Princess Mononoke is a film directed by Hayao Miyazaki that was released in 1997. This movie is one of the best known anime of all time because of its powerful story line and message to the viewers. It was so great infact, that "this film was the first in a series of animated (or anime) films produced by Japan's Studio Ghibli to break all box office records in Japan" (Hunt, Leon Wing-Fai, Leung, 2008). Not only is Princess Mononoke one of the best films, but Miyazaki himself "is often compared to Walt Disney in the West," with his well known family movies (Hoff Kraemer, 2004). Miyazaki makes great films with purpose. He is also very well known for his take on the environment in his films, showing how important it is and the wars that can be created because of it. As Susan Napier puts it, “[Miyazaki] is forcing us to become estranged from what we take for granted and to open up to new possibilities of what the world could be” (2001). Princess Mononoke reveals the ugly truth that humanity is destroying the environment, which can cause war, and someone has to put a stop to it.
Hayao Miyazaki likes to have powerful female characters in his films. In Princess Mononoke, the roles are played by San, virtually the protector of the forest (nature), and Lady Eboshi, the ruler of Irontown (humankind) (Hoff Kraemer, 2004). These two women clash greatly to protect what they love, and that is where the hero of the story, Ashitaka, comes in. Ashitaka is a boy who saved his village from a ravaging bore that had been cursed. Although he saved the town, he himself got the curse from the bore and was told he would die if he did not find the Deer God and get the curse lifted. He then travels east where he finds himself in the middle of the war between the forest and Irontown. Ashitaka can be seen as the savior of all. He does not choose sides, which at times makes the people of Iron town and the creatures of the forest doubt his judgments and may at times even distrust him. Ashitaka realizes that the forest is not something humans can just take away. It is important because it is the home to many creatures and San, who lives with the wolves and believes she is one. However, Ashitaka also knows that the people of Irontown look up to Lady Eboshi and support whatever decisions she makes, so he is forced to play the role of Switzerland and stay neutral but still try to help each side.
If one were to look at this from a religious perspective, Ashitaka would be seen as christ (Hoff Kraemer, 2004). Ashitaka proves that the humans, the environment and animals, can coexist without conflict. Ashitaka lives in a village with other humans, but he is also very close to his elk, Yakul. Yakul stays by Ashitaka's side all throughout the movie, even when San finds Ashitaka unconscious and tells Yakul that he is free. Ashitaka also does not like to hurt animals. If there was any other way to protect his village or save the bore, he would not have killed it. That bore was actually a forest god, and he did not just slay it and run off, he showed respect for it. Moreover, Ashitaka did what he could to stop the war against the forest and the town. Lady Eboshi is a strong leader who knows what she wants. She wants to destroy the forest so that she can make more iron and more profits. In some ways, she can be seen as the anti-christ, or the exact opposite of Ashitaka. She will do whatever it takes to get what she wants, even if it means killing animals and tearing down the forest. However, Ashitaka puts other's needs before his. His main objective for traveling east was to get cured of the curse, but he slowly learned of the war going on between the forest and Irontown so he had to step in to help everyone else before helping himself, just like Jesus did in the bible. Moreover, Ashitaka can see the good and the bad within people. He knows that San is a good person because she cares deeply for animals and the forest, and he knows Lady Eboshi is a good person because the people of Irontown look up to her as a great ruler. However, he also notices how San and Lady Eboshi are in the wrong. "Ashitaka believes San is in the wrong because she loathes Lady Eboshi and has killed many of their men. Ashitaka also believes that Lady Eboshi is wrong because she is stripping the forest of its resources and killing not only the forest but the animals as well" (Acorn, 2009). Ashitaka understands each side, but still does not choose sides, rather, he helps both sides.
Although it does not happen in real life, the creatures of the forest did what they could to prevent the forest from being torn down. This is where the war-like scenario begins. The bores basically made a suicide charge towards Irontown to try and stop Lady Eboshi from destroying the forest. It was suicide because the bores knew it was a trap and that Lady Eboshi was waiting guns and grenades with mines on the ground, but they still tried to make as much damage as they could before being killed off. The animals of the forest were not only protecting themselves, but also the deer god. The deer god is the all powerful being of the forest that can heal any wound if it wants. It looks like a normal deer, but with a strange face, in the daylight, but at night it becomes this massive blue, glowing being that hovers over the forest.
Once San notices that the deer god healed Ashitaka, she sees he is not just a regular human after all and begins to warm up to him and accept his help. Furthermore, to Lady Eboshi, the deer god's head is the prize for destroying the forest. By killing the deer god, the forest has no chance of survival. So the deer god, in retrospective, is the forest. Without it, there is no forest. All the humans had to do was shoot off its head and catastrophe struck. The deer god ran rampant, and with each step it took, the forest singed to fire and ash. It seemed as though the humans won against the animals, but Ashitaka did not give up. This was Ashitaka's last chance to save the forest from destruction and to save himself from the curse. Ashitaka, along with San, retrieved the deer god's head and returned it to the rampaging creature which returned balance to the forest and life itself.
Miyazaki did a fantastic job portraying the beauty of the land when it is restored from its barren wasteland form. It seems then, that the viewer can see “..a world in which nature is not yet dominated by humanity and exists as a powerful force in itself, strong in its identity as the nonhuman Other” (Napier, 2001). Ashitaka was a great hero who could see that the forest was not just apart of the world, but it was its own world. He did what he felt was right when he sacrificed himself for the land, but in the end it all worked out for him. Ashitaka is only one hero from one anime that proves that two separate ways of life can coexist peacefully, but a lot of Miyazaki's other films have that same message. Princess Mononoke has touched many around the world with its inclusion of deeper meanings, beautiful animation, and strong story line that proves anyone can be a hero, and the environment does not have to suffer for human's actions.
"Acorn." "Princess Mononoke Evaluation." http://acornstree.blogspot.com/. 2009.
Hoff Kraemer, Christine. "Between the Worlds: Liminality and Self Sacrifice in Princess Mononoke." http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/Vol8No1/BetweenWorlds.htm. 2004.
Hunt, Leon Wing-Fai, Leung. "Exploring Transnational Connections on Film." http://site.ebrary.com/lib/rit/docDetail.action?docID=10267549. 2008.
Napier, Susan J. "Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation." http://site.ebrary.com/lib/rit/docDetail.action?docID=10023002. 2001.