13 Crowning Facts About Princess Mononoke

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Princess Mononoke sounds like a charming foreign family film. And that would be a fair assumption, if you were going off director Hayao Miyazaki’s previous hits like Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro. But Princess Mononoke was neither cuddly nor innocent. The movie’s violent tale of Ashitaka, an exiled prince trying to keep the peace between warring animals and humans, was a stark departure from Miyazaki’s previous work. It was also his most commercially and critically successful movie to date when it opened in 1997.

The film’s phenomenal profits in Japan helped carry it over to America, where Miyazaki was known only among hardcore animation geeks. Today he enjoys a more established international reputation, and it’s all largely thanks to Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, which was released four years later. To celebrate the film's 20th anniversary, discover the movie’s unlikely inspirations and secret leprosy subplots with these 13 fascinating facts.

1. HAYAO MIYAZAKI PLANNED TO RETIRE AFTER IT WAS DONE.  

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Before he even began work on Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki was a little burnt out. Production on his previous movie, Porco Rosso, had been difficult and he was not satisfied with the results. Princess Mononoke wound up being a three-year commitment, so after it was complete, he announced his intention to retire. But it didn’t stick. He returned with one of his most widely praised movies, Spirited Away, in 2001 and made another four movies after that. In fact, all Miyazaki really did with this declaration was establish the first in a long-running series of retirement fake-outs. He ended his latest “retirement” late last year.

2. HE CHANNELED HIS ANGER OVER THE YUGOSLAV WARS INTO THE MOVIE.

The bloody break-up of Yugoslavia had begun while Miyazaki was making Porco Rosso, and it stuck with him as he started work on his next film. “The war happened ... and I learned that mankind doesn’t learn,” he told Empire Magazine. “After that, we couldn’t go back and make some film like Kiki’s Delivery Service. It felt like children were being born to this world without being blessed. How could we pretend to them that we’re happy?” He instead decided to take a risk and introduce kids to Ashitaka's combat-driven world.

3. HE WAS INSPIRED BY JOHN FORD WESTERNS.

The movie’s production notes reveal that Miyazaki wanted his frontier community of Tatara Ba (or “Iron Town”) to look like it “could be at the edge of any wilderness” in the world. So he turned to one of his favorite directors: John Ford. Miyazaki used classic Ford westerns like My Darling Clementine to inform the look and feel of Tatara Ba, a town full of “characters from outcast groups and oppressed minorities who rarely, if ever, appear in Japanese films.”

4. THE MOVIE WAS ONLY 10 PERCENT COMPUTER GENERATED.

Despite the success of Toy Story in 1995, Miyazaki remained wary of computer-generated animation. “Computers are really just an electronic pen or pencil, and I like regular pencils better,” the director told Hollywood.com. As a result, just 10 percent of Princess Mononoke is CGI. The vast majority of the movie is comprised of hand-drawn cels—about 144,000 of them.

5. IT BROKE BOX OFFICE RECORDS IN JAPAN.

When Princess Mononoke hit theaters, E.T. had been the reigning champion of the Japanese box office for more than a decade. But Miyazaki’s animated epic set a new record with its 18.25 billion yen, or about $134 million, haul. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t stay on the throne for long. Titanic arrived mere months later and reset the bar yet again with 18.35 billion yen ($135 million).

6. IT WAS THE FIRST ANIMATED MOVIE TO WIN BEST PICTURE AT THE JAPANESE OSCARS.

Princess Mononoke didn’t just break commercial records. In 1998, it became the first animated film to be nominated for and win the top prize at the Japanese Academy Awards. (Miyazaki claimed this award again four years later for Spirited Away.) This is a milestone the U.S. Academy Awards have yet to achieve—and they’ve been around much longer. The Japanese Academy Awards began in 1978 as opposed to the Oscars, which started in 1929.

7. NEIL GAIMAN TWEAKED THE SCRIPT FOR AMERICAN AUDIENCES.

After Miramax picked up the movie for U.S. distribution, the studio hired British fantasy writer Neil Gaiman to adapt the script for English-speaking audiences. Gaiman had to add dialogue explaining Japanese cultural references that likely wouldn’t register with audiences, such as the significance of Ashitaka cutting his hair. He also altered characters so they translated better abroad. For instance, in the original Japanese script, Jigo complains that a bowl of soup tastes like “water,” which is a cutting insult in Japan. That’s hardly a burn by American standards, though, so Gaiman made it “donkey piss.” Finally, he swapped out words that were difficult to translate—although he insisted he wasn’t the one who changed “sake” to “wine.”

8. THE STUDIO WANTED QUENTIN TARANTINO TO ADAPT IT.

JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images

Miramax head Harvey Weinstein originally asked Quentin Tarantino to take a stab at adapting the script, but the director passed on the offer and recommended Gaiman instead. Why? Apparently Tarantino’s mom is a massive Gaiman fan.

9. MIYAZAKI SENT HARVEY WEINSTEIN DEMANDS VIA SAMURAI SWORD.

Weinstein wanted to seriously scale back Princess Mononoke’s 134-minute running time for the U.S. release, but Miyazaki didn’t want a single frame altered. So, the legend goes, Miyazaki sent a samurai sword to Weinstein’s office with a two-word message: “No cuts.” The story is mostly correct, except for one key detail. “Actually, my producer did that,” Miyazaki said in an interview with The Guardian. “I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts. I defeated him.”

10. PIXAR'S JOHN LASSETER WAS AN ENORMOUS FAN.

When Miramax began marketing its English-language version of Princess Mononoke, they called on a number of big names to sell the movie and its director to American audiences. The star-studded voice cast—which included Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, and Jada Pinkett Smith—was one component. But Pixar’s emerging wunderkind John Lasseter was another. The director of Toy Story heaped praise on Miyazaki, saying that “throughout my career, I have been inspired by Japanese animation, but without question, I have been most inspired by the films of Hayao Miyazaki." He continued, “At Pixar, when we have a problem and can not solve it, we often watch a copy of one of Mr. Miyazaki’s films for inspiration. And it always works! We come away amazed and inspired.” Lasseter also recorded an introduction for the movie on TCM and later presented Miyazaki with an honorary Oscar in 2014 (above).

11. IT WAS ADAPTED INTO A STAGE PLAY.

Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli apparently received numerous requests from theater groups around the world begging for permission to adapt Princess Mononoke for the stage. All of them were denied, until the UK troupe Whole Hog Theatre approached. Its version was deemed weird enough by Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki, who approved the pitch. Whole Hog Theatre sold out its limited run of Princess Mononoke in 72 hours, a full nine months before the show even opened. The production migrated to Tokyo the following year, where it played to even larger crowds.

12. IT INSPIRED A CANADIAN MUSIC VIDEO.

The Canadian indie rock band You Say Party paid homage to several Miyazaki films in its music video for “Underside.” But Princess Mononoke got perhaps the biggest shout-out due to the location. Jeremy Rubier shot the video on Yakushima, an island famous for its ancient forests. It also directly inspired the woodland setting for Princess Mononoke. See if you can spy the similarities—or any stray kodama—in the video.

13. THE MOVIE IS SECRETLY ABOUT LEPROSY.

Princess Mononoke fans have long touted a theory about the workers in Iron Town. When Ashitaka first meets them, they explain that they fled brothels for the Iron Town factory, because it’s one of the few places where they are accepted. Several are covered from head to toe in bandages. Although the Japanese script says they suffer from “gyobyo” or “an incurable disease,” the fan theory claims they’re actually afflicted with leprosy. Miyazaki finally responded to this idea in January. And his verdict? It’s all true.

Ahead of World Leprosy Day, the director confirmed that the disease and how people live with it were his inspiration. “While making Princess Mononoke, I thought I had to depict people who are ill with what’s clearly an incurable disease, but who are living as best they can,” he explained. He apparently even visited a sanatorium in Tokyo to talk with patients about their experiences.

George RR Martin's New Book, Fire and Blood, Is Getting Some Seriously Mixed Reviews

Jason Merritt, Getty Images
Jason Merritt, Getty Images

Many fans of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, a.k.a. the books that inspired HBO's smash hit Game of Thrones, were extremely peeved the acclaimed author was taking time to write a companion book, Fire and Blood, instead of finishing up the next book in the series, The Winds of Winter. But a new George RR Martin book is still a new George RR Martin book, and Fire and Bloodhas seen some brisk sales—even if the reviews have been rather mixed.

Let's start with the positive: The Sunday Times published a review in which it declared the book "a masterpiece of popular historical fiction." Writer Dan Jones wrote that, "Martin is an avid consumer and regurgitator of history: his Westeros writing pulses with influences from Plantagenet-era Britain and beyond." However, the critic does recognize the book itself is "a piece of epic procrastination."

Writing for The Times, critic Hugo Rifkind wasn't quite as kind:

"Essentially, it is all one long synopsis for about 50 books that he will never get around to writing, which itself has only been written because he can’t get around to writing the other two Game of Thrones books that his fans are waiting for. Worse still, after a doorstop of a thing, we’re still a century and a half short of GoT even beginning, which means there’s another volume of this interminable, self-indulgent crap to come."

Ouch.

Publishers Weekly didn't mince words either, writing: "Martin’s evocative storytelling style and gift for gripping narrative are mostly absent from this dry history. Fans hungry for the next Song of Ice and Fire novel will find this volume whets, but does not satisfy, their appetites."

We're sure Martin's writing is on par with his previous books, but it's just the content that people don't want. All we can really hope for moving forward is that the author is motivated to continue writing The Winds of Winter. In the meantime, if you want to form your own opinion, Fire and Blood is out now.

Sebastian Stan Still Doesn't Know If He's in Avengers 4

Michael Loccisano, Getty Images
Michael Loccisano, Getty Images

Since Avengers: Infinity War hit theaters earlier this year and pretty much ripped our hearts out with Thanos's deadly snap, Marvel fans have been speculating how our almighty heroes (and which ones) will return for the next film in the series. While audiences have yet to learn which characters from the last film will make it to Avengers 4, we would assume the MCU's stars would be clued in to their characters' fates. Though he may be playing coy, Sebastian Stan claims even he still doesn't even know whether or not he'll be a part of the as-yet-untitled film.

Marvel fans are in agreement that Bucky will be brought back to life at some point in the future. Stan is ​reportedly signed on for a nine-film contract, and will even star in a series alongside Anthony Mackie's Falcon for Disney+. But as for his Avengers 4 status, Stan is saying very little.

"When I was shooting anything, nobody ever told me what was part one or part two," Stan recently told ​Collider. "The truth is, I don’t even know if I’m in [Avengers 4]. What I shot was in part one. And anything that I shot may or may not have been in part one or part two and I still don’t know."

"There were things that we shot that were never gonna make it because it was easier to just convolute the whole thing. So in a way, you go ‘Alright, that’s cool, but ...,'" Stan continued. "But you know it’s going to deliver on a level that we probably haven’t even digested yet. Because that’s what they do best."

Stan is likely trying to stay away from spoilers and play it safe here. In fact, last year, the actor actually confirmed he would be in Avengers 4 to ​CinemaBlend. And while it's possible that the situation could have changed since, we're not quite buying it.

So good job, Sebastian Stan: you've thoroughly confused us. (But we're still pretty sure we'll see you in the next Avengers movie.)

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