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    SUBJECTS — World/Japan; The Environment; Mythology; Cinema;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Male Role Model; Leadership; Romantic
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect; Caring; Citizenship.

    Age: 12+; MPAA Rating -- PG-13 for images of violence and gore; 1999 (U.S. Release); Animation; 133 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

    Description:     "Princess Mononoke" is an enthralling epic that elevates anime to art. Most children adore it. The movie is also an environmental wake-up call which attempts to provoke its audience into realizing how much we have already lost and how much more we stand to lose. 1

    The story is set in a mythical Japan in the sixteenth century. A boar god has been shot with a bullet made of iron, a substance so incompatible with his nature that its presence in his body turns him into a demon. He attacks a remote village but is killed by its young prince, Ashitaka.
    The Forest Spirit
    In the fight, some of the evil that possessed the boar god has attached itself to Ashitaka's arm. The Village Wise Woman tells Ashitaka that soon the evil will overwhelm him and he will die. The only cure can come from the Forest Spirit who lives far away in the deep woods. Taking her advice, Ashitaka leaves his village to find the Forest Spirit. On his journey, he comes across Iron Town, a place where society's outcasts find refuge and acceptance. But the people of Iron Town have destroyed the surrounding forest to make charcoal, a necessary ingredient in the smelting of iron. The animal spirits of the forest have begun to resist and to attack the ironworks. Among them is the mysterious Princess Mononoke, a human girl raised by wolves. The leader of Iron Town, Lady Eboshi, is the person who shot the boar god. She is now bent upon killing the Forest Spirit to protect her people and allow the ironworks to expand.

Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Selected Awards & Cast
Helpful Background
Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
Assignments, Projects & Activities

    Benefits of the Movie:     "Princess Mononoke" can be used to make children think about what we are doing to the environment. It shows strong nurturing male figures and strong female figures as leaders of their communities, who both nurture and destroy. The film is also an opportunity to discuss the early history of Japan.
  QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   One of the themes of this movie is man's destruction of the environment. What are you doing to preserve the environment?

Suggested Response: There is no incorrect response unless a child says that they will do nothing to protect the environment.

    Ashitaka Between Two Worlds

    Possible Problems:    MODERATE. This film contains violence in which, for example, heads and arms are cleanly lopped off by Ashitaka's arrows. Less extreme violence would have been preferable, however, there are five reasons why we recommend this film despite the violence. First, this is animation. Children have watched cartoon characters kill, maim and destroy each other for generations without ill effect. Second, the violence occurs through the agency of Ashitaka's arm, which not only suffers from the curse of the boar god but, when Ashitaka is provoked, has a god-like strength. It is not the character of Ashitaka who commits the violence, it's the evil that has taken control of his arm. Third, the animation is set in a dim and mythical past and these are not real people. Fourth, we recommend this film for children twelve and up. By that age, unfortunately, most children have seen so much violence in movies and on television that they won't be affected by the cartoon violence in this film. Finally, in all other respects, the film is beneficial.

    Parenting Points:     Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question and talk about how we must stop ruining our environment.

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. Movies as Literature Homework Project.

    Lady Eboshi and San Fight

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

      Selected Awards:  This film won the 1998 Award of the Japanese Academy for Best Picture.

      Featured Actors:  (For the English Version) Billy Crudup as Prince Ashitaka's voice; Claire Danes as San's voice; Minnie Driver as Lady Eboshi's voice; Gillian Anderson as Moro's voice.

      Director:  Hayao Miyazaki.

    Helpful Background:

    "Princess Mononoke" is the most popular Japanese made film of all time. Only "Titanic" has sold more theater seats in Japan. Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote and directed the film, is one of the acknowledged masters of animation. He released the following statement about "Princess Mononoke":
    This film has few of the samurai, feudal lords and peasants that usually appear in Japanese period dramas. And the ones who do appear are in the smallest of small roles. The main heroes of this film are the rampaging forest gods of the mountains and the people who rarely show their faces on the stage of history. Among them are the members of the Tatara clan of ironworkers, the artisans, laborers, smiths, ore diggers, charcoal makers and drivers with their horses and oxen. They carry arms and have what might be called their own workers associations and craftsman guilds.
    San and Moro, the Wolf God

    The rampaging forest gods who oppose the humans take the shape of wolves, boars and bears. The Great Forest Spirit on which the story pivots is an imaginary creature with a human face, the body of an animal and wooden horns. The boy protagonist is a descendant of the Emishi tribe, who were defeated by the Yamato rulers of Japan and disappeared in ancient times. The girl resembles a type of clay figure found in the Jomon period, the pre-agricultural era in Japan, which last until about 80 C.E.
    Iron Town

    The principal setting of the story are the deep forests of the gods, which humans are not allowed to penetrate, and the ironworks of the Tatara clan, which resembles a fortress. The castles, towns and rice-growing villages that are the usual settings of the period dramas are nothing more than distant backdrops. Instead, we have tried to recreate the atmosphere of Japan in a time of thick forests, few people and no dams, when nature still existed in an untouched state, with distant mountains and lonely valleys, pure, rushing streams, narrow roads unpaved with stones, and a profusion of birds, animals and insects.

    We used these settings to escape the conventions, preconceptions and prejudices of the ordinary period drama and depict our characters more freely. Recent studies in history, anthropology and archeology tell us that Japan has a far richer and more diverse history than is commonly portrayed. The poverty of imagination in our period dramas is largely due to the influence of cliche movie plots.

    The Japan of the Muromachi era (1392-1573), when this story takes place, was a world in which chaos and change were the norm. Continuing from the Nambokucho era (1336-1392), when two imperial courts were warring for supremacy, it was a time of daring action, blatant banditry, new art forms, and rebellion against the established order. It was a period that gave rise to the Japan of today. It was different from both the Sengoku era (1482-1558) when professional armies conducted organized wars, and the Kamakura era (1185-1382) when the strong-willed samurai of the period fought each other for domination.

    It was a more fluid period, when there were no distinctions between peasants and samurai, when women were bolder and freer, as we can see in the shokuninzukushie - pictures that depicted women of the time working at all the various crafts. In that era, the borders of life and death were more clear-cut. People lived, loved, hated, worked and died without the ambiguity we find everywhere today.
    Two Lovers

    Here lies, I believe, the meaning of making such a film as we enter the chaotic times of the 21st century. We are not trying to solve global problems with this film. There can be no happy ending to the war between the rampaging forest gods and humanity. But even in the midst of hatred and slaughter, there is still much to live for. Wonderful encounters and beautiful things still exist.

    We depict hatred in this film, but only to show there are more important things. We depict a curse, but only to show the joy of deliverance. Most important of all, we show how a boy and a girl come to understand each other and how the girl opens her heart to the boy. At the end, the girl says to the boy, 'I love you, Ashitaka, but I cannot forgive human beings.' The boy smiles and says, 'That's all right. Let's live together in peace.'

    This scene exemplifies the kind of movie we have tried to make.

    This film has a strong basis in the Shinto religion. The focus of Shinto is the purity of self and a reverence for "kami," the spiritual quality found in trees, rocks, waters, mountains, and the forces of nature. The spirits of deceased emperors and heroes are also considered kami. Unseen forces of nature, called "ke," permeate all matter such as rocks and trees to create "mononoke," the spirit of natural objects. The Japanese blame mononoke for many unexplainable things, from a minor headache to an earthquake. The title of this film can be said to be "Princess of the Spirit of Natural Things." (This is not a translation but rather an interpretation; others suggested interpretations of the title that we have seen are "the possessed princess" and "the ghost princess.")

    A belief system in which spirits exist in nature fosters reverence for the value of natural resources. It is a doctrine with practical appeal for a large population living on a relatively small island.
    Kodama and Tree

    Kodama are tree spirits, also called echoes. They are said to come in various sizes and shapes and to be born from the largest and oldest tree in the forest. The particular form of kodama in the film, little white creatures, is Miyazaki's invention.

    This is a story of outcasts. San had been abandoned in the forest by her parents. Similarly, the women of the ironworks had been also been abandoned. Their only recourse would have been prostitution had Lady Eboshi not provided a place for them.
    Lepers were banned from society in ancient and medieval times because it was thought that their illness was contagious. By giving these outcasts a place in her community, Lady Eboshi earned their loyalty. In a sense, Ashitaka was also an outcast. He lives in a secret village, hidden by mountains and forest from the rest of Japan. His people had fought the emperor and lost. If Ashitaka leaves the village, he can never return for fear that he would be followed. In feudal Japan cutting one's hair meant that you were dead to your community. When Ashitaka cuts his hair, he acknowledges that he can never return to his village, whether he finds a cure or not.

    In the Tatara iron making process, iron bearing sands and charcoal are placed into a clay furnace and burned for several days.
    Afterwards the furnace is taken down and the iron ingot taken out. The process uses large amounts of charcoal. The manufacture of charcoal requires the burning of many trees. The burned out area around the ironworks attests to the many acres of trees that had to be destroyed to make Iron Town profitable.

For English Language Arts classes, distribute TWM's Film Study Worksheet. Teachers can modify the worksheet to fit the needs of each class. Ask students to fill out the worksheet as they watch the film or at the film's end.

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: samurai, monk, bellows, leper, "mortal wound," destiny, boar, hinder, nugget, ravine, herdsman, coexist.

Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!


    Discussion Questions:

    1.  See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

    2.  The film opens with a long shot of mist-laden mountains and the words "Long ago, this country was covered by deep forests in which, from ancient times, there lived the gods." What does this tell us?

    3.  The fact that the iron bullet poisons the boar god and turns him into a demon is a symbol. What does it mean in the context of the story?

    4.  "Princess Mononoke" is the most popular Japanese movie ever made. This fact indicates that its story relates to important issues affecting Japanese society. Some of these are relevant to people the world over. What are they?

    5.  At the end of the film, has a lasting peace been achieved between the ironworks and the forest? Can they coexist?

    6.  Does this film have the classic "happy ending?"

    7.  If you were to analyze this film in terms of its plot (i.e. setting, rising action, conflict and resolution) is there really a resolution?

    8.  This film shows an animist view of nature. What is animism? Does anyone still believe it?

    9.  This story can be seen as the tale of the quest of a hero. How is it like and unlike other hero myths that you know about? (Examples: Odysseus, Jason, Hercules, Luke Skywalker.)

    10.  How is the role of women, as shown in this story, different than the view of women in traditional Japanese society?

    11.  What did the Wise Woman of the Emishi village mean when she said that Ashitaka must learn "to see with eyes unclouded by hate"?

    12.  In this movie, what did the Forest Spirit and the animal gods represent and what did Lady Eboshi and her ironworks represent?

    13.  What would be lost if the world was completely developed and consisted of nothing but cities, housing developments, shopping malls, roads, office buildings, farms, and factories?

    14.  What are you going to do to prevent this from happening?

    15.  Do you think that mankind can exist and progress can occur without destroying nature?

    16.  What was Ashitaka's relationship to the forces of nature and the forces of human development?

    17.  Within the framework of this film, fast forward to the modern day. What would you expect the relationship between the gods of the forest and mankind to be?

    18.  It has been said that this film does not adhere to simplistic views of good and evil. Do you agree or disagree? Explain your answer.

    19.  At the end of the film are Jiko-Bo and his Kagarasen soldiers defeated?

    20.  In this film, the wolves are a symbol of the power and strength of the forest. What has happened to wolves in the United States?

    21.  Why didn't Ashitaka live in the forest with San?

    22.  Ashitaka's arm that is infected by the poison of the demon god takes on superhuman powers when he is angry or threatened. What does this symbolize?

    23.  In this movie, what is the relationship between rage and evil?

    24.  Are there any villains in this movie?

    25.  Who is good and who is evil in this film?

    26.  What are the ways in which nature shows its supremacy over mankind?

    27.  In this film nature is a giver of life but it can also take life away. What is the role of death in nature?

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

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For suggested answers:    click here.

    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


    1.  Evaluate Ashitaka's character.

    2.  Would you consider Ashitaka to be a male role model?


    3.  How would you rate Lady Eboshi as a leader?


    4.  Why couldn't San and Ashitaka live together?

    5.  Since San and Ashitaka could not live in the same worlds, shouldn't they have tried to forget each other and find someone else?

For suggested answers:    click here.

    Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


    (Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)

    1.  In this film Ashitaka hurt some people very badly; his arrows cut off their heads or their arms. Did he honor the Pillar of Respect?


    (Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

    2.  The creator of this film, Hayao Miyazaki, said that the film tells us that "... even in the midst of hatred and slaughter, there is still much to live for. Wonderful encounters and beautiful things still exist." What was he referring to?

    3.  List three occasions in the film when Ashitaka acts with caring.

    4.  How did Ashitaka honor this Pillar?

    5.  Who other than Ashitaka cared for others in this film?


    (Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)

    6.  Why did Ashitaka go out of his way to help the ironworks and its citizens?

    7.  How did Ashitaka honor this Pillar of Character?

Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.

For suggested answers:    click here.

    Bridges to Reading: Princess Mononoke: The Art and Making of Japan's Most Popular Film of All Time by Studio Ghibli, 1999.
  MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: Another fabulous animated movie best suited for children 8 - 12 is Miyazaki's "Spirited Away." For older children we suggest you follow up this film with Gorillas in the Mist.



    Bibliography: In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

    • Princess Mononoke: The Art and Making of Japan's Most Popular Film of All Time by Studio Ghibli, 1999
    • Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation by Susan J. Napier, 2000; Footnote 1 the language in the last sentence of the first paragraph of the Description Section is adapted from this book, page 180
    • Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation by Helen McCarthy, 1999.

    Last updated December 17, 2009.

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