In the beginning of the film, we meet Ashitaka, the prince of a people who are slowly dying out. A possessed boar attacks their village, and Ashitaka manages to slay it, but becomes infected with its poisonous hatred through a wound inflicted by the boar. Ashitaka must leave his village to find the source of the hatred, and to hopefully find a cure for his cursed wound.
Setting out on his elk, Ashitaka travels west in order to find the source of the corruption. Along the way he aids a seriously wounded man, and sees giant white wolves accompanied by a mysterious young girl. The girl is trying to suck the bullet out of a wound on the wolf. When Ashitaka tries to speak to her, she only tells him to go away, and runs back into the woods with the wolves. Ashitaka finds himself intrigued by the girl, and can't forget her.
In an attempt to get the wounded man home more quickly, Ashitaka takes the direct route through the forest back to the man's village. There they are greeted by hundreds of kodama, or forest spirits. While Ashitaka is happy to see them, since it means that the forest is healthy and happy, the man is terrified of the spirits and believes them to be evil.
The wounded man's attitude towards the kodama is a clue to how his village views the forest. Once Ashitaka arrives at the village, he sees that the surrounding forest has been cut down and burned for strip-mining. Lady Eboshi, the woman in charge of the village, has brought prosperity to the people of the village by introducing them to mining for iron, and for teaching them to manufacture and use firearms. While Ashitaka is impressed with how Lady Eboshi has helped the people, even personally taking care of and employing lepers, he is disturbed to find out that the villagers have no problem with burning down the surrounding forest, and killing the forest protectors. He soon learns that the cursed boar that attacked his village was really Nago, the guardian of the forest surrounding Lady Eboshi's village. Lady Eboshi shot and fatally wounded him with a bullet, then stripped his forest. Lady Eboshi and her village are the source of the boar's hatred and his cursed wound. Ashitaka also learns that the girl he saw with the wolves is San, a human who was raised by the guardian wolf of the kodama-filled forest he has just left - the home of the Forest Spirit. San is known to the villagers as Princess Mononoke, and they hate and fear her and her wolf family, as they know San and the wolves seek revenge for the forest they have destroyed.
Ashitaka understands both Lady Eboshi and San's point of view, and desperately tries to find a solution to end the hatred that is cursing them all. Can Ashitaka find a way to help both humans and the forest coexist peacefully?
This film is beautiful, and has a wonderful message for those who watch it. Miyazaki doesn't provide the audience with the happily-ever-after they wish for. Terrible and hurtful things happen in this movie, echoing how in real life humanity has used and harmed nature selfishly without any thought of future consequences. While there is great beauty and tenderness in this film, there is also destruction and hurt. San's struggle between her loyalty to the forest and its creatures and her budding affection for kind Ashitaka echoes the struggle the audience feels between understanding the needs of the villagers, but also hating the needless destruction of the forest.
I give this film two paws up, a tail poof, and as many purrs as my motor can purr out.