In Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke,
The anime film Princess Mononoke, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is a hero’s epic that closely follows a young prince Ashitaka. The prince is tossed into a brutal war between humans and nature. The movie itself is characterized by its warriors, action, and fighting but, the pervading message is that peace triumphs.
Many motifs and symbols of hatred and revenge appear throughout the story. At the very beginning the motif of revenge appears and resonates with the watchers for the remainder of the film. A giant boar god, turned demon with disgusting writhing black tentacles appears at Prince Ashitaka’s village. The beast is vanquished but at a cost. The tentacles burned and scarred the young Prince’s arm leaving a curse. And as the beast lays to rest he “intones a message of eternal hatred against all humans.”(Napier 187). The hatred Ashitaka witnesses from natures side and the human side provokes him to attempt to stop all of the fighting.
Elements of pacifism are prevalent throughout the film. This is especially represented by Ashitaka’s character. In an early scene, the young prince saves two men who had been attacked by the Wolf god, Moro. He does not know them and has no incentive to help. He makes a sling for one of the men; he carries the other on his back. This act of kindness shows caring in Ashitaka’s temperament. Kodama spirits end up helping to lead the group out of the forest. Kodama are shown as cute, non-threatening tree spirits but to the Iron Town men who have spent their entire lives fearing the spirit realm are nervous and anxious to escape the forest. The men making it through, what they thought to be a very evil forest, sends a powerful message to the peasants.
The time period of the film plays an important role in story. Set during the fourteenth century, a landmark time in Japanese history, which was considered the “apex of Japanese high culture.”(Napier 177). The rituals of the period were in their most brilliant form. Present films that display this period often revel in the art, the samurai, the growing culture and the Empire. But, Princess Mononoke takes place far away from the capitol and the “high culture” of the period. Being set in the “marginal’s of history”(Napier 177), meaning far away from the core of the country, allowed Miyazaki to include some very interesting players in the main story. This included women leaders and native tribes of the land. The most unique character group was the Kami, or spirits. The spirits represented ancient gods who were closely linked with nature. This is where the central driving force of the story exists. A war between the Kami and the humans is the focal point. Miyazaki intentionally used this war to break down a traditional Japanese myth that the humans and nature always exist in peace in Japan. The story shows a point in time where there is absolutely no peace between nature and humanity. As said by Susan Napier “The motif that runs at the foundation of the story is that of the ‘extermination of ghosts’.”(Napier 178).
A typical war movie usually portrays one side of the fight as pure evil and the other as good. In Princess Mononoke however none of the leaders of the sides are pure evil; they just have conflicting goals. Lady Eboshi, leader of Iron Town is heart set on killing the forest spirit. This would allow Iron Town to flourish and expand making a better living for her people. On the other hand San wants Eboshi dead in order to stop the expansion of Iron Town in order to protect the forest and the inhabitants. Both leaders are looking out for their people but the fighting just causes more and more problems. In the middle of the movie San attacks Iron Town and faces off against Eboshi in a duel. Both leaders expected the other to die that night when Ashitaka steps in the middle of their fight to prove a point to them. Earlier that day Ashitaka shares with Eboshi that he came to this land “to see with eyes unclouded by hate.” His goal is to demonstrate to the two women that the hatred he sees inside of them will only make problems worse and ending the fighting is the best course of action. As he holds off both of the women the scar on his arm becomes visible, “The infectious tentacles manifest on his infected arm, becoming a symbol of hatred between the two women, the demon inside both of them.” (Adam Cook). It becomes apparent to the women what this outsider’s goal is.
As said by Miyazaki in an interview in 1995, quoted by Roslyn McDonald in her article “Studio Ghibli Feature Films and Japanese Artistic Tradition”, “There cannot be a happy ending to the fight between the raging gods and humans. However, even in the middle of hatred and killings there are things worth living for. A wonderful meeting or a beautiful thing can exist”(McDonald, 7). This one quote really solidifies the message of the film. After dawn breaks and the dust settles, the viewers are left with an unexpected ending. As the forest spirit disappears all of the land begins to grow rampantly. All of the evidence of fighting just gets buried under years of plant growth in a matter of minutes. It is like the world everyone once knew just vanished. This leaves a message of peace with all of the world’s inhabitants. The new land is fresh and it is agreed that Ashitaka will stay in Iron Town to rebuild more humanly and San will stay in the forest. The final thing we see in the film is a Kodama rattling his head in the new terrain. Kodama’s appear when a forest is healthy. The landscape is beautiful once more.
Napier, Susan. Anime From Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. 1st ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. 331. Print.
Drazen, Patrick. Anime Explosion! The What? Why? & Wow! Of Japanese Animation. Stone Bridge Press, 2002. 369. Print.
McCarthy, Helen: Hayao Miyazaki Master of Japanese Animation. Stonebridge Press, Berkeley California. 1999 Print
McDonald, Roslyn. "Studio Ghibli Feature Films and Japanese Artistic Tradition." (2004): 10. Web. 9 Nov 2010.
Cook, Adam. "Princess Mononoke." Bronze (2010): n. pag. Web. 13 Nov 2010. <http://thebronze.weebly.com/6/post/2010/1/princess-mononoke.html>.