November 12, 2010
Introduction by Ian DeWeese-Boyd
Humanity vs. Nature
Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke is at its most basic level a film about the conflict between human beings and nature. The great forests that once dominated the landscape, that were the homes of gods and demons, are giving way to the demands of human civilization. Ashitaka, the last prince of the long persecuted Emishi tribe, is wounded defending his small village against a giant boar consumed by a demon of fury. Ashitaka's wound festers with that demonic fury, and it is his fate to die under its curse. Seeing this, the Wise Woman of the tribe encourages Ashitaka to rise to meet his fate by discovering the source of the boar's demon. "There is evil at work in the land to the west," she says, "it's your fate to go there and see what you can see with eyes unclouded by hate. ... You may find a way to lift the curse."
Traveling to the west, Ashitaka finds himself in the midst of an epic battle between Lady Eboshi's Irontown clan of lepers and prostitutes and the inhabitants of the forest. Lady Eboshi aims to destroy the spirit of the forest and the god-beasts that dwell there so that she can clear the trees and mine the ore, transforming what she sees as a "desolate place" into "the richest land in the world". Led by the fierce Princess Mononoke, a human raised by the wolf-god Moro, the forest dwellers seek to restore the balance of nature by driving the humans, their gruesome guns, and their smoke spewing industry from their forest. This conflict is the great evil Ashitaka must see with "eyes unclouded by hate". And, with such vision, Ashitake seeks to forge peace, seeing and supporting the good on both sides. In the end, we are left wondering at the cost and cause of conflict as well as the real prospects for peace between human beings and the natural world.
Hayao Miyazaki is one of Japan’s most prominent animation directors. His films have won praise from both critics and popular audiences not only in Japan but also in the West. As Los Angeles Times critic, Kenneth Turan, recently put it, “Miyazaki's gifts as an animator place him in a category of his own. To see his latest film is to be somehow reminded of Italians who could hear Verdi's operas as soon as they were sung or English readers who could experience the novels of Dickens episode by episode”. Spirited Away (2001), which won an academy award, Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), and Ponyo (2009) are his most recent films.