Directed by the animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, who also created much loved cartoons My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and Ponyo, Princess Mononoke is his masterpiece. One of the most successful movies ever shown in Japan, it also drew critical acclaim throughout the world. The English-edited version had a terrific voice-cast that included Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, and Jada Pinkett Smith. The movie, about a young man whose arm is cursed after being attacked by a demon in the shape of a monstrous boar, then travels to a mining town that is at war with the spirits of a nearby forest, has many important Japanese cultural symbols, but still translates well to international audience because of its mythic universal themes.
If you thought Avatar contained some interesting metaphors about saving ecosystems from exploitation, then check out Princess Mononoke, because it does the same but in a much grander, more lyric way. Miyazaki knows how to tell a story, how to create amazing characters, how to evoke archtypes that grab audiences' interest just like the greatest fairytales from our childhood or the most primal images from our dreams.
The messages in Princess Mononoke, while powerful, do not hit us over the head in a preachy manner. At times surreal, at times brutal, at times incredibly peaceful, the tale just unfolds in a beautiful and often intense way, with moments that are etched forever in my mind. If you haven't seen it yet, take a look. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised that a cartoon could pack such an emotional punch.