It is no surprise that Princess Mononoke is one of the greatest animated films ever made, influencing even James Cameron’s Avatar. Like many other Ghibli films, this film contains mature themes and multi-dimensional characters. Although many films have the themes of environmentalism, perhaps no other film handles this theme better than this one. In this article, I will explore the way Princess Mononoke portrays nature in a rather unique and interesting way.
Ambiguity in Princess Mononoke
The ambiguity of Princess Mononoke characters is one of its strongest suits. Instead of a black and white portrayal of good and evil, this film paints its characters in grey. Both admirable and abominable qualities exist in each character. Furthermore, depending on who you are loyal to, even the nature of the qualities changes.
Ashitaka’s devotion, viewed as an obstruction by Lady Eboshi, is actually one of his many positive traits. Similarly, San despises his friendliness towards the people of Irontown. Lady Eboshi’s protective attitude for her subjects results in her being violent towards the forest creatures and spirits. Whereas San’s violence towards Lady Eboshi and Irontown is actually her fighting against the destruction caused by them on her home.
This ambiguity extends even to the non-human characters. The creatures of the forests share a deep dislike for humans and justify it by the destruction caused by Irontown. Moro, the wolf God and adoptive mother of San, cares for her tribe and San but is rather vicious when fighting with humans who haven’t necessarily caused her any harm. The blind boar God Okkoto, although a savage fighter, is still wise and even merciful towards Ashitaka when he reveals he killed Nago.
Views towards Nature in Princess Mononoke
In Princess Mononoke, nature itself is a character. Although an abstract concept, we still observe nature mostly through the attitude of the different characters in the film.
Ashitaka is a person who views nature as a religious entity to be loved and feared. He’s always respectful towards his environment and avoids any conflict with it at all costs.
San considers the forest to be her home because she grew up among wolves. As her wolf mother, Moro, had taught her, she fights passionately to preserve nature against Lady Eboshi.
Lady Eboshi believes that nature is a resource provided to them to be exploited. She mercilessly destroys the surrounding forests, even killing the creatures that come to oppose her.
The views of all three characters sum up the overall views that humanity holds towards nature. While they may hold different views, they all agree that nature is a mysterious force that surrounds them at all times. Moreover, for their personal reasons, none of them want to uncover this mystery. It’s instead of the film that explores this mystery through the Forest Spirit.
The Nature of Nature Itself
The Forest Spirit in Princess Mononoke serves as a physical representation of nature as a whole. Just like all the other characters, the Forest Spirit itself is an ambiguous character, which is a testament to the ambiguity of nature itself. As Shishigami, the Forest Spirit is a serene spirit, healing everything it touches. Whereas, the giant stature of the Night-Walker represents its frightening power that shouldn’t be tampered with.
Ashitaka is respectful towards the Shishigami, as expected, and considers it a god-like entity. San is protective towards it and fights for its survival, even though it holds power beyond her comprehension. On the contrary, Lady Eboshi hunts the Shishigami and even takes it down, shooting it in the head and therefore killing it.
It is then that the Night-Walker shows its terrifying and destructive face, becoming more powerful than anyone would have ever expected it to be. Letting its power run free, the Night-Walker lays waste to everything it comes across. In a hauntingly beautiful finale, the Night-Walker destroys both Irontown and its surrounding forests, proving that nature too holds no loyalties.
Simply put, Princess Mononoke isn’t about simply persevering nature but rather about the balance of power between mankind and nature.