Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫, Mononoke-hime) is a 1997 epic Japanese animated historical fantasy feature film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli. "Mononoke" (物の怪) is not a name, but a general term in the Japanese language for a spirit or monster. The film was first released in Japan on July 12, 1997, and in the United States on October 29, 1999.
Princess Mononoke is a period drama set specifically in the late Muromachi period of Japan but with numerous fantastical elements. The story concentrates on involvement of the outsider Ashitaka in the struggle between the supernatural guardians of a forest and the humans of the Iron Town who consume its resources. There can be no clear victory, and the hope is that relationship between humans and nature can be cyclical.
A giant boar-demon attacks an Emishi village and the protagonist, Ashitaka, is forced to fight and kill him. In the struggle, Ashitaka receives a curse on his right arm, which grants him superhuman strength but will eventually kill him. Under the advice of the village oracle, he leaves to travel to the west in search of a cure. After some traveling, he meets Jigo, a wandering monk who tells Ashitaka that he might find help from the forest deer spirit of a mountain range populated by giant animal-gods. Iron Town, located in that range, continually clears the nearby forests to make charcoal to smelt ironsand and produces advanced firearms, leading to battles with the giant forest beasts. Among these animals are giant wolves accompanied by San, who the villagers of Iron Town call "Princess Mononoke." She is a young human woman who was adopted by the giant wolf goddess Moro.
Ashitaka finds two villagers injured by the wolves near a river. He returns to Iron Town, passing through the forest, where he catches a glimpse of the forest deer spirit, a kirin-like creature by day and a towering "night-walker" by night.
In Iron Town, Ashitaka learns from Lady Eboshi, the manager of the settlement, that she created the boar-demon by shooting and killing the giant boar god Nago, one of the protectors of the forest. Though upset, Ashitaka also finds out that Iron Town is a refuge for ancient Japan's social outcasts, including prostitutes and lepers, and thus finds himself unable to condemn Eboshi. That night, San infiltrates Iron Town to kill Eboshi. Ashitaka intervenes, using his curse's power to stop the fighting between Eboshi and San. While leaving the town with San, he is shot through the chest and very nearly dies. San takes Ashitaka to the Forest Deer Spirit, who heals his gunshot wound but does not remove the curse. San starts to develop feelings for Ashitaka. Boars, led by the boar god Okkoto, arrive to attack Iron Town, and San joins them. Eboshi prepares for the assault and sets out to destroy the Forest Deer Spirit. Jigo, now revealed to be a mercenary-hunter, intends to give the head to the emperor, who in turn promises to give Jigo a fortune and grant Iron Town legal protection from local daimyos.
The Imperial hunters kill the boars, and Okkoto is corrupted by a gunshot wound. Although San tries to stop Okkoto from becoming a demon like Nago, she is swept up in the corruption pouring off of him. Moro, who was fatally wounded in battle with the hunters, rescues San with Ashitaka's help. The Forest Deer Spirit appears and takes Okkoto and Moro's lives away. Lying in ambush, Eboshi appears and shoots off the Forest Deer Spirit's head. Jigo collects the head as the Forest Deer Spirit's body transforms into a "mindless god of death" that begins destroying everything in its vicinity in search of its head. Ashitaka and San chase down and take back the head from Jigo, returning it to the Forest Deer Spirit just as the sun rises. It collapses into the lake, healing the land and all the lepers and accursed, including Ashitaka and San. Ashitaka and San part to resume the lives they are used to, but promise to meet again; Ashitaka decides to stay and help rebuild Iron Town, which a reformed Eboshi vows to remake as "a better" village. The film ends with a Kodama appearing in the rejuvenated forest.