"So you say you're under a curse? So what? So's the whole damn world."
Released: July 1997
Written by Hayao Miyazaki, Neil Gaiman (English adaptation)
Directed by Hayao MIyazaki
Princess Mononoke is a film about the conflict between humans and nature. Others have called it an environmentalist film and that is true to a point but not "environmentalist" in the sense that current political trends would lead us to believe. Miyazaki is not of the belief, or so it seems, that man is solely an evil agent and nature is pristine. He is expressing a need for balance. This theme was touched upon in Castle in the Sky and again in My Neighbor Totoro but in this movie it is the central message.
The forest gods and spirits are consumed by hate of the people living in Iron Town and they in turn hate the spirits of the forest. An outsider, Ashitaka, arrives on a quest to find a cure for a curse laid upon him by a diseased and poisoned forest god, and attempts to restore harmony by seeing through "eyes unclouded by hate."
There are several other players. The ungodly priest who is attempting to steal the head of the Spirit of the Forest and bring it back to the Emperor in the belief that it will bring him eternal life and an unseen Japanese lord who is sending his army to attack and take Iron Town for reasons which are unclear but seem to be because the ruler of iron town, Lady Eboshi, is developing advanced weaponry.
Lady Eboshi would normally be the villain of the piece but she isn't really. She is shown to be caring and compassionate at times though ruthless at others. The Wolf goddess, Moro, is by turns savage and nurturing. It is because these antagonists are both heroes and villains by turns, both with sincere belief that they are doing what they must, that the tragedy of the conflict is amplified.
Miyazaki also includes a strong feminist element into this film. This, again, has been seen in the Ghibli movies we have watched up to this point. Most of the movies written by him have very strong female characters. Iron Town is run by women and all the men are dopes. The Wolf spirits are women while the reckless and unwise boars seem to be male. Only in Ashitaka and San (Princess Mononoke) is there equality and balance.
It is the most Japanese of the movies up to this point. The philosophy and mythology are all very different than the ones I have grown up with. The very notion of the spirits and the Gods of the forest is foreign and difficult to understand. Where do they come from? What is the difference between a spirit and a god? Are they mortal or immortal? The divide between the cultures is very palpable.
The movie ends on a strange note where the forest and the town have been destroyed and only the Forest Spirits death has allowed new life to emerge from the ruins. Ashitaka says San should live in the forest and he will help rebuild Iron Town and he'll come and see her from time to time which led me to ask myself "What was the point of all this then?"