When I was young, I used to go to the library and rent DVD’s to watch at home. I forget why I chose it, but one day I hurried back with my first Studio Ghibli film in my arms: My Neighbor Totoro. As soon as I got home, I settled on the couch and started the movie. That was when I fell in love with Studio Ghibli. The art style, the music, the story—it all mixed beautifully under the direction of Hayao Miyazaki. What would really hook me on Studio Ghibli movies is how they often incorporated deeper meanings through their visual storytelling.
From pacification to women’s roles, many of these meanings remain significant to us in our culture today. One of these themes we often push aside that shines in Princess Mononoke is the importance of other people’s lives. We live with such a great emphasis on finding our own dreams and defining ourselves that the value of our own lives rise above the rest. It’s easy to grow selfish and self-centered even though Christ calls us to place others before ourselves and to love the people created in his image. This movie reminds us of the goodness and beauty of defending and lifting up others.
As Princess Mononoke, Ashitaka, the prince of a dying tribe, spies out a disturbance, a demon which soon attack his village. Ashitaka launches into battle to protect his loved ones, and the monster injures him, leaving a strange mark on his arm. As its life bleeds away, the demon reveals itself to be a boar god driven mad with hatred. It curses Ashitaka and then dies, leaving behind the source of its suffering: a ball of iron. The curse strengthens Ashitaka physically, but threatens to take his life once it finishes spreading throughout his body. He is told that a cure may exist where the iron ball that caused the boar god so much pain originated. However, if he goes on this quest, Ashitaka will be considered dead by his tribe and will never be allowed to return.
Ashitaka leaves his people and travels across the war-torn land until he happens upon a smelting structure / village called Irontown, where he hopes to find a cure for himself. There he finds a town bustling with workers as they profit off of the ore in the mountains. However, Irontown is constantly threatened by other armies hoping to profit off of the ore as well. Lady Eboshi, the head of the town, welcomes him into their communal, busy lifestyle. It doesn’t take him long to find that another conflict rages throughout the town—a trio of wolf spirits and the girl they adopted, San, are attacking the village in hopes of killing Eboshi and restoring the forest area that she destroyed.
Many characters take advantage of this tension, putting their lives at stake for their own selfish gain: Jigo, the monk Ashitaka meets while traveling to Irontown, wants to kill a god for profit; Lady Eboshi is willing to sacrifice soldiers in battle for her own gain; San is driven to slaughter any human for the sake of the forest; and the forest’s host of spirits impatiently seek revenge against the humans. In their eyes, the death of a few is worth the greater gain.
Ashitaka, in great contrast, willingly puts himself in danger to help whomever he can. Throughout the film, he performs many feats, such as driving the boar away from the village and carrying injured and abandoned ox drivers to Irontown. He even strives to protect both San and Lady Eboshi instead of favoring one of the enemies over the other. Ashitaka pushes on through, an immovable force against the lure of money or revenge. He strives for peace and love amongst the people and spirits, and does whatever he can to end the terrible slaughter around him.
What he does is something I always struggle with in my own life. Going out of my way and helping people I don’t know has always been hard for me. I don’t know how they’ll react and wonder what they’ll think of me. I’m not good with keeping up in conversations and constantly worry that I’m acting weird. So I avoid situations that I don’t want to be in, even if it makes others uncomfortable, even though it sometimes means I’m being selfish. After watching Princess Mononoke, it helped me realize how I can be sometimes and led me to remember that God didn’t just create me; he created everyone else as well so that we may love and glorify him. It reminded me that, just as Christ’s love was for the sinners of the world, so should be mine.
Life is what God gave to all of us. It’s a gift that he protected when he sent his son to die for us, so that we can avoid living in eternal separation from him and instead enjoy his presence forever. I should try our best to pursue others. Yes, there will be times when I’m busy, but it should not be so common for me to treat other lives lesser than my own. This is what made Ashitaka such a great character in Princess Mononoke—no matter what situation came, he was kind and quick to protect others. Even if it was painful and inconvenient for him to help, he did so because he loved those he met and wanted to help them get on the right path, a way of living that’s reminiscent of our Savior’s, a way that more and more, I hope I imitate with the way I live.