–11/7/2017, Buenos Aires
It hurtled ‘round the Twittersphere for days before crashing into my timeline and punching me square in the feels. Like a cannonball. A 2005 quote from Studio Ghibli’s autumnal genius Hayao Miyazaki:
Maybe his words said more about contemporary Japan’s uniquely dim views on pro-creation. But they recalled a more universal perspective too…
The stamp of environmentalism infuses much of Miyazaki’s Ghibli features. It’s perhaps clearest in the film which, if forced at gunpoint to make an otherwise impossible decision in that parallel universe where this twisted game apparently happens all the time, I would choose über alles: Princess Mononoke.
Complex, 3D-printed―the characters in Princess Mononoke embody this dichotomy between hope and despair re: human stewardship over the natural world. It’s clearest in the two we probably come to dislike more than any others.
Eboshi Gozen is the matriarch ruler of Iron Town.
Her lust for the terrible inertia of “progress” at the dawn of iron-working techniques in medieval Japan is gobbling up the pixel of pachamama where the film takes place. Its residents and “Gods” fall like matchwood before the steamroller of industry and the metal shot loosed from the humans’ futuristic new weapons: guns.
Yet we discover that this industry offers purpose, productivity and shelter not only to the able locals (regardless of their gender) but also to the once-ostracised lepers who live nearby.
The other figure is the ambitious monk Jiko-bō. He will help decapitate the Great Forest Spirit at the film’s climax.
“So you’re cursed?” Jiko-bō asks Ashitaka (the closest thing to a conventional hero we are offered in the film) over steaming bowls of rice, as the rain pounds down around them.
“So what? So’s the whole damn world…”
Miyazaki is not a nihilist. Deep seams of optimism (see Totoro) run through his works like silver veins through a mountainside―to be gawped at, twinkling in the darkness.
Through Gozen and Jiko-bō we’re force-fed a terrifying existential truth addressed in Miyazaki’s comments: Even though, materially speaking, those of us sheltering in comfy bourgeois corners of “the West” may enjoy unprecedented blessings, our casually miraculous lives are built on pillars of sand―humanity’s savaging of the finite natural world to pump Earth’s deathly fossils into our cars and planes (and atmosphere), its toxic lithium into our phones, its trees into our fires.
Painting this gigantic Catch-22, Miyazaki’s perspective comes to life. And it’s a heart-breaker.