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Princess Mononoke

890 words

I feel like the skinhead who went to see Cats because he’d heard that T. S. Eliot was a fascist.

Japanese cartoons are very popular in our circles. They have even been reviewed at Counter-Currents. The closest thing I had seen to a Japanese cartoon is Twilight of the Cockroaches. But that mixed animation and live action, and it was more than 25 years ago, so I remember almost nothing about it.

But I like a lot of Japanese cinema, literature, and visual art, and I figured that some experience with anime should be part of my education as both a film critic and New Right thinker, so I asked several friends to recommend a first movie, and Princess Mononoke (1997) was highly praised, so I decided to watch it.

Princess Mononoke is set in Japan in the early modern period (the late Muromachi period), before the banning of firearms. But the story has many timeless fantasy elements to it. Indeed, the theme of the movie is the clash between modernity and the pre-modern traditional-magical vision of the world.

“Mononoke” is not a proper name, it is the term for a possessing spirit or demon. It was never clear to me, though, just who the titular princess is, since the only clearly possessed characters in the movie are giant pigs. The princess may be San, the girl raised by wolves, or, more intriguingly, the mysterious Lady Eboshi.

The protagonist of the story, however, is Prince Ashitaka, who has been infected by a demon. (Why not call it Prince Mononoke, then?) Ashitaka is the last prince of the Emishi, an Ainu-like tribal people driven to the margins of Japan by the Emperors in the distant past and thought to be extinct.

I liked some things about Princess Mononoke. Like a lot of Japanese literature and cinema, Princess Mononoke gives us a glimpse into the pagan-polytheistic mentality Europeans had before the coming of the desert monotheisms. I also found the portrayal of the great Forest Spirit/Nightwalker to be imaginative and genuinely magical. Finally, I found Lady Eboshi and Irontown to be a rather brilliant portrait of bourgeois, technological civilization.

Lady Eboshi is clearly a renegade aristocrat. A woman of great ambition without outlet in traditional society, she has created a new society, named Irontown, in which she is the ruler. The people of Irontown are recruited from the dregs and outcasts of society: bumptious peasants, brothel girls, and lepers. (In one amusing scene, the prostitutes confess that they have never heard of an Emperor.) Lady Eboshi has welded them into an efficient military and technological machine by offering them the inclusion and upward mobility denied them in the larger society.

Irontown is devoted to increasing Lady Eboshi’s power through the conquest of nature and the creation of technology, including weapons. Irontown clear-cuts the forests, mines iron ore, and turns it into steel. Nature, however, strikes back. The great Forest Spirit sends wolves and wild boars to harry the woodcutters and miners. Irontown is also under attack by the samurai, who wish to plunder its wealth. To protect Irontown, Lady Eboshi needs to make her peasants, prostitutes, and lepers the equals of samurai, which she does by assiduously pursuing superior technology to quell man and beast alike. If anyone is a candidate for demon princess, it is Lady Eboshi.

Lady Eboshi also seeks to literally decapitate nature’s resistance by killing the Forest Spirit. To do this, she allies with Jigo, an ugly, vulgar, ignoble, but cunning adventurer who seems to be a defrocked monk. Jigo is very much in the spirit of the wisecracking denizens of the lower orders that populate Japanese cinema and gave us R2-D2 and C-3PO. Jigo has assembled some mysterious mercenaries who seem unbound by any code of honor to help him kill the forest spirit, for whose head the Emperor has offered a large reward. (The Emperor has been told that the head can yield an elixir of immortality. Such Oriental superstitions are driving rare animals to extinction even today.)

I won’t say anything about how the plot ultimately plays out, in case you still want to see the movie for yourself after I list its faults, which are significant.

First, Princess Mononoke is shockingly “adult” and violent for a cartoon. You would not want to show it to children. Second, the American version also uses a host of extremely annoying American-accented voice actors. Third, I found the animation to be pretty crude throughout. Fourth, the plot was overlong and often draggy. Fifth, there was a lot that seemed frankly arbitrary, but if it had been handled just a bit differently, it would have seemed magical.

My core objection to this movie, however, is the moral confusion at the heart of it. The cause of the Forest Spirit is just. Irontown is simply evil. But our hero Ashitaka does not see it that way. He spends the whole movie speeding around in his earnest-but-dumb fashion trying to prevent conflict rather than taking the right side. His motive seems to be an absolute injunction against “hate,” which is a shockingly stupid value system. Is this an outgrowth of Buddhism or a sign of Christian or Western liberal influence? Whatever the answer, it made it impossible for me to regard Ashitaka as a hero. Frankly, I expected better from the Japanese.

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  1. FightForWhite
    Posted August 11, 2017 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Generally, I find anime to be a degenerate form of entertainment. Myazaki and Studio Ghibli have a handful of films that transcend this usual norm however. The absolute best, in my opinion, are: Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Castle in the Sky.

    If I could only convince you to watch one of those mentioned, I would pick Spirited Away. This film is much more suited for children. As it is a newer production than Mononoke, the animation is noticeably cleaner. Finally, Spirited Away doesn’t try too hard to create an evil versus good dichotomy. Instead it focuses on one vice; greed. The movie as a whole is more innocent and playful while maintaining dramatic elements that keep the movie interesting. I’d be interested to hear what Greg thinks about it.

    • Posted August 12, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      Kiki’s Delivery Service and Totoro are also both pretty non-violent.

  2. Posted August 11, 2017 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Try Akira. It was the first big internationally acclaimed anime. It expresses Mishima-type Japanese values, with an absolute revulsion towards modern ethics. It is also semi-fascist friendly despite also having an anti-war message.

  3. Posted August 12, 2017 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    Not certain, but I think that most of your criticism is culturally. I.e. the things you mention would not occur to a japanese watcher. Except of course for the voice acting. The violence may be a misconception about what “cartoon” is about.

    I do agree with the mixed messages in the movie, but as I said, I always attributed that to my western interpretations.

    In addition to seconding `Spirited Away` I would want to add that we usually recommend `The Wind Rises` as the first japanese animation movie to experience. Non-violent, Emotional, Beautifully made. It always produces reactions like “After a while I forgot I was watching an animation”.

  4. Klingsor
    Posted August 13, 2017 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    Miyazaki loves nature, but he also loves technology. His films are filled with aircraft, trains, and all sorts of fantastic driving machines. Humans are by nature technological creatures, and the point of the film, which you missed, is that we need to find a balance with nature, not destroy it, nor allow it to destroy us.

    You shouldn’t watch anime at all if you think that “cartoons are for kids,” and the DVD has the option to watch a subtitled version.

  5. Gravlax
    Posted August 13, 2017 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Have you seen Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives? It has a similar theme of conflict between the primitive-supernatural and modern-rational within an Eastern society, in this case Thailand. And a similar approach where the hero (in this case, the filmmaker who creates the scenes and uses them to communicate with the audience) sees it as his mission to avoid too much conflict. Also has the same trope where it uses childish pop culture aesthetics but has clearly grown-up themes. I think you might find it interesting.

  6. Michael Bell
    Posted August 13, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Sword Art Online, Attack on Titan, and if you have time for 200 or so episodes, Yu Yu Hakusho, are great anime tv series. of course if you have time for that much anime, you should probly be doing more productive stuff, Haha

  7. Posted August 13, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    This review is terrible. It completely misunderstands the movie. ‘Princess Mononoke’ has been my favorite film since childhood. Many of the plot details listed here are wrong.

    For example, it wasn’t the forest spirit who sent the bores and wolves to attack the humans, and that plot point is extremely important. Second, the Emperor wants the forest spirit’s head because he thinks it will make him immortal.

    Ashitaka’s failure to take sides is not his failure as a hero, but an expression of the modern condition… the necessary harmony humans must find with the advance of technology and it’s effects on society/nature. Ashitatka searches for that harmony, and we are all still searching for it in the 21st century. In the end, he fails to find it (after the forest is destroyed), but retains hope for the future.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted August 13, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Oh yes, I forgot about the immortality point.

  8. Pietas
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    A great adult anime is Grave of the Fireflies from 1988. If you don’t cry in this show, you must have a soul of stone, and I seldom if ever cry from pathos.

    Second best is Ninja Scroll which is rich in allusion to Kurosawa. There is also an allusion to Grave of Fireflies and to the movie harakiri. You get an A if you can identify them!

    In general, anime and all Japanese culture is on page with counter currents an WN (in a nonpolemical way bc there is no need for dialectic) bc they are still where our civilization was in the late 1800s. If we had what they have, these websites would be pointless rather than the lunatic fringe.

  9. Anton
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Just like I learned English mostly by playing American video games, I became fluent in Japanese mostly by consuming copious amounts of manga, anime, and again video games.
    Part of what fascinated me about anime were the myriad of positive references to German culture, which provided a striking contrast to the Hollywood movies I had grown up with where German culture was always either completely ignored or outright denigrated.
    Nowadays I don’t own a TV and I can’t stomach more than about one Hollywood movie per year, because most of them are so full of infuriating anti-white messages. My girlfriend recently got me back into anime though, and I don’t mind watching it at all, as it is refreshingly devoid of (((their))) propaganda.

    I’m hard-pressed to actually recommend anything, though. It’s just light-hearted escapist entertainment to me. I guess my favorite anime is Neon Genesis Evangelion, but I first watched it when I was maybe 15 and I don’t think the show really “works” when you don’t watch it as an angsty teenager.
    And then of course there’s Angel Cop, which is about how a certain middle-eastern tribe is trying to take over Japan using Communists as their pawns and America as their power base (although you wouldn’t know any of that if you watched the heavily censored official North American release).

    Most English dubs are generally horrible. Turn on the subtitles. (German dubs are hit and miss; the Mexican anime dubs I’ve seen were excellent).
    The voice acting is actually a huge part of what I like about anime. I can even think of a few shows that I liked better before I understood much Japanese, whereas now the beautiful atmosphere created by the voice acting, music and visuals is ruined by the cheesy dialogue and stupid plot.

    Choppy animation directed on a shoe string budget is something you’ll encounter in almost every anime. When they do have a bit more money to blow, Japanese animators will usually opt to increase visual detail rather than going for more fluid animation (see e.g. Kara no Kyoukai)

  10. Eric
    Posted August 15, 2017 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Trevor Lynch,
    I enjoy reading your review of the movie Princess Mononoke. This review is insightful, well written and you clearly understand the central themes in the movie.

    Another animation that will interest you is Ghost in the Shell based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow. The movie was released in 1995 to critical acclaim. This movie was an influence to the American filmmakers The Wachowskis, creators of The Matrix and its sequels. The links below provide more information.

    Link#1-Wikipedia’s web page about the movie

    Link#2-The official 1995 trailer about the movie.

    Link#3-The movie is available for purchase at Amazon.

    Link#4-The famous rooftop drop scene in the beginning of the movie.

    Link#5-The American film critics Gene Siskel’s and Roger Ebert’s review of the movie. They both give it a thumbs up.

  11. Riki
    Posted August 16, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    You are spot-on, Mr. Lynch, in your concise and trenchant dissection of the vacuous, vapid, fatuous and moral confused core of this movie! Though being renowned and talented admittedly, and widely acclaimed and lauded not only in the mainstream post-War Japanese society but also worldwide via Jew-controlled and manipulated mainstream news and entertainment media, including being crowned by Hollywood as the only director of cartoon movies enshrined in its hall of the fame, the author of this particular cartoon movie Mononoke Hime, Hayao Miyazaki, born in 1941, was a leftist and Marxist in his youthful days (during the height of the Marxist ideology that erupted and nearly engulfed Japan in 1960s and early 70s, similar to the situation in the West) and has likely remained under the spell of the Marxist and liberal influences to this date.

    Mr. Miyazaki is admittedly the most prominent and accomplished anime director of Japan today, but in the Japanese nationalist and patriotic circles, he really does not enjoy a good reputation and has been repeatedly criticized, exposed, disparaged and refuted. The only saddening thing is that the post-War Japanese society is largely dominated by mainstream artists, scholars and celebrities like Hayao Miyazaki and his like-minded adulators with similar ideologies and taste, while those questioning and disputing him remain on the edge of the society, thanks to the prevalent, pervasive and permeating Jewish-Marxist values and the enormous clout wielded by Jewish-Western elites and their Japanese proxies promoting relentlessly such spurious and iniquitous values for the last 70 plus years and ongoing.

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