon". Firearms were first introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in 1543. However, fireworks came from China prior to that, and there are some speculations that hand cannons were imported from China before 1543.

Mh faq ishibiya.jpg

The Ishibiya are manufactured at Tataraba (the iron making encampment) by Lady Eboshi's men. People fight against Mononoke Hime and the Animal Gods using Ishibiya.

Q: What is Kodama, the white little creature?

Mh characters kodama.jpg

Kodama means "echo" (its literal meaning is a "tree spirit"). However, since its name is written in Katakana, not in Kanji, it could also mean "small ball" or "small spirit". They (there are many, in various sizes and shapes) are a kind of spirit who live in the forest. Although Kodama (a tree spirit) appears in many Japanese folktales, Kodama as a little white creature is Miyazaki's creation.

Q: What are Emishi?

The Emishi were "barbarians" who lived in the northeast region of Honshuu (the main island of Japan). Ashitaka, the hero, is a descendant of the Emishi Royal family. The Emishi kept their independence from the Yamato regime (the Japanese Emperor's government) for a long time, but were finally defeated by the first Shogun at the end of the 8th century. Their culture did not survive, and very little is known about them today. By the Muromachi era, when "Mononoke Hime" takes place, they had long been assimilated into Japanese society. Miyazaki used his creative freedom and made a clan of Emishi survive in a hidden village in the Northern land.

There are hot debates among scholars on if and how Emishi and Ainu, the aboriginal people who live in the northern island of Hokkaido today, are related. Some articles mention that Ashitaka is an Ainu. However, Miyazaki takes the stance that Emishi and Ainu are two different ethnic groups.

Q: What is "Tatara Ba"?

"Tatara Ba" means "Iron making place". In the English dub, is is translated as "Iron Town."

A "Tatara" is a foot bellows which was used to make iron, and it also came to mean a particular process of iron making, and people who made iron using that process. In the Tatara iron making process, iron sands and charcoal are put in a furnace made of clay, and burned for several days.

Then, the furnace is taken down to take an iron ingot out. In this process, a great amount of charcoal is needed to melt the iron sands, and therefore, trees are a very important resource (sometimes more than iron sands) for the Tatara people.

In "Mononoke Hime", the Tatara people try to cut the forest down to keep their iron manufacturing going, and the Gods who live in the forest fight against them.

Iron signifies human civilization. Weapons (war) and tools (agriculture) made of iron are what made human civilization. Agricultural tools such as axes and spades made it possible for humans to turn forests (nature) into farmland (the human world). Agriculture made it possible to support a higher population, and a higher population means more forest being cut down. The fight between the Tatara people and the Gods of the forest really signifies the (irresolvable) conflicts between humans and nature.

Q: What is the animal with horns on which Ashitaka is riding?

He's called "Yakkul". That is its own name, its species is called "Akashihi (Red Elk)". It is a fictional animal Miyazaki created, based on a yak. A similar animal appears in Miyazaki's manga, The Journey of Shuna

Q: Who made it?

Hayao Miyazaki is credited for the original story/screenplay/directing.

Supervising animators - Masashi Andō, Kitarou Kousaka, and Yoshifumi Kondō.

Ando is one of the young rising stars at Ghibli. After joining Ghibli in 1990 and worked as an inbetweener for Only Yesterday in 1991, he was quickly promoted to a key animator for Porco Rosso (1992). He worked as the supervising animator for On Your Mark.

Another one of young talents at Ghibli, Kosaka worked as the supervising animator for Whisper of the Heart.

A veteran animator, Kondo had worked as a character designer and supervising animator for Grave of the Fireflies, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Only Yesterday. Sadly, he passed away on January 21, 1998.

Art - "Mononoke Hime" has five art directors, something totally unprecedented. They are: Kazuo Oga (Totoro, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko), Nizo Yamamoto (Holmes, Laputa, Grave), Satoshi Kuroda (Mimi), Naoya Tanaka (Ocean Waves), and Youji Takeshige (On Your Mark).

Q: Who wrote the music?

Joe Hisaishi, who also wrote the music for other Miyazaki films.

The Image Album, Soundtrack Album, and Symphonic Album are available today in Japan. Milan Records released the soundtrack and Symphonic albums in the US (reviews of the CDs).

Hisaishi also wrote the song "Mononoke Hime" (lyrics by Miyazaki), which was used in the movie. It was sung by Yoshikazu Mera, a Japanese countertenor (a male who sings in a high range). The English version was sung by Sasha Lazard.

Hisaishi has received the "Japan Record Award", a sort of Japanese Grammy, for his work in Princess Mononoke.

For more information, please visit the soundtracks page.

Q: I heard that Miyazaki is retiring after Mononoke Hime. Is this true?

No, Miyazaki is not retiring. He is going to make short films to be screened at the Studio Ghibli Museum in the Mitaka City Tokyo. The films will be based on children's books. Ghibli's younger staff members are supposed to make these films, and production has started after they took a rest break following the recent completion of My Neighbors the Yamadas. Whether Miyazaki would "direct" these films or not is still unclear, although he has written storyboards for them.

At a press conference following the completion of Mononoke Hime, Miyazaki did say "I think that this (Mononoke Hime) will be the last (feature-length) movie that I make in this way." You have to understand what "this way" means.

Miyazaki is an animator, first and foremost. He personally checks almost all the key animation, and often redraws cels when he thinks they aren't good enough or characters aren't "acting right." This isn't the typical way in which a director works. (For example, Mamoru Oshii doesn't even check key animation. He has a technical director to do that. Takahata checks key animation, but he tells the key animators to redraw the cels.) However, Miyazaki feels that this is the only way for him to make the films he wants to make.

However, Miyazaki felt that he was getting too old. He says that his eyes aren't as good as they used to be, and his hands can no longer move so quickly. And he felt that spending every day for more than two years working on Mononoke Hime took too much out of him. Hence, he said that he wouldn't direct a film in that way anymore. (He also said that his career as an animator has ended.)

Of course, most journalists in Japan didn't bother to check what he meant by "in this way," so they just wrote big headlines like "Miyazaki announced retirement!" Since then, this news has taken on its own life.

Miyazaki also said that he is leaving Ghibli to make way for young people. However, he also stated that he "may assist in some capacity in the future," such as producing and writing scripts. Sadly, judging from his eulogy for Yoshifumi Kondo, it seems that he was planning to write and produce another film for Kondo to direct, as he did with Whisper of the Heart.

Miyazaki formally quit Ghibli on January 14th, 1998. He built a new studio, "Butaya" (Pig House), near Studio Ghibli as his "retirement place." However, on January 16th, 1999, Miyazaki "formally returned" to Studio Ghibli as Shocho (this title means roughly "the head of office").

In 2001, Miyazaki completed Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi. At a press conference held after the completion of the film, Miyazaki stated that "Sen" will be the last feature-length film he'll direct. For additonal details on this "retirement", visit the Sen_FAQ.

Q: I heard that Miyazaki personally drew 80,000 frames of the film. Is it true?

No. Miyazaki personally checked and often redrew them, but he did not draw 80,000 frames. Being an excellent animator himself, Miyazaki 's directing style requires him to personally check drawings by other animators and often redraw them to make them closer to his image. Of 144,000 cels of animation used in Mononoke Hime, about 80,000 were key animation, and he supervised each of them. This is an enormous task, and Miyazaki says that his eyes and hands no longer permit him to work this way. This is why Miyazaki says that he would not make a film in this style (personally checking each frame of animation).

In the Making of Mononoke Hime video, you can see Miyazaki checking and redrawing to make characters "act right".

Q: Who did the voices in the Japanese version?

Ashitaka, the protagonist, was played by Youji Matsuda, who played Asbel in "Nausicaa". Mononoke Hime/San was played by Yuriko Ishida. She is a popular actress who appears in a lot of "trendy drama", the fashionable shows on Japanese TV. She played the part of Okiyo (Shokichi's girlfriend) in Pom Poko. Sumi Shimamoto, who played Nausicaa, was also in the cast. This time, she played Toki, a working married woman. Another familiar voice is that of Tsunehiko Kamijo, who played Gonza. He did the voice of the Mamma Aiuto Boss in Porco Rosso.

VA Picture‎

As in other Ghibli movies, the cast of "Mononoke Hime" is filled with great movie and stage actors, instead of Seiyuu (voice actors). Some of the very best Japanese actors are in the cast. Hisaya Morishige, whose signature role is Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof", played Okkotonushi, a 500 year old Boar God. Moro no Kimi, a 300 year old Wolf God was played by Akihiro Miwa. He is an actor very well known for playing mysterious female roles. Yukio Mishima, the famous Japanese novelist/playwright wrote several plays for him. Mitsuko Mori, who is a sort of the Angela Lansbury of Japan, played Hii-Sama, the old medium of Ashitaka's village. Eboshi Gozen (Lady Eboshi), the competent leader of the iron making people, was played by Yuuko Tanaka, another popular actress (and a very good one).

Q: I heard that it was based on "Beauty and the Beast". Is it true?

What you have heard about was the old version of "Mononoke Hime". Originally, Miyazaki had planned to make "Mononoke Hime" as a story about a princess who was forced to marry a Mononoke by her feudal lord father. You have probably seen a picture of Mononoke who looks like Catbus in Totoro's body and a girl in a Kimono (see the picture below). That is from a picturebook "Mononoke Hime", which compiled image boards Miyazaki wrote back in 1980. Miyazaki tried to make it into anime, but the project never materialized (it was even considered as the second project by Tokuma after Nausicaa, but eventually, Laputa was chosen), and Miyazaki put it in the book.

Synopsis of the 1980 book "Princess Mononoke"

Mh faq mononoke80.jpg

The story of the movie "Mononoke Hime" is completely different from that in the picturebook. Mononoke Hime is a girl who was raised by Mononoke, not who marries one. There is a new character, Ashitaka, as the hero. In fact, Miyazaki even wanted to change the title to "Ashitaka Sekki (The Tale of Ashitaka)".

Q: I heard that it's very violent. Is it true? Why?

Yes. This is not a movie for small children, like Totoro. Miyazaki puts the targeted audience as "anyone older than 5th grade". The movie trailer has several cuts which graphically depict scenes where arms and heads of characters are cut off and fly. The Japanese movie poster features San with her face smeared with blood. It received a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

Mh faq violence.jpg

There is a reason for violence in "Princess Mononoke". In this movie, Miyazaki tackles the themes he covered in the manga "Nausicaa": the meaning of living in the middle of destruction and despair, and overcoming hatred and vengeance. "Mononoke Hime" deals with the war between Gods and Humans, and intense hatred between them. Miyazaki said that "When there is a fight, some blood is inevitably spilled, and we cannot avoid depicting it." In the project proposal, he stated, "However, even in the middle of hatred and killings, there are things worth living for. A wonderful meeting, or a beautiful thing can exist. We depict hatred, but it is to depict that there are more important things. We depict a curse, to depict the joy of liberation."

Q: I heard that Madonna was going to sing a song for the English dub. Is it true?

No. The Japanese theme song, "Mononoke Hime," was translated into English by Neil Gaiman, and was sung by Sasha Lazard.

According to Tokuma International, Disney was indeed considering to hire Madonna to sing a song for the English dub, and might have contacted her. Apparently, she didn't get the job (or declined the offer.)

Q: The Japanese movie trailer said "13 years since Nausicaa". Why?

Because "Princess Mononoke" is very close to Nausicaa in terms of its genre (action-adventure story) and its theme (the relationship between humans and nature).

Miyazaki wasn't satisfied with the ending of the movie Nausicaa, which needed a miracle to bring a happy ending to solve the conflict between humans and nature. So he took another 10 years pursuing this issue (the relationship between nature and man), writing the manga "Nausicaa", which he finally concluded in 1994. "Princess Mononoke" will be based on this conclusion: "there is no happy ending to the fight between humans and Raging Gods" (from Princess Mononoke (project proposal)).