In this edition of Creations of Chaos, it’s the Studio Ghibli film that tackles heavy topics, makes you wonder if all humans should be foraging and living in caves, ensures a complete brain meltdown, and will make you start building your sustainable tiny house with composting toilet, it’s Princess Mononoke.
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
English Version Adapted By: Neil Gaiman
Release Date: 1997
Version Watched: English Dubbed
I have a confession. I did not like Princess Mononoke the first time I saw it. I wanted to like it. All the cool kids liked it, and I didn’t want to be the one uncool person, but having just viewed Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke felt brutal and despairing. It’s been a few years now, and I wondered if I could find a fondness for it the second time around.
Complexity in a Nutshell
It’s a complex story.
Prince Ashitaka defends his village by killing a boar god turned demon. As a consequence of killing the demon, Ashitaka is infected with a poison that will first corrupt him, and then kill him. His only option is to find the forest god in the hopes that the forest god will halt the Prince’s impending doom.
During his quest, Ashitaka encounters a shady monk, a wild girl raised by wolf gods, and an industrialist named Lady Eboshi. Ashitaka unfortunately gets caught in the middle of a war between the forest, defended by the wolf girl, San/Princess Mononoke, and Lady Eboshi, who is depleting the forest, and killing off the forest spirits in the name of progress. Pandemonium ensues.
The Grey Lady
There isn’t an obvious villain in Princess Mononoke, at least not at first. Even the demons will elicit feelings of sympathy, as nefarious deeds were at work to turn them into demons. You think that perhaps Lady Eboshi is being set up as the antagonist, but at first, she makes a lot of sense. She is probably one of the most interesting animated characters to grace the screen.
Her intentions appear to be benevolent. She uses her own means to care for and protect the disenfranchised. She frees, and then employs prostitutes, providing the women with happy, meaningful lives. Lady Eboshi does the same for suffering lepers, providing them with food, shelter, and work. There is even care provided for those too sick to work.
I think the English dubbed casting helped a lot with Lady Eboshi’s greyness. Minnie Driver’s voice has a calm, intelligent quality, without the slightest tinge of malevolence.
When San and the wolves launch an attack on Iron Town, and San makes an attempt on Lady Eboshi’s life, I was upset.
As a social worker, I felt San was not thinking through the consequences of her actions. Even if she hates humans (I imagine this is a consequence of literally being thrown to the wolves as a child), it didn’t seem fair to destroy everyone’s life because of a little bit of industrialism encroaching in on some of the forest. Should the lepers simply be left to die? Should all of the ladies be made to go back to a horrible existence as sex slaves?
I was disappointed for the second half of the film, as Lady Eboshi is nudged from grey to black. I was enjoying the conflicting emotions, but when she finds out that Iron Town is under attack while away, instead of going back, she states that the women will have to fend for themselves. I found that to be a bit heartless. Then she becomes utterly consumed with her quest to kill the forest god, thus destroying the entire forest. Not intelligent at all. I found that I was okay with paving a small piece of paradise to put up a parking lot, but not destroying paradise altogether. Still who can really decide if a former prostitute’s life is more valuable than a tree spirit’s?
In the end, Lady Eboshi goes from being grey and interesting, to being all out despicable.
Chaos and Conclusions
I don’t know a lot about polytheism, but I assume that if you killed a god there would be consequences, and if you killed a major god, a boat load of whoop ass would be released, causing mass chaos.
Apparently not everyone contemplates such things, so whoop ass and chaos commence, until Ashitaka and San sacrifice themselves to save the day.
Then comes the film’s ending. After the mass forest destruction, the forest begins to repair itself. San, still hating humans, goes back to living her wild existence. Ashitaka, surprisingly, does not go with San. He decides to help Lady Eboshi rebuild Iron Town. Lady Eboshi states she will build an even better town. Then I waited for it. You know, where she continues by saying,
…”with more sustainable practices, because I have a new respect for the forest.” There is no comment like that however. I assume the film’s message then is that industrial progress and nature will always be at odds, battling for all eternity. There is no happy ending in the film, or in real life.
I tried to come up with solutions. How can we protect nature and not destroy it? I wondered if all humans should go back to living in caves or in camps in the forest, but I don’t really enjoy camping, and I like my laptop, and modern conveniences. Do I love my evil environmental destroying stuff too much? Are adorable tree spirits dying because I like my phone? Then my brain started to melt down.
Second Time Around
I did enjoy Princess Mononoke this time around. Having pre-knowledge of the plot, this time around I was able to focus in on the characters. With all of the limbs being shot off and the decapitations, I still found it a bit violent. It’s not for young kids, but it’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you are a deep thinker who enjoys the occasional brain meltdown.