(1997/1999 English version) Before shooting his arrow into an enormous boar covered with flaming worms, a god become a demon, killing it and saving his village from its rampage, Prince Ashitaka (voice of Billy Crudup) of the Emishi people (believed to have been wiped out 500 years earlier) is grasped by his right arm in a spidery tentacle. He learns from the wisewoman, casting her stones, that Nago the boar had borne a little ball of iron, which poisoned it with hatred, and that through his wound he has been infected by a damnation unto death.
Accepting his fate, Ashitaka departs from his village, cutting his hair to signify he will not return, to travel on his red elk Yokul to the far west from whence came Nago where perhaps he can find a cure for the curse. This Japanese anime of historical fantasy, taking place in the late Muromachi period, was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, pitting creatures of nature against avaricious humans destroying their habitat by attempting to exploit its valuable resources.
Encountering samurai warriors attacking defenseless villagers, Ashitaka slays several with his supernaturally powerful arrows decapitating the victims; he's befriended by a monk (Billy Bob Thornton) to whom he relates his sad predicament. "You say you're under a curse," acknowledges the monk: "So's the whole damn world." Having an ulterior purpose in mind, he suggests that the prince go to the realm of the Forest Spirit.
On his way he rescues two badly injured men who had fallen into a river from the oxen caravan carrying rice when Moro (voice of Gillian Anderson) the wolf god attacked; nearby he witnesses San (voiced of Claire Danes), a girl raised by wolves, attending to Moro's wound from a rifle bullet. Following the kodamas, tree spirits looking like ghostly children with skull-like swivel heads, Ashitaka reaches Irontown, a fortress for a mining colony under the rule of Lady Eboshi (voice of Minnie Driver), with one of the injured men on his back and the other, Kohroku, on Yokul's.
Impressed by the young princess's courageous samaritanism, Lady Eboshi proudly shows him around her ironworks, operated by women she'd liberated from brothels, and a weapon factory, employing lepers to design light-weight rifles to be given to the women for self-defense. She had been responsible for inflicting a bullet wound into the boar god Nago as her men cleared the forest to excavate iron and fuel the smelting furnace.
With a determination to kill Lady Eboshi and end the exploitation of the forest, San the wolf princess brashly enters the fortress; Ashitaka, equally determined to end hatred and establish peace between humans and the forest creatures, prevents her from killing and being killed, departing with San after his receiving a serious gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Questioning the prince's loyalties - "Just whose side is he on anyway?" - Master Jigo, earlier disguised as the monk, arrives with his hunters in league with Lady Eboshi. Believing that the blood of the Forest Spirit - after dark transforming into the Nightwalker - can heal anything and that its head if severed can grant to mortals immortality, Jigo convinces Lady Eboshi (though harboring doubts about Jigo's motives) to pursue with him the god of life and death, taking her warriors with her, leaving Irontown vulnerable to Lord Asano's samurais.
Following the Forest Spirit's healing Ashitaka's gut wound (but not the demon mark on his arm), San is convinced of his goodness, nursing him back to health while defending him from the tribe of apes ("kill the humans, save the forest") demanding his body for a meal. He's introduced to the ancient, blind boar god Okkoto (voice of Keith David) who becomes another victim of human bloodlust transmogrified into a demon. Mononoke refers to a spirit or monster.
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