Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Princess Mononoke, The Lord of the Rings and The Last Samurai

“Mononoke Hime” is the title of a Japanese animation movie released in 1997. Mononoke is one of the many Japanese words for spirit or monster. In the movie it refers to one of the two main female characters shown on this image. She’s a strange figure; her parents abandoned her in a forest when attacked by wolves. The wolf goddess Moro did not tear her apart but raised the human baby as her own whelp, which makes the girl 'princess of spirits and beasts'. In her attempt to protect the forest and her inhabitants this young woman engaged herself in a life and death battle with Lady Eboshi who leads the Tatara Mono (iron making people). Both women are courageous and both are slightly blinded in their effort to defend what is inevitably a right cause. It isn't possible to be hesitant in a fight for survival, is it?

Lady Eboshi has only one goal and that is to create as many rifles as possible. Her firearms will protect her people (or her desire to move forward) from whoever commits the error to stop them. She could be seen as a businesswoman, she certainly doesn’t have time and everything has to serve this obscure purpose of producing more. Living trees are seen as combustible and although she pities the loss of some human lives, lost for this cause, she seems to believe that humans are replaceable, like everything else is. San, the princess of spirits and beasts sees the environment is changing. As human extract natural resources from the mountains, the forest and its inhabitants vanish. The civilisation pace is continuous and fast and nature has no time to recover. A delicate harmony that lasted for centuries is disturbed and the gods of nature try to counter attacks this human invasion. Lady Eboshi's answer to this, are nasty bullets that force different gods of nature to accept a slow and painful death.

In the animated movie the images show the beauty of nature violently contrasting with a grey, noisy and fire spitting town.

To sum up, in my opinion two questions are being raised. First, how can humans with all their needs live in harmony with nature and second, how are old values based on century of knowledge to be combined with new values? New values raised in our society ever since the industrial revolution imposed a new rhythm and a completely different way of life. In the 19th century many countries replaced their spiritual knowledge or tradition by ownership and material progress. At what costs? At the same time this way of living gave most humans a better way of life. Not just any, as for example equal rights for individuals, including woman. Rights later defended by Human Rights laws. In “Mononoke Hime” this is clearly animated. It is a woman who protects common people, farmers, prostitutes and lepers and leads the town of the Tatara Mono. Common people, who had absolutely no rights in ancient Japan and medieval Europe as only the ones who knew how to handle a sword had some rights. It took years of training to know how to handle a sword or conduct a battle and one had to be in the position of following this expensive- time-consuming-harsh training. But with the invention of the rifle this changed. Manufactories rose who could produce firearms in greater amount and of reasonable quality and common men could be trained in less time and still be lethal. Note that Japan, who kept her doors closed to the 'western world' for many centuries opened it at the end of the 19th century and firing arms came to Japan along with western industry and commercial interest. In “Mononoke Hime” the town of Tatara Mono (iron making people) is located in the West. Is this a coincidence in the movie or simply a wanted message taken from history? [For the ones that do not wish or have not time to read about this but watched “The Last Samurai” this may sound familiar too].

Is this all, a discussion concerning traditions from the West or tradition from the Far East? I don’t think so. First we cannot always think in opposites (East/West, good/bad, black/white, life/death, men/women). This way of thinking may be necessary to categorise the world around us and at times, a handy educational tool but it limits us as we do not notice the non-categorised. Thus things that can’t be described in words or perceived by human eyes are forgotten and we risk to become men with limited knowledge and capacities. Yes we have great scientists and a lot of knowledge but is that the same as wisdom? For centuries man incorporated new values into older ones. There is no good or bad to it and no general rule that can be applied. Except maybe to have a profound respect for the intangible laws of nature and all what is hers. Living creatures (including our self) but also rocks, air, water and fire are part of it. Do we not all need fresh air and clean water for our survival? Rocks to stand upon? (The centre of the earth is hot and not solid enough to stand on). There must be more to it, what is it for example that gives energy to people? No matter how badly fed or treated? Should this life energy be seen as a fairy tale because it is difficult to grasp for science? Should we consider Tolkien’s work “The Lord of the Rings” to be a fairy tale as it talks of ‘the land of Mordor where the shadows lie’ and its characters are Elves & Hobbits? Or is it one of the best account we have concerning the drastic changes enhanced by the industrial revolution on our conception of life and a way to describe the segregated societies we live in where people do not and will not blend. Very simply summarised Tolkiens saga says, it's fine, we can all be proud of our roots as long as we also respect differences and when faced to problems; try to overcome them together as we need the combined knowledge of all creatures (also the knowledge of animals as for example their silence before a storm). Sometimes though you stand on your own and you alone will have to carry a load and make decisions. Be prepared. In short I’m grateful to the directors Hayao Miyazaki, Peter Jackson and Edward Zwick for creating movies that do not only entertain and please our senses (or shock them) but also give us material to think and rethink. In this current time we might all need it.


chiararobbiano said...

What a wonderful post, thanks! I have watched Mononoke Hime again recently and you express so clearly some central themes that are tackled in the movie but go well beyond it!

hejrom said...

It is a true virtue to stop discarding the things/features/feelings/moves we do not understand and find our peace in living in harmony with them. Not many people can do it. Many try, though.

Ronalee said...

Well said.