Home Samurai culture Princess Mononoke: the masterpiece that shook the United States

Princess Mononoke: the masterpiece that shook the United States


When Princess Mononoke was first released in Japan on July 12, 1997, 25 years ago this week, it represented something of a departure for master animator and director Hayao Miyazaki. By the late ’80s, Miyazaki had built his reputation (with the success of Studio Ghibli, which he founded with fellow director Isao Takahata) on films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro; formally ambitious works, thematically rich, but generally assertive in tone and family in nature. But something changed in the ’90s. First, it began to bristle at the popular idea that Studio Ghibli only makes soft films about the grandeur of nature. “I’m starting to hear Ghibli referred to as ‘sweet’ or ‘healer,'” he grumbles in Princess Mononoke: How the Film Was Conceived, a six-hour documentary about the film’s production, “and I crave to destroy it.” Yet even more significant was his growing desperation at a world he had increasingly come to believe was cursed.

“He was once what he called a left-wing sympathizer, a supporter of people power,” says Shiro Yoshioka, professor of Japanese studies at Newcastle University. But for obvious reasons [the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the escalation in ethnic conflicts across Europe]his political convictions were totally shaken in the early 1990s.”

Japan itself was also going through something of an existential crisis. The country’s bubble period, an economic boom in the late 1980s, burst in 1992, locking Japan into a seemingly endless recession. Three years later, in 1995, the country was hit by the Kobe earthquake, the worst earthquake to hit Japan since 1922. It killed 6,000 people and destroyed the homes of tens of thousands of others. Only two months later, a terrorist sect called Aum Shinrikyo launched a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, killing 13 people and injuring thousands. Miyazaki, who was sickened by the materialism of the bubble period, now lived in a country traumatized and confused – both by his relationship with nature and by a creeping sense of spiritual emptiness.

“He started thinking,” Yoshioka said, “maybe I shouldn’t do this fun, light-hearted thing for kids. Maybe I should do something substantial.”

A new anger

Set in the 14th century, the Muromachi period of Japan, Princess Mononoke tells the story of Ashitaka, a young prince cursed with hatred of a dying boar god, who has been corrupted by an iron ball lodged in his body. . “Hear me loathsome humans,” said the boar, “you will know my agony and my hatred.” To seek a cure for his curse, Ashitaka travels across the land, hoping to find the Shishigami, a deer-like forest spirit with the power to bring life and death.

Along the way, Ashitaka discovers an unbalanced world. The Tatara Ironworks community, led by the enigmatic Lady Eboshi, ravages the nearby forest in search of resources, angering the fierce wolf god Moro and his wild human daughter San (the titular Mononoke, which roughly translates to spectrum or spectrum). Caught in the middle is Ashitaka, who must figure out how to navigate this difficult world with “clear eyes”. “I’ve always liked it [phrase]“says Gaiman. “Not clouded by evil. Not darkened by fear, not darkened by hate. You just have to see what’s actually there.

Compared to Miyazaki’s earlier work, it’s a dark and angry film, full of strange spectacle and startlingly violent scenes. The hands are cut off. The heads are cut off. Blood spurts from both humans and animals. “I believe that violence and aggression are essential parts of us as human beings,” Miyazaki said. told journalist Roger Ebert. “The problem we face as human beings is how do we control that impulse. I know little children can watch this movie, but I intentionally chose not to protect them from the violence that lies within the Human being.” Indeed, the cursed boar god, whose anger spurted out of him like a nest of oily worms, was inspired by Miyazaki’s own struggle to control his rage.

Hayao Miyazaki is a self-confessed bundle of contradictions. Read his writings, listen to his interviews, watch him speak, and he portrays an artist caught between idealism and nihilism, optimism and despair. He is the pacifist fascinated by war planes; the demanding boss who despises authority but who, as manager, exercises it without mercy; the father who believed passionately in the spirit of children but was hardly at home to raise his; the staunch environmentalist who struggles to live an ecologically ethical life. “When I see tuna being carried on a line, I think ‘wow, humans are terrible,'” he once told Japanese author Tetsuo Yamaori in 2002, in an interview republished in the anthology from Miyazaki Turning Point’s 2014 essay, “but when someone offers me tuna sashimi, of course I eat it and it’s delicious.”