How do you live with a true heart when everything around you is collapsing?
I brought a friend with me the first time I saw Princess Mononoke in an American movie theater. He had no experience with Miyazaki or with Japanese culture or animation, but he was intrigued to see what promised to be a grand adventure story, especially one that was appearing in the United States under the auspices of Disney. In the middle of watching the movie, however, he started nudging me. “Who’s the good guy?” he hissed irritably. “I can’t tell which is the good guy and which is the bad guy!” “That’s the whole point!” I whispered back.
Princess Mononoke inaugurated a new chapter in Miyazakiworld. Ambitious and angry, it expressed the director’s increasingly complex worldview, putting on film the tight intermixture of frustration, brutality, animistic spirituality, and cautious hope that he had honed in his manga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The film offers a mythic scope, unprecedented depictions of violence and environmental collapse, and a powerful vision of the sublime, all within the director’s first-ever attempt at a jidaigeki, or historical film. It also moves further away from the family fare that had made him a treasured household name in Japan.
In the complicated universe of Princess Mononoke, there is no longer room for villains such as Future Boy Conan’s power-hungry Repka, the greedy Count of The Castle of Cagliostro, or the evil Muska of Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Miyazaki instead gives his audiences the ambitious but generous Lady Eboshi and the enigmatic monk Jiko-bō, who insists that we live in a cursed world. Jiko-bō isn’t the only one who thinks this, apparently. In the darkest moments of his tale of humans battling the “wild gods” of the natural world in fourteenth-century Japan, Miyazaki seems to be saying that all the dwellers of this realm, human and nonhuman, are equally cursed. Princess Mononoke raises questions Miyazaki had implicitly asked in the Nausicaä manga: Given what humanity has done to the planet, do we have a right to keep on waging war against the nonhuman other? Is there any way that humans and nonhumans can coexist? Read More