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Synopsis for
Princess Mononoke (1997) More at IMDbPro »Mononoke-hime (original title)

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Princess Mononoke is a fantasy adventure: the story of an epic struggle between humanity and nature, where nature is represented by ancient, vengeful gods. The story's tangle of competing interests -- cursed monsters, an assortment of ambitious people, a selfless hero, and those vengeful gods -- is remarkable for including no villain.

Ashitaka and the Demon

The film opens on a view of a mountainous forest, shrouded in mist. Giant beasts and ancient gods inhabit the forest, says a voiceover, and owe their allegiance to the Great Forest Spirit. While they once lived harmoniously with humans, times have changed. The forest is disappearing and now is the age of gods and demons.

A young man named Ashitaka (English: Billy Crudup), Japanese: Yôji Matsuda), a prince of the dwindling Emishi people, rides his red elk, Yakul, up the hillside from his forest village. Along the way, he passes three village girls including Kaya (English: Tara Strong), his younger sister (or, in the Japanese edition, the girl Ashitaka has promised to marry). He tells the girls that the village oracle, Hii-sama (Japanese: Mitsuko Mori), has sensed trouble and is ordering everyone to the village. Kaya tells him the old man Ji-san noticed something from his watchtower, so Ashitaka rides to see him. He climbs the tower, sensing something deep in the forest. He and Ji-san look to the edge of the forest where a massive creature suddenly emerges. Covered in wormy tendrils, the beast moves into the sunlight where it's revealed to be a massive boar changed into a demon: a tatari gami. It breaks through a stone wall and knocks down the tower; Ashitaka manages to jump with Ji-san to a nearby tree.

The demon rushes towards the village. When Ashitaka mounts Yakul to pursue it, a villager warns him that the beast is cursed and he must not let it touch him. Ashitaka talks to the demon as it runs, begging it to still its anger and leave the village alone. When it threatens Kaya and the other girls as they run to the village, Ashitaka takes his bow and attacks the demon, shooting it in the eye. The demon wraps its tendrils around Ashitaka's right arm just before he shoots another arrow into the boar's head. As it dies, the tendrils dissolve from its body and from Ashitaka's arm, burning it. Villagers rush up the hill, one of them carrying the elderly oracle Hii-sama. She gives Ashitaka some water to pour over his arm and approaches the dying boar. Bowing, she promises to give it a proper burial and asks the demon to bear them no ill will. It bitterly responds that they will feel its hate and "suffer as I have suffered." Then it dies, quickly decomposing into a bloodied skeleton.

That evening, Hii-sama calls the village elders together in her high hut and performs a divination using fortune stones to interpret the day's events. She tells Ashitaka to show his arm to the others. He reveals a large red and black mark left by the demon's tendrils. The oracle tells him that his wound is cursed and that the infection will spread and eventually kill him. However, instead of waiting to die, he can rise to meet his fate.

Hii-sama shows Ashitaka a rough iron ball found in the boar's body; she believes it turned the boar god into a demon. Since the boar came from the west, Ashitaka must ride there and discover what calamity has befallen those lands. But if he leaves, he can never return. When anyone leaves the village, the Emishi consider him dead -- their way of protecting the secret of their existence. The village elders complain sadly about the loss of their last prince and how unfair it is that he is banished for having saved them all. One remarks that the gods must be laughing at them because, despite having hidden from the Emperor's shoguns (military generals) for so long, their numbers continue to fall.

Ashitaka cuts off his topknot of hair as a sign of his separation from the tribe and leaves. As he rides Yakul out of the village, Kaya approaches him, breaking the taboo of seeing a banished person. She gives him her crystal dagger necklace. Ashitaka thanks her and says he will never forget her before riding off, Kaya staring after him.

The Strength of the Curse

Ashitaka and Yakul travel many miles westward, across plains and mountains. One day, they see smoke in the distance and ride closer. Samurai soldiers engaged in a battle with villagers shoot arrows at Ashitaka; fleeing, he sees another samurai attacking a woman with a long sword. When he draws his bow and orders the samurai to stop, the wound on his right arm throbs visibly and spreads. Ashitaka's arrow flies with such fierce speed that it takes the samurai's sword and lodges it in a tree, with the man's arms still attached. Two samurai on horseback threaten to intercept Ashitaka. He yells at them to let him pass, but when they refuse, he releases another arrow, decapitating one. The other watches Ashitaka flee, convinced he's a demon.

Holding his right arm under a small waterfall, Ashitaka notices the mark is growing. In a town, Ashitaka attempts to buy rice with a gold nugget. The seller refuses it at first, saying it isn't money, but a monk named Jigo (English: Billy Bob Thornton, Japanese: Kaoru Kobayashi) remarks that the nugget is pure gold and worth several bags of rice. Ashitaka quickly leaves the growing crowd with his single bag.

Jigo follows Ashitaka as he leaves town, commenting that he noticed Ashitaka's fighting skills in the samurai-ravaged town earlier. They see some thugs following them, no doubt after Ashitaka's gold, and Jigo proposes a quick getaway. They camp together later, cooking their rice, and Jigo mentions an ancient people called the Emishi who made bowls and arrows like Ashitaka's and who were rumored to ride red elk, but he hints that he'll keep Ashitaka's secret. Ashitaka tells Jigo about his experience with the boar demon and his quest to discover its origins, and shows Jigo the iron ball. Jigo doesn't think much of Ashitaka's curse. ("You're under a curse? So what? So's the whole damn world.") But he does tell him of a mining town further to the west, surrounded by ancient forests where giant gods still dwell. Jigo also mentions that the emperor has offered a mountain of gold to anyone who can help him live forever. The next morning Ashitaka leaves quietly to continue his journey alone, while Jigo sleeps.

Gods and Spirits

On a rain-slicked mountainside, a caravan of oxen and men carrying rice to Iron Town moves along a narrow path. Their leader, Lady Eboshi (English: Minnie Driver, Japanese: Yûko Tanaka) keeps watch with her first lieutenant, Gonza (English: John DiMaggio, Japanese: Tsunehiko Kamijô). Suddenly she notices two giant white wolves charging down the muddy slope. A masked girl rides one of them, holding her spear high. Eboshi orders her men to open fire with their ishibiya, or hand cannons. The shots drive off the wolves and one man remarks that they weren't so big. Eboshi responds that they were just pups; "wait till you see their mother."

As if on cue, Moro (English: Gillian Anderson, Japanese: Akihiro Miwa) attacks the caravan, sending people and oxen tumbling down the mountain. Moro is more than twice the size of her "pups" and has two tails. The guards use a flame-thrower to set her on fire and Lady Eboshi shoots her in the chest, sending her off the cliff. The surviving men are pleased with themselves, but Eboshi reminds them that it takes more than that to kill a god. She urges the survivors onward and tells them to forget about those who fell.

Meanwhile, at the base of the mountain, Ashitaka arrives at a river swollen from the rainfall. He sees bodies floating by and pulls out two injured men, casualties from Lady Eboshi's rice caravan. Ashitaka notices the massive body of Moro on the other side of the river, along with her pups. He watches as the warrior girl, San (English: Akihiro Miwa, Japanese: Yuriko Ishida), tends to the injured wolves, trying to suck the bullet from Moro's wound and spitting out blood. (One of the movie's publicity shots is from this scene; it shows San turning from the wounded wolf with blood on her face.) Moro's growling alerts San to Ashitaka's presence. He introduces himself and asks if they are ancient gods. San tells him to go away before disappearing into the forest with the wolves.

A scream brings Ashitaka back to where he left the injured men. One of them, Kouroku the ox-driver (English: John DeMita, Japanese: Masahiko Nishimura), has woken up and is trying to get away from a small white spirit with a bobbing head. Kouroku doesn't get far because his right arm and leg are broken. Ashitaka calms him and tells him that it's a kodoma, a tree spirit, and it -- and the others that begin to appear -- are a sign that the forest is healthy. However, Kouroku tells him that the creature will bring its master, a large forest spirit. Ashitaka talks to the kodama in a friendly way, asking for guidance and safe passage through the forest. Kouroku is convinced they will be led astray. Ashitaka is worried about the other wounded man, one of Eboshi's gunners, and wants to take him home to Iron Town by the most direct route, which lies through the forest. As they follow the original kodama, Ashitaka carrying the gunner while Kouroku rides Yakul, more kodamas join them.

They come to a beautiful, mysterious, mossy part of the wood where large trees grow among pools of clear water. This is the domain of the Forest Spirit, though they don't know that yet. Ashitaka sees the footprints of San and the wolves. He sets the gunner down to fetch some water and notices the tracks of a three-toed animal he doesn't recognize. He scans the area and spots a herd of deer followed closely by one with many antlers. It stops and Ashitaka's arm suddenly throbs and moves on its own. He struggles to subdue it but only regains control when the mysterious deer vanishes. After the incident, Ashitaka notices the gunner he's carrying seems a bit lighter. Kouroku's arm stops hurting and he raises it in the air proclaiming that it's healed, but quickly realizes it's still quite broken.

Iron Town

They emerge from the forest where they can see the Iron Town, Tatara, a large settlement on the other side of a lake. The town is protected by a tall wooden stockade. They are taken across and welcomed by a crowd as Kouroku tells how Ashitaka rescued them. Gonza approaches Ashitaka and demands to know who he is and how he managed to walk through the forest (which is forbidden to most travelers). He is cut short when Kouroku's wife, Toki (English: Jada Pinkett Smith, Japanese: Sumi Shimamoto), runs down and berates Kouroku for getting injured and risking his livelihood. She takes a moment to thank Ashitaka before criticizing Gonza for not taking better care of his men. Lady Eboshi appears above and also thanks Ashitaka. She invites him to come see her later on.

Ashitaka eats with the men of Iron Town. Some of the women stop by and invite him to see where they work. They heckle the men before leaving, giggling to themselves. The women are former prostitutes, the men explain; Lady Eboshi freed them by buying their contracts from their brothels. While they're hard workers, they hardly make acceptable wives. However, since Eboshi came to Iron Town, things have changed for the better and she fears no one, not even the gods. They tell of Nago, the boar god who once ruled the forest surrounding Iron Town. He became enraged when the men cut trees down to get at the ore beneath the ground and often attacked them with his herd of boars. When Eboshi came with her gunners, she set fire to the forest and shot Nago. Ashitaka's arm swells in anger as he realizes that it was Nago who inflicted his cursed wound, and Lady Eboshi who turned Nago into a demon.

Ashitaka finds Lady Eboshi inspecting samples of iron set to go out with the next shipment, Gonza at her side. He removes his sleeve and shows Eboshi his cursed wound, the direct result of her actions against Nago, and the iron ball which, he tells her, killed Nago. She doesn't deny responsibility, but asks him what he's doing in Iron Town. He repeats what Hii-sama told him before he left his village: he has "to see with eyes unclouded by hate." Though Eboshi laughs at this, she agrees to show Ashitaka her secrets while Gonza is left in charge, irritable and suspicious of Ashitaka.

Eboshi takes Ashitaka to her private garden where a group of leper gunsmiths live in a small house. There, despite being wrapped in bandages, they create new weapons for her including new rifles inspired by Chinese design. Lady Eboshi has asked them to design an ishibiya gun light enough for the women to use. Eboshi shows Ashitaka that the new models, while still too heavy, are perfect for piercing samurai armor and powerful enough to kill gods. Ashitaka objects to this new way of spreading hate but Eboshi maintains the necessity of protecting the fort. However, she apologizes for what happened to Ashitaka. At the mention of the curse, Ashitaka grows angry and his wounded arm springs to life and tries to draw his sword on Lady Eboshi. Only with difficulty can his other arm keep the cursed one in check. The lepers shrink back in fear, though Eboshi remains calm. She asks if his arm would like to kill her and Ashitaka says the hate would not stop there. An elderly leper asks Ashitaka to have mercy on Lady Eboshi because she took pity on the lepers, caring for them and sheltering them when no one else would. He says life is hard, it is cursed, but still people find ways to keep living.

Later that night, Ashitaka and Lady Eboshi are on the town's stockade. Lady Eboshi showcases her new rifle's power by shooting at the gods of the ape clan, who she says come out at night to plant trees where the people of Iron Town have cut them down. Eboshi asks Ashitaka to stay at Tatara and help her kill the Forest Spirit. He's horrified, but she says that when the Forest Spirit is dead, all the animal gods will be dumb beasts. The land will be the richest in the world, and Princess Mononoke -- San -- will be human again. (Ashitaka is interested; this is the first time he's heard San called Princess Mononoke, which means vengeful spirit. By this time anything to do with San intrigues him.) Eboshi says San's soul was taken by the wolves and she now lives to kill Eboshi for what she's done to the forest. The blood of the Forest Spirit is said to grant immortality and Lady Eboshi believes it can cure anything, even the lepers -- even Ashitaka's curse.

Ashitaka goes to the forge where the women are working the bellows. He offers his help as Toki explains that they work the bellows for days at a time, but it's better than being in the brothels; the men know their place and the women can eat all they want.

San Attacks

San, with her two wolf brothers, is on the mountain looking down at Iron Town. She dons her war mask and they run down the hillside. With astonishing agility and strength, San makes it over the stockade wall and races across the rooftops, dodging shots fired at her. Ashitaka senses her presence and runs to meet her. Though she attacks him, he tries to explain that he's not her enemy. He follows her up onto the roof of the huge building that houses the forge. Lady Eboshi, backed by riflemen and by two women wielding the new guns, calls to San to come down. She says the two women with her want retribution for husbands killed by the wolves. Ashitaka tries to tell San to stop before running into a trap, but she ignores him and charges down the roof. A blast at her feet sends her tumbling to the ground where Eboshi's women fire shots at her. One blows her mask off and renders her unconscious.

While she's down Ashitaka holds off Gonza and a group of men by pulling a beam off the roof and throwing it at them. (His curse lends him superhuman strength.) As soon as she recovers, San pushes Ashitaka away and runs off to fight Lady Eboshi. Ashitaka follows San, the curse showing as ghostly tendrils around his right arm. When Gonza tries to stop him, Ashitaka bends Gonza's sword blade into a circle.

San, with a knife, and Lady Eboshi, with a sword, are fighting in a circle of armed townspeople who are cheering for Eboshi. Ashitaka breaks into the circle and separates them. He holds up his right arm, covered in the writhing, snaky tendrils that show the curse is at work.

"This is what hatred looks like," he tells the onlookers. "It's eating me alive, and soon it will kill me. Fear and anger only make it grow faster."

But nobody's ready to hear his anti-hate speech. San is struggling to break his grip and Lady Eboshi, quipping that she'll cure him by removing his arm, swings at him with her sword. Ashitaka knocks them both out to stop them from fighting him and each other. He hands Lady Eboshi to her people and says he's taking San away. The townspeople aren't happy about this; one of the women, upset at his treatment of Lady Eboshi, shoots Ashitaka as he carries San. (Although the woman is angry, it's not clear that she meant to shoot him.) The ball passes through his body and he bleeds, but the curse has made him so strong -- for the moment -- that he keeps walking. When the guards won't open the town's huge gate, saying it takes ten men to lift it, he opens it himself despite bleeding profusely. San's wolf brothers are waiting just outside. Ashitaka tells them he's bringing San out to them, and he leaves Iron Town with San and Yakul.

Yakul carries Ashitaka and the unconscious San on the mountainside. As before, San flails and struggles the moment she comes to, before she knows where she is. She knocks Ashitaka to the ground. He lies there, not moving; the strength that comes from the curse has ebbed, and he's wounded and very weak. The wolves threaten him but San calls them off, then threatens to kill him herself -- and draws his own sword for the purpose. She demands to know why Ashitaka stopped her from killing Lady Eboshi. He's barely conscious, but tries to say he wanted to save her life. Then he says she's beautiful, which shocks her. She's interrupted by the ape clan, who also want to kill Ashitaka. They believe that if they eat him, they'll gain his strength. The wolves threaten the apes, but San tries to calm and conciliate them until her wolf brothers chase them away. She convinces the wolves to leave her alone with Ashitaka and places him on Yakul, whose trust she gains.

In the Domain of the Forest Spirit

With Yakul's help, San takes the unconscious Ashitaka to the heart of the Forest Spirit's domain, where they cross the lake to an island. The island is the forest's holy of holies, and Yakul will not at first set foot on it. San tells him he's wise not to. She leaves Ashitaka lying half in the water with his head pillowed on the soft moss of the island, sticking a small tree she cut earlier into the ground at his head. She removes Yakul's harness, telling him he's free, before swimming away. The little kodamas (tree spirits) watch the humans, then turn their attention to the horizon as a huge figure comes into view: the Night Walker, the Forest Spirit's two-legged nighttime form. They greet it with a clattering noise they make by rotating their heads. The Night Walker lowers itself into the clearing where Ashitaka lies.

On a mountainside some way off, Jigo sees the Night Walker too. He points it out to one of the hunters who are assisting him -- they're all wearing bear skins -- but the hunter says it's a sin to look at the Night Walker. Jigo watches it shrink down into the trees as it resumes its deer-like daytime shape. On the island, the Forest Spirit walks over to look at Ashitaka. It has wise eyes in a red, mask-like humanoid face. Wherever it steps with its odd three-toed feet, plants grow, flower, and die back. When it comes close to the little tree San put near Ashitaka, the leaves wither and die.

As Jigo and his hunters climb down the mountain, they see hundreds of boars coming up. These boars aren't native to this area; they must have traveled a great distance to get to this forest. Their leader is a giant white boar god, Lord Okkoto (English: Keith David, Japanese: Hisaya Morishige). Jigo and the hunters run when Okkoto lets out a roar and they realize he is aware of them.

Ashitaka is under water. When the Forest Spirit touches the gunshot wound in his chest, it stops bleeding. He wakes up on the island and finds the gunshot wound is gone -- but Nago's cursed mark remains on his right arm.

San comes back. Ashitaka is surprised to hear her call Yakul by name. She says that Yakul told her his name, and a bit about Ashitaka. She says she'll help him because the Forest Spirit spared his life. San offers Ashitaka meat jerky, but he's too weak to chew it. San chews for him and passes the food from her mouth to his. The act brings tears to Ashitaka's eyes.

Moro arrives with San's brothers, then Okkoto with his herd of boars. They say they've come to kill humans and save the forest. San, protecting Ashitaka, says that the Forest Spirit healed him. The boars are angry -- why would the Forest Spirit heal a human when it didn't bother to heal Nago? Moro says that she's wounded as Nago was and she's dying. Ashitaka confesses that he killed Nago and shows his cursed wound. Lord Okkoto comes forward and sniffs at Ashitaka and San. San realizes that Okkoto is blind. Okkoto thanks Ashitaka for dealing with Nago, but says he'll kill Ashitaka if they meet again. Though they suspect it will be futile, Okkoto and the boars plan to attack the humans (meaning Iron Town). Moro tries to convince Okkoto that they can't defeat the humans, but Okkoto says they'll fight to the last. After the boars leave, San and Ashitaka see the Forest Spirit walking on the water of the lake.

A Skirmish

A battle rages near Iron Town as Lady Eboshi and the Iron Towners fight Lord Asano and his samurai. Asano wishes to control the ore-rich lands but his men are decimated by Eboshi's gunfire. As Eboshi returns to Iron Town, she meets Jigo, who sends his riflemen to hide. Lady Eboshi tells Jigo that Lord Asano has offered to back off if she gives him half her iron. As they reach Iron Town's main gate, a messenger from Asano asks to speak to Eboshi. The women at the gate refuse and taunt him:

"You want some of our iron? Here you go!" They shoot at the messenger, who flees.

Jigo laughs at the women's bravado before introducing an interesting note to Eboshi. Sent from the Mikado (the emperor) himself, it requests the head of the Forest Spirit and offers a large reward. The emperor believes that the head will give him immortal life and Jigo is keen to collect the reward with Eboshi's help. If she won't cooperate he threatens to withdraw his riflemen, who are helping to hold off Lord Asano. Lady Eboshi shows the letter to the Iron Town women, who don't think much of it; they don't seem to know who the emperor is. Lady Eboshi tells Jigo that her way is better than Jigo's direct attack: keep chipping away at the forest, year by year, and there will be no loss of life. (She's considering only human lives.) But Lady Eboshi says she'll keep her promise to help Jigo kill the Forest Spirit, and by the way he should tell his riflemen to come out of their hiding place. Jigo laughs.

Before she goes, Jigo asks Lady Eboshi whether a young man riding an elk has come to Iron Town.

"Came, and went," Lady Eboshi replies.

She doesn't entirely trust Jigo and his riflemen; she arms the Iron Town women and tells them to stay behind and defend the town -- against Lord Asano, and also against the possibility that Jigo's riflemen will turn on them. She tells them not to trust men.

Moro's Cave

Ashitaka wakes in Moro's cave, high above the trees, and finds San sleeping beside him. He gets up, his arm throbbing, and walks out onto the rock ledge to look down on the forest. Moro, perched on the rocks above him, suggests that he jump to end the pain his wound is causing him. Ashitaka asks what's been happening and Moro tells him that he's been asleep for days. She's sorry he didn't cry out in his sleep because then she would have felt justified in biting his head off to keep him quiet. The boars are on the move, Moro says, and she can feel the pain of the forest as it dies beneath their rampaging feet.

Ashitaka asks why the humans and the forest can't live together in peace but Moro laughs, saying such a thing can't happen. She longs for the day when she can kill Eboshi. There will be a battle, she predicts, and San will fight alongside the gods and die with them. When Ashitaka objects, saying that she's human, Moro becomes angry and reveals that she once attacked some humans who invaded the forest. In their terror, the people threw their baby at Moro. The baby was San; Moro kept her and raised her. Though she loves San, Moro understands that San will never fully belong anywhere -- either to the wolves or the humans -- and there's nothing Moro or Ashitaka can do about that. Moro tells Ashitaka to leave her cave by dawn; if he comes back she'll kill him.

When Ashitaka wakes up again in the cave, it's broad daylight and San and Moro are gone. Ashitaka gathers his things, finding supplies neatly left for him. Still very weak, he stumbles down to Yakul. One of the wolf brothers escorts him out of the forest and on to a path to Iron Town. Ashitaka throws Kaya's crystal dagger necklace to the wolf, asking him to give it to San.

A Battle

San rides her wolf brother to meet Moro on a mountainside overlooking Iron Town. In the fields around the town, Lady Eboshi's people have built stinking fires that block the animals' sense of smell. They cut down trees to anger the boars, hoping to lure them into a trap. Moro can see it, but observes that Okkoto is too stubborn to change his tactics. San says she's going to help Okkoto; she feels that with neither eyes nor sense of smell to depend on, Lord Okkoto needs her more than Moro does. Moro tells San that she can go away with Ashitaka if she wants -- "that boy wanted to share his life with you." San replies bitterly that she hates humans. But when her second brother arrives and gives her Ashitaka's necklace, she seems touched at this gift. San puts it around her neck as she says goodbye to Moro, who will go and wait for the Forest Spirit. San and the young wolves go off together to join the boars, who are running headlong into battle. When they catch up with Okkoto, he won't listen to San's warning about the humans' scheme to enrage and trap the boars. They run into battle together.

As Ashitaka rides towards Iron town, dejected, he hears the explosions set off by the rampaging boars. From a distance, he sees the traps exploding around the town; the battle has begun. However, closer gunfire draws his attention. As he nears the town, some samurai try to stop him. Yakul leaps over one, jumps into the lake, and swims for Iron Town as Ashitaka deflects the samurais' arrows with his sword. They find Iron Town under siege by Lord Asano's men. From the top of the stockade, Toki and the other women tell Ashitaka that Lady Eboshi and the men went after the Forest Spirit; Asano waited till they were gone to attack. Only the women and the lepers are left to defend Iron Town, and they're having some trouble. They ask Ashitaka to carry word of their plight to Lady Eboshi and bring her back. Kouroku returns Ashitaka's bow and arrows.

Ashitaka rides off, pursued by samurai on horseback. As he nears the mountain, which is smoking from the remains of the battle, a samurai shoots an arrow into Yakul's haunch. His anger and his wound increasing, Ashitaka stops to fight. His arrows take the arm off one samurai and decapitate another. He snatches one of the samurais' arrows out of the air. The remaining samurai rides off. Ashitaka pulls the arrow out of Yakul's wound and tries to leave him behind, saying he'll come back for him later, but Yakul limps along behind him.

They reach the part of the battlefield where Lady Eboshi's men and a few of Jigo's mercenaries are burying their dead. The fighting here was very fierce; many human bodies -- mostly Iron Towners -- are laid out awaiting burial, and dead boars are piled everywhere. They don't see San among the dead. Ashitaka tells the men that Iron Town is being attacked and he needs to deliver a message to Eboshi. One of the mercenaries challenges Ashitaka and demands to hear his message. Ashitaka says he needs to deliver it in person and is told she went into the forest.

Eboshi's men explain that a trap had been laid for the boars, but the men did not realize they were meant as live bait. The mercenaries planted land mines and didn't tell the Iron Town men where they were. Consequently many of the Iron Towners were blown up along with the boars, who were slaughtered in great numbers. One of the men says he saw San, but he doesn't know what happened to her.

Ashitaka tells the men that Iron Town needs help. The men of Iron Town become angry when the mercenaries tell them they can't leave to protect their home. Ashitaka notices one of San's wolf brothers trying to wriggle out from under the boar corpses. He helps, but isn't strong enough to free the wolf. A mercenary objects, and Ashitaka says he needs the wolf to guide him to the forest where Lady Eboshi is. The mercenary responds by shooting darts at Ashitaka, which is the last straw for the Iron Town men -- they knock the mercenary out with a shovel. Then they help Ashitaka free the wolf. Ashitaka leaves Yakul in the care of the men and goes with the wolf to find San and Lady Eboshi.

An Ambush

In the forest, a hunter reports to Jigo and Lady Eboshi that Lord Okkoto is badly wounded and heading for the domain of the Forest Spirit; San is with him.

San walks with Okkoto and her wolf brother. Okkoto is bleeding heavily and losing strength. He stops as a clan of ape gods appear in the trees overhead, throwing sticks and claiming that San's actions have brought terrible things into the forest: "Bad things coming -- neither human or animal."

San is unable to smell anything over the blood and can only watch as small animals run from the oncoming threat. A boar appears behind them, followed by many others, but they slither across the ground unnaturally. San realizes they're humans wearing boar skins. (In fact they're Jigo's hunters wearing the skins of their defeated foes.) Okkoto believes them to be his warriors returned from the dead. Renewed but delirious, he walks towards the domain of the Forest Spirit.

San fears that Okkoto is becoming a demon; like Nago before him, he's defeated, mortally wounded, and filled with fear and hate. She sends her wolf brother to tell Moro what's happening but stays with Okkoto herself, hoping to avert his change into a demon. But there's nothing she can do. San begs him to stop, but Okkoto ignores her and soon his anger and fear begin to bubble out of him in bloody tendrils as he transforms into a demon.

As she fends off the ghost boars, San hears one of her wolf brothers howling a message: Ashitaka is looking for her. An answering howl from the other brother tells Ashitaka that San is in danger. Which is more true than they know -- San is knocked out by a hunter's slingshot and sucked into the tendrils covering Okkoto. Demon-Okkoto resumes his rush toward the heart of the forest.

Ashitaka mounts the wolf to move faster and soon comes upon Lady Eboshi. He dismounts to tell Eboshi to halt her death march and return to help Iron Town. But Lady Eboshi, intent on finding and killing the Forest Spirit, only says the women can take care of themselves. Eboshi tells the company to keep moving. Jigo is confused as to whose side Ashitaka is on. Behind Lady Eboshi's back, some of Jigo's men wonder if they can do without her, but Jigo says killing gods is dangerous business -- he's happy to let her do it.

Meanwhile, Ashitaka has rushed ahead and reached the Forest Spirit's pool, where he finds Moro, who is dying. Demon-Okkoto arrives, still followed by the hunters in boar skins. San calls to Ashitaka and he can see her struggling inside the demon. She is growing demon-tendrils herself. He asks Okkoto to give up San; the hunters interfere. Ashitaka leaps onto Okkoto's snout and tries to dig San out of Okkoto's body while the wolf brothers fight off the hunters. Ashitaka is thrown off by the demon. He hits Moro, waking her up, and lands in the water, stunned. Moro, who was saving the last of her strength to fight Lady Eboshi, rouses herself to confront the demon and drags San out of the mass of tendrils.

As Moro frees San, the Forest Spirit approaches in its deer form, walking across the water. Jigo and Lady Eboshi can see it from their hiding place. Quelled by its appearance, Okkoto backs away and the tendrils begin to melt. Ashitaka wakes in the water to the sound of Moro's voice asking him to save San. He comes to the surface and sees Lady Eboshi shoot the Forest Spirit, though he cries out to her to stop. The Forest Spirit stops and sinks a bit when it's hit, then recovers and keeps walking toward the island. Ashitaka takes San from Moro and returns to the water to wash the demon tendrils from her. On the island, the Forest Spirit heals Okkoto but allows him to die. Moro too falls to the ground and seems to die. Eboshi and the mercenaries watch the Forest Spirit from a distance, and Eboshi comments that life and death are his to take or give.

The Forest Spirit starts to change from its daytime deer form into the Night Walker.

"Watch closely, everyone. I'm going to show you how to kill a god," says Lady Eboshi. "The trick is not to fear him."

Seeing her take aim, Ashitaka throws his sword and hits her ishibiya, which only distracts her for a moment. The Forest Spirit looks at Lady Eboshi and plants sprout from the wooden parts of her gun, but this doesn't stop her either. She fires and hits the half-transformed Forest Spirit in the neck; the head falls to the ground. Horrible black goo spouts from the neck, killing whatever it falls on. Dead kodamas fall from the trees all around. Lady Eboshi grabs the severed head and gives it to Jigo. Porters come up carrying a round metal box. Jigo puts the head in the box and they run off.

Human Hands

Moro's head, apparently detached from her body by the black ooze, bites off Lady Eboshi's arm and disappears into the ooze. (This was foreshadowed during San's attack on Iron Town when San was knocked out and Lady Eboshi warned her people that even a decapitated wolf's head still has the power to bite.) Ashitaka swims to Lady Eboshi and pulls her into the water, telling Gonza, who is with her, to come too to escape the ooze. When Gonza complains that he can't swim, Ashitaka tells him to walk on the bottom of the pool, which isn't very deep. They go to the sacred island, where San is waiting with her wolf brothers. San wants to kill Lady Eboshi and is angry with Ashitaka for helping her. She's in despair and is sure that nothing can save the forest, but Ashitaka asks her to help him try.

The Night Walker is prowling the forest in search of its head, spreading black ooze and destruction with every step. It grows tentacles from its neck and sends them down into the forest, knocking down trees and tossing them around. Jigo and his men are running away with the head as fast as they can go, but the Night Walker seems to sense where they're going and has a couple of near misses as it gropes for them.

In Iron Town, it's quiet. The women are guarding the walls and keeping an eye on Lord Asano's camp while one of the leper gunsmiths fixes Toki's ishibiya. Looking up at the mountain, they see the headless Night Walker and its tide of black, killing ooze coming over the ridge toward the town. It destroys Lord Asano's encampments and keeps coming. Ashitaka, San, and her wolf brothers arrive. Ashitaka tells the women and the lepers to get in the lake to escape the ooze. Urged on by Toki, most of the people manage to get away before the ooze overruns the town. Standing in the lwater, they watch their forge catch fire and burn.

San, Ashitaka, and the wolves go after Jigo and the head. When they catch Jigo, Ashitaka demands that the head be returned to the Night Walker. Jigo pleads to keep it. When the sun rises, he says, the Night Walker will disappear. Then he attacks Ashitaka, telling the three porters carrying the head to run. San goes after them. The porters go uphill, but the black ooze heads them off. They give up and run away, leaving the head behind in its box. Jigo grabs the box and tumbles down the slope with it, fetching up on a large rock with San and Ashitaka, surrounded by a rising tide of deadly ooze. Jigo is finally convinced that there's nothing more he can do; he opens the box. Saying "human hands must return it," Ashitaka takes the head and he and San hold it high in the air. Ashitaka calls for the Night Walker to reclaim his head and be at peace. The Night Walker's neck grows down to meet the head and the Forest Spirit is made whole again.

On the lake, the Iron Town refugees watch the Night Walker straighten up with its head back in place and resume its usual appearance of starry transparency. Rafts approach carrying Lady Eboshi, Gonza, and the rest of the Iron Town men; the two groups are happily reunited.

The Night Walker stands to face the sun, but when the sunrise touches it, it collapses and falls on Iron Town, disintegrating. A strong wind blows the burning remains of Iron Town away into the hills. Slowly, the bare, dead hillsides around the lake -- even the ruins of Iron Town -- begin to turn green again with sprouting plants. Kouroku looks on in amazement and the lepers look down at themselves to find they've healed.

Yakul, who arrived on the rafts with the men, finds San and Ashitaka asleep in the grass. Nearby is the rock where they were marooned in the black ooze. San's wolf brothers and the metal box are still there. Yakul wakes Ashitaka, who wakes San. San says that the Forest Spirit is dead; Ashitaka replies that the Forest Spirit is life and death itself and cannot die. Ashitaka notices that his wound is healed -- the marks of the curse on his right hand and arm are mostly gone; only faint pink traces remain.

San says she cares for Ashitaka but can't stay with him because she can't forgive the humans for what they did. Ashitaka says "you'll live in the forest, and I'll help them rebuild Iron Town." He promises to visit her in the forest. Riding one of the wolves, San departs.

Lady Eboshi, recovering from the loss of her arm, is optimistic. Sitting with her women and Gonza, she promises to start anew and build a better town. She sends for Ashitaka to thank him.

Jigo, perched on the rocks high above with his one remaining porter, laughs to himself. He says, "Well, I give up. You can't win against fools."

Around the dead trees near the Forest Spirit's pool, new trees are growing. Among them walks a little white kodama, rattling its head.
Page last updated by beth-243, 2 years ago
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