Princess Mononoke: Ashitaka and the Fruit of Peace

平和. 평화. שלום.

Heiwa. Pyonghwa. Shalom.

Peace is a beautiful word, but an agonizing one as well. It’s something we desire, something we feel should be, but like Mayuri Shiina reaching up toward the sky, it’s impossibly out of reach. World peace is a dream. Inner peace may be, too, but that doesn’t stop many of the world religions from making this a (or the) focus of their faiths.

However, peace doesn’t instantly come to mind when thinking of some religions. Islam carries the weight of a violent connotation associated with its religion. I’m reading a book (when I say reading, I mean I’ve read about a chapter a year for the last 7 years) about how Islam is really a peaceful religion; the fact that such books even have to be written tells us something about how nonbelievers feel. The same can be said of Christianity, which has been forever stained with violent events like the Crusades and the Inquisition.

Nonetheless, the actions of people in the name of religion often tell us more about them and their society than about their faith. And in that vein, I’m here to say that in a significant way, Christianity is all about peace – within ourselves, with other people, and most of all (and all trickling downward from), peace with God.

When I think about peace in terms of anime, one character rises in my mind above all – Ashitaka, the noble prince from Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Princess Mononoke. In his journey, Ashitaka makes peace in each of the three ways mentioned above.  Hit the jump to read more about the third fruit in our “Fruits of the Spirit” series: peace.

Ashitaka's calm exterior hid inner pains (Art by レンキ@ついった)

Peace with God

There are many gods in the world of Princess Mononoke, but we’re concerned with just one, the forest spirit, whose providence is life and death. As Ashitaka’s journey to seek a cure to the curse given him by the demonic board god begin, he finds out about the forest spirit from two-sided Jito.  Ashitaka wants the spirit to heal him; however, the spirit is unconcerned with man’s wants – it’s concerns are much higher. The cursed Ashitaka approaches the forest spirit full of anger and having killed others on his way to his goal.  But the forest spirit is concerned with life – the two represent opposite sides.

Ashitaka is the forest spirit’s enemy.

However, in a very short time, Ashitaka is transformed, as he chooses the way of life over death, demonstrated when he stops San and Eboshi from killing one another and later begs San to choose “life,” even as he lay dying.  Ashitaka has now changed sides.

The Bible is clear that before we come to know Christ, we are God’s enemies (Romans 5:10). Our curse (sin) puts as at odds with Christ and our wants don’t usually align with His.  To “accept” Christ means to surrender.  We, as His enemy, completely surrender to the general’s (Jesus) terms of peace.  We agree to give everything up and live in the way He asks us to.  In return, we are given peace.  No longer are we at war – we are now accepted as citizens in Christ’s kingdom and can enjoy all that entails.  The most important perk is the same as the one the forest god offers – life.

Ashitaka, San, and Forest Spirit
Surrender comes when you can't right anymore (Art by うめけい)

It’s also important to note that Ashitaka is not perfected yet.  As his bullet wound is healed at their first meeting, so are ours; but Ashitaka’s curse is not taken away at that time – he still must grow, as Christians must after accepting God’s grace.

Peace with Ourselves

Even though Ashitaka is generally on even keel, neither getting too happy or too angry in any situation, he is still seeking peace within.  Inside him, the curse of the boar god, which touches him at the beginning of the film (in one of the great opening sequences in anime history), is driving him toward death, and in various moments throughout the film, the almost stoic Ashitaka blows up in frustration.

Physically, we see signs of the struggle with oneself, as when Ashitaka’s arm spasms uncontrollably upon first seeing the forest spirit.  This is reminiscent of New Testament demons that react violently and fearfully upon encountering Christ.

Ashitaka curse
The curse tore Ashitaka apart inside and out (Art by emi)

And as I mentioned, while Ashitaka generally has a calm demeanor, there are signs that inside, he is being torn apart. Besides the unmistakable proclamation that his soul will first be torn apart before his body, Ashitaka also visibly expresses frustration.  Jito sees this at their initial meeting, addressing the pains of life in his speech at the destroyed village.

Eventually, Ashitaka finds inner peace when doing the right thing for the forest spirit.  He no longer cares about his curse at this point – he cares more about the spirit’s life-affirming purpose.  And without looking to be cured, he is given freedom and peace.

As with the film, finding peace with God leads to finding peace with oneself.

Peace with Others

A major theme of Princess Mononoke has to do with finding peace among people and other living creatures.  At one point, Ashitaka tells Lady Eboshi that he wants to “see with eyes unclouded by hate,” but when he tells her that, he hasn’t yet achieved that state.

In moments just previous, his arm spasms again as he burns with hatred against Lady Eboshi thinking about the boar god’s death.  Ashitaka’s  hair rises as he chastises Eboshi, declaring, “If it would lift the curse, I would let it tear you apart.”

But as Ashitaka moves more and more toward finding peace with the forest spirit, he does the same with all those around him, including Lady Eboshi.  Likewise, San and Eboshi achieve peace with each other through Ashitaka.  Though San says she can’t forgive Eboshi, she at least heads down that path, helping her enemy escape the poisonous globules of the forest spirit because of Ashitaka’s actions.  This scene occurs after Ashitaka has achieved peace with the forest spirit.

The application is clear – when we find peace with God, we can forgive and love others, finding peace with them.  And this love can move others to find peace as well.

Your peace can affect others (Art by 茶ちえ(ちゃっつー))

The irony of this essay is that it’s about peace when Princess Mononoke is easily Hayao Miyazaki’s most violent and disturbing film.  But then again, perhaps that’s not so strange after all.  If the difficulties we endure within ourselves, with others, and with God manifested themselves in animation, we might, too, see bloody battles, limbs and heads dismembered, and wormlike demons.  Peace is powerful because it is the calm for these horrible storms.  You often can’t avoid these storms, but you can meet them with confidence knowing there is peace – and He is Jesus.

Please return every Wednesday for the next several weeks as we detail another character that embodies one of the Spirit Fruits.  In addition to Ashitaka and peace, I discussed Sasami Jurai and joy last week and R86 began the series the week before, writing about Honda Tohru and love.


4 thoughts on “Princess Mononoke: Ashitaka and the Fruit of Peace

  1. To be a bit off topic, because I am an amateur Historian, the idea that Christianity has been forever stained by the crusades and inquisition is a bit of a cobbler. Sure, you constantly have them thrown up as evidence of how rotten Christianity is, but very few people seem to even know exactly what they were. For instance, I’ve heard people say that the crusades were fought to purge Europe of Paganism, which is of course absurd. I’ve even had people tell me the Inquisition was about Paganism. It seems to me that all too often people condemn them without actually understanding them. OF course most seem to know that the crusades were an effort to retake the Holy land, and most seem to understand the Inquisition as a Church Court, but many Historical myths abound about these episodes and much of the common knowledge is really nothing more than an Emotionally based reaction to a dreamlike story about evil Christians killing peaceful other people in their lands or suppressing knowledge and free thought.

    However, neither the Crusades nor the Inquisition really deserve the disdain they automatically generate, fort hey weren’t really what people invasion when the words are mentioned, and the imaged conjured of invading armies of merciless Knights trying to spread Christianity by the Sword, or black robed inquisitors sentencing people to death for daring to think for themselves is actually not the truth.

    The Crusaders, for instance, were mainly interested in fighting a defensive rather than offensive War, with the First Crusade being called to defend the Eastern Roman Empire from invasion. At this point in History, 2/3rds of Christendom had already been conquered by Muslim forces, a fact few seem to realise. Even the Holy land had once already been Christian, and was forcibly taken by Muslims. Somehow, we ignore that and act as if the Christian armies just went down south and killed Muslims in their own land for no reason at all. But by the Time they had begin to fight the Crusade to defend Constantinople, there was a very real threat that it too would be conquered, like Northern Africa, and from there the rest of Europe may well fall.

    Also, the Ottomans, who had actually Seized power from a more peaceful Muslim ruler, had begun to abuse Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. As this is not today’s world the ides of a Modern nation State did not exist. To the Medieval Christians, Christianity was not some personal choice but also a group affiliation, and the ottomans were abusing their people.

    It should also be noted that the Crusader Kingdoms were not inhumane. In fact, Muslims and Jews both fared far better in the Kingdom of Jerusalem under the Christian Knights and Kings than the Jews and Christians had faired under Ottoman Rule. They had more freedom and were left basically Alone. Contrary to popular conceptions, the Knights did not go about killing any Muslim they saw, they really restricted combat to the professional armies or else anyone who picked up a weapon to attack them. They also did not come to force anyone to convert, and never threatened to kill anyone who refused to.

    Of course I am not trying to whitewash the crusades completely, and there were events in the 800 years of Crusades that were less than noble, or even actually atrocious, but atrocities were not the norm and certainly don’t define the Crusades as a whole.

    Then we can look at the inquisition, which was actually in its own day seen as a more fair and just court with a higher standard of evidence and a much higher acquittal rate than the Secular Courts. The inquisition was more reasonable, and more just and often people preferred to be sat before the Inquisition than the Secular Courts.

    The Inquisition was also less bloody, often recommending much, much lighter sentences. We imagine torture and execution as the routine, but they were actually used quiet sparingly.

    It should also be noted that even if the image of these things we constantly hear about were true, it couldn’t possibly stain Christianity as a whole as only the Roman Catholic Church was involved. Why should protestant Churches feel guilt or shame at them when the leaders of them often denounced everything catholic and claimed they separated from them based upon abuse and oppression the Catholic Church was guilty of? Worse still, why would the Eastern Orthodox be blamed? The orthodox Church existed at the Time the Crusades were Fought and at the Time the inquisition began, but the Orthodox never had an inquisitional Court and never Fought the Crusades, and at one point were victims of a Crusader Army when it sacked Constantinople in 1203/1204 AD. Even if we just accept that the Crusades were a horrible evil, why should Orthodox Christians hang their heads low in shame over them when they never participated in them and were victims at one point of it?

    I’ve never liked the use of the Crusades and Inquisition arguments, and the more History I learned the less I could be convinced of the Bloody History of it all.

    1. ZAR, thanks for the lengthy response. I really enjoyed reading it. It’s also good to connect with another historian. I was actually a professional historian for five years, up until just recently, and a history teacher before that. Though most of my courses were in European history, my field of work was not, so I’ll educating on the topic wherever I can.

      Two things I’d like to address – First, I agree that there’s more the Crusades than many think, though I personally don’t have the misconceptions you mentioned. My problem is that Christians used God in their own earthly goals, which often included politics and violence. For instance, the Crusades were blessed by the church – I hardly remember Jesus teaching his disciples to fight wars; His teachings, instead, focused more of love and in fact stayed away from zealot activity and other violence.

      The early church made revolution by doing EXACTLY what Jesus preached – they lived by loving and caused others to convert by these actions. In the millennium after Constantine, the church had become THE power. The armies were united by religion and marched under the blessing of the church. The church was at war physically with force, instead of spiritually with the sword of truth. Atrocities were bound to occur, as they do in war – but they should never have happened in the first place.

      Secondly, you bring up a good point about the “stain” I mentioned on Christianity. The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter whether the “stain” is fair or not. After all, it doesn’t seem rational to blame today’s Catholic Church for something that occurred 800 years ago, much less the Orthodox/Coptic or Protestant Churches. Nonetheless, Christians – whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, carry this burden – ask nonbelievers about the church, and many will bring up the Crusades and the Inquisition. That said, I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to talk about sin, the imperfection of people, God’s love for humanity, and the difference between holiness and impurity – which of course necessitates grace.

  2. “We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God”– Thomas Merton It’s amazing the sense of peace this movie does produce at the very end when he’s cleansed of his curse and the land is once again covered in green grass. Even the smallest reflections of restoration produces a sigh of longing for eternity…

    1. Wonderful quote – if I had known it, i would’ve used it in the piece!

      And you’re right about the conclusion of the story. In restoration, there is peace, and it’s demonstrated well in the pastoral ending which is at such odds with the entire rest of the film, which from the beginning is disturbing and shows a world that is out of whack.

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