Princess Mononoke, Western

It’s not a very well-kept secret that Japanese Samurai movies tend to translate very well into westerns. Consider “Seven Samurai” and “The Magnificent Seven”, or “Yojimbo” and “A Fistful of Dollars”. Only two examples, but two more than you would think upon first blush.

“Princess Mononoke” is not a samurai movie, but it is a movie with samurai in it. And it strikes me that it would translate very well into a western…to a point.

Imagine Ashitaka as, instead of the Prince of a small tribe, a young man living with his family in a tiny, quiet western town. Their peaceful life is shattered by the arrival of savage American Indians who raid the town and attempt to kill protagonist’s family; his father is shot and wounded, but not killed. The Indians are, barely, fought off. One survives long enough to tell them that they’ve been driven out of their homelands by Irontown, a new town even further out west.

A meeting is held and it’s decided that somebody needs to go down and figure out what’s going on with Irontown, and why out of nowhere they’ve decided to become aggressive and warlike. Protagonist is picked to go, along with sidekicks. When they arrive the scene is strange. Irontown is run mostly by women, and guarded with vast walls. The leader of the town reveals they have been in near constant conflict with a brutal Indian tribe, and the new leader has decided it is necessary to take the conflict out to them in order to protect their town properly. And you have the base conflict: On one hand, a new frontier town who under the leadership of a mysterious woman has decided to go from defenders to aggressors in an effort to protect their land. On the other hand, a dangerous and territorial Indian tribe who are starting to get the idea their days are numbered but aren’t all ready to go off peacefully.

That would be the base of a Mononoke-Western. The third party aggressor is an important of the story, of course. I’m imagining a gang of vigilantes masquerading as federal officers – think something like Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride against the Cowboys, a technically federal but practically lawless group who agree to work with the leader of Irontown to help out the Apaches; perhaps the leader of the Vendetta Ride group has a grudge against this particular group of Apaches themselves and wants them wiped out.

Now the really interesting thing is where stuff would change. You may well notice here that the supernatural element of the story is entirely gone; how this would change the dynamics of the characters and the decisions they make, not to mention future story decisions, is a fascinating exercise.

So we have a western based around the idea of an aggressive frontier town teaming up with a bloodthirsty vendetta group made up of outlaws and bandits as much as any real government officials to take down a tribe of violent, territorial Indians, while an outsider worried about the fallout that will hit his own small town tries to mediate the conflict.

I shall have to think on this; there may well be a novel here.

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10 Responses to Princess Mononoke, Western

  1. dpmonahan says:

    Recall that in Princess Mononke Ashitaka was not Japanese, but from an aboriginal tribe hovering on the edge of extinction. So your Ashitaka shouldn’t be American but a neutral Indian or Chicano to make him truly an outsider. Or maybe a half-breed like the boy in The Searchers.
    Actually, there are a few parallels between the Searchers and what you propose, the half-breed is like Ashitaka, John Wayne sort of like Jiko-Bo (wise, cunning, and with a secret plan of his own) and the girl has gone native and they doubt she can join anglo society again, all against the backdrop of a war between the US Army and Scar’s Indians… maybe Miyazaki was influenced by The Searchers?

    • I was thinking that! The opening of Mononoke is reminiscent in some ways.

    • Remember though, San made no distinction between the Japanese and the Aboriginals. My protagonist would still be an outsider by virtue of being white. Being an Indian himself may hurt him.

      • (Hurt him as a character, I mean.)

      • dpmonahan says:

        But he would be “one of” the iron town people if he were white American. From an old chicano family perhaps? His ranch under pressure from both Indians and white land speculators, etc.

      • Well he IS considered part of Irontown as far as the Indians are concerned. In the original story San only starts to change her tune when she saves his life. What Mark’s him different isn’t his skin color but his refusal to take sides.

      • dpmonahan says:

        Ok, I get it. I was thinking more of just the ambiance of being an outsider, the awareness of both your characters and your reader of a big cultural divide. Ashitaka is from the outside of Japanese society in general, not just new to Irontown, the whole journey sequence underlines it. Japan’s violence and chaos is strange to him, and he seems strange to the Japanese. He has a coherent set of cultural values that Japan at the time lacked – it really was the wild west. Irontown also has a coherent set of values – Lady Eboshi is creating a culture out of chaos – but these values are opposed to his.
        What if he is a French or Spanish Jesuit and his mission is burnt down? Just tossing out ideas.

      • I actually like that idea. I have been toying with adding the plot point that his original town reaches a breaking point without him and decides to attack Irontown.

  2. Isn’t Western Mononoke just Pocahontas? 😉 😉 lol

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