Looking too deeply into single scenes: Princess Mononoke edition

When you see a movie way, way, way too many times, you start to pick apart its logic in a way that’s probably unfair to the director, but that’s kind of inevitable. You start to view the movie like a member of your family: you’re hyper-aware of its imperfections in a way that no one who isn’t related can understand, but you still love them.

And sometimes, those imperfections make you love them all the more.

So, I’ve seen Princess Mononoke 21 times. It’s pretty much infused in my blood. And, well, I still think it’s pretty much perfect. I adore it to little adorable pieces.

But after the 21st viewing, the scene when San attacks Irontown began to bug me for reasons I cannot explain.


(the scene responsible for this awesome gif, which was made by toto-ro)

Quick rundown of the scene: Ashitaka is visiting Irontown and chatting with Lady Eboshi. San attacks said town, intending to kill Lady Eboshi, but does a piss poor job of it and finds herself surrounded. Ashitaka saves San with his mega-super-arm. Then the rest of the movie happens.

Anyway, my problem (if you can call it that) with the scene is this:

  • Either San is attacking the town for the first time, which might explain why her attack is so poorly planned and reckless (without Ashitaka there, she’d have died) in which case Ashitaka’s timing being there is remarkably convenient.
  • Or she has previous experience attacking the town (which makes sense, given the implication that she an Eboshi have a history of conflict), in which case her utter recklessness is a little hard to believe. And, of course, Ashitaka’s timing is still remarkably convenient.

In other words, this scene provides us with two scenarios that don’t really work, but that if overlooked allow the film to rather easily set up both its primary relationship (San and Ashitaka) and its primary antagonistic storyline (San and Lady Eboshi), which would be somewhat difficult to accomplish otherwise because the film doesn’t have a straightforward protagonist vs. antagonist plot. Ashitaka is at odds with neither San nor Eboshi, and this scene allows him to establish that by furthering the animosity between Eboshi and San and allowing him to choose neither side. Just like that, a hugely important aspect of the movie’s plot is taken care of, and the actual story can take hold again.

So I now have an added layer of accepting this scene is a necessary bit of plot patchwork that allows the film to flow more smoothly without relying on exposition, which at the end of the day, I’m really quite cool with. It makes me appreciate the intricacy of Miyazaki’s storytelling. After all, nobody’s perfect, but true loves don’t come around every day.

(Featured image source)

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About johnmichaelmaximilian

Freelance writer from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Movies are my favorite thing.

2 responses to “Looking too deeply into single scenes: Princess Mononoke edition”

  1. sirosoup says :

    I think I agree with you about how this scene sets up the relationship between San and Ashitaka. I haven’t seen this film nearly as many times as you have, but if I remember correctly, the scene that immediately follows after Ashitaka gets blown a hole in his body made a lasting impression on me. It was the first indication that these two characters care for each other.

  2. johnmichaelmaximilian says :

    Most definitely. The following scene (Ashitaka is bleeding out, and San decides to save his life) is a really crucial one, and drawing a line from Ashitaka in Irontown to Ashitaka in San’s cave with minimal filler seems to be what Miyazaki was going for.

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