Wolf Girls: Princess Mononoke and Firekeeper

I don’t remember precisely when I first saw the film Princess Mononoke.  I did see it in the theater and shortly before the release of Through Wolf’s Eyes, so that means it was probably sometime in the summer of 2001.

Two Takes on Women Who Run with Wolves

Two Takes on Women Who Run with Wolves

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a long-time fan of anime (see WW 3-10-10) and more specifically of the works of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli (see WW 2-01-12).  There’s no doubt that I would have gone to see Princess Mononoke in any case, but given that this was promoted as a tale of a girl raised by wolves, and that I was awaiting the release of my own novel using that trope, there was no way I would have missed it.

I remember wondering, in fact, if anyone would ask me if Princess Mononoke had been an influence on Firekeeper – since the movie came out before the book and many times readers don’t seem to realize that a book may have been completed years before its release.  Oddly enough, no one did.  Then again, I’ve never been sure the film reached the audience that would enjoy it most, for the movie certainly is nothing like what Disney (who distributed it in the U.S.) describes.

Princess Mononoke is a dark and complex story that goes far, far beyond the tidy little humans versus nature conflict promised on the outside of the DVD.  Even the title is a misrepresentation.  A “mononoke” is a vengeful spirit.  The title “Princess Mononoke” is derisively given to the wolf-girl, San, by her opponents.  Far from being the princess of the wolves, San is a member of the pack because her wolf mother, Moro, has adopted her.  Nor is she the leader of the animals.  They barely accept her, and then only out of respect for Moro.

Nor is the story a simple battle of  humans versus animals or evil industry versus good nature.  I’m not going to provide spoilers, so I’ll just say that what’s being contested is far larger.  I’d go as far as to say that it’s  rooted in what paradigm will dominate a troubled land.

Although the movie was titled after “Princess Mononoke,” the story actually revolves around a young man named Ashitaka.  While defending his home from a nature spirit driven mad, Ashitaka is scarred with a curse that will eventually spread and kill him.  He must leave his people forever in order to seek the source of the problem and look upon it without hate.  Even then, he may not find a cure – only an answer.

What Ashitaka discovers is a problem beyond simple resolutions.  Indeed, the ending of the story attempts to address these complexities, not reduce them to a simple “happily ever after” ending.  I’m not saying this is a story without a happy ending…  Just that it’s an ending that asks you to take a new look at what “happiness” might be.

So…  How did I feel about my presentation of a girl raised by wolves after I saw this one?  Actually, I felt pretty good.  Both San and Firekeeper share an essential wildness that is based not in brutality, but in having learned from the ground up to make decisions based on non-human parameters of right and wrong.    From there, though, they are very different.  San lives in a world where animistic spirits still walk the land, influencing both animals and plants.  Firekeeper’s world is more “real.”  Or is it?

Remember what I said about paradigms?  As is so often the case with Miyazaki’s work, Princess Mononoke offers an opportunity to take a fresh look at what is and isn’t “real.”   It’s a vision that’s provocative and yet somehow “fits.”  Or it does for me…  I hope it would for you as well.

11 Responses to “Wolf Girls: Princess Mononoke and Firekeeper”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    I loved Princess Mononoke. As far as I remember, the Japanese title for the film was “Mononoke Hime,” so “Princess Mononoke” is a straight translation.

    • janelindskold Says:

      I still feel the title is a misrepresentation for an American audience. A Japanese audience would automatically know what a mononoke is (just as they know the difference between a yoma, an oni, and a yokai.

      An American audience would reasonably think that the character’s given name is “Mononoke” and that that the title “Princess Somebody” — yet another in the string of Disney “Princesses.”

      I’m all for complex and multi-leveled titles… I use them myself all the time. That’s what Miyazaki’s title is — filled with irony since San is neither princess nor mononoke. The straight translation of the American title loses all of that.

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        OK. What are the differences between yoma, oni & yokai? I don’t seem to be finding anything reliable about the former.

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    That makes sense. I simply looked up what a Mononoke was, said, “Oh, that’s cool,” and went with it.

    Then again, I do find a lot of humor in envisioning San as one of Disney’s princesses. Since Disney (well, Miramax, its subsidiary) released Mononoke Hime in the US, this would be appropriate. Wouldn’t San make a great model for little girls having fun at Disneyland?

  3. janelindskold Says:

    Louis –

    Yoma (and I may not be spelling it in the currently preferred fashion) — by my understanding, a more or less generalized monster.

    Oni — Often translated as “ogre.” Definitely supernatural. Definitely unfriendly. Usually big and often possessed of horns or an extra eye or something like that. Many of the nasty baddies you see in Japanese art would be considered oni.

    Yokai — A supernatural creature, not necessarily evil but not necessarily good. The term is often translated as “demon,” which provides a negative slant that is not inherent in the term. For this reason, more and more manga and anime are leaving the term in Japanese.

  4. Other Jane Says:

    OK…I added this to our Netflix list. I often run into recommendations like this and add them to my list. Some months later, the DVD arrives in the mail. Scot will say, “Why did you pick this?” I won’t remember where I heard about it or even why I selected it…though generally we do enjoy the movie.

  5. Oblivion Island Says:

    As a fan of Princess Mononoke, I think you’d like Oblivion Island!


    “An animated romp for the young and the young at heart! This internationally acclaimed feature film blends Japanese folklore and storybook charm reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland into an exhilarating tale sure to amaze animation fans of all ages. Sixteen-year-old Haruka is on a mission to find her mirror—a precious childhood gift from her late mother that has disappeared. On her search, she follows a strange fox-like creature to Oblivion Island, a mystical world overflowing with once-cherished items taken from their neglectful owners. Trouble follows Haruka and her new friend Teo at every turn as they contend with the island’s overbearing ruler, who will stop at nothing to use the mirror for his own sinister plan!”

  6. Sammie Yaftali Says:

    great thanks

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