One of Miyazaki’s hallmarks is to feature heroines as protagonists. There are a few exceptions, though—namely Porco (Porco Rosso), Jiro (The Wind Rises), and Ashitaka (Princess Mononoke), but even the latter is overshadowed by the pair of women with central roles in Princess Mononoke who are considerably more complex and interesting as characters. Still, Ashitaka is among my favorites, for reasons similar to the other two I mentioned, who in the complicated world of rising fascism presented in those films stand as characters with strong morals and high character. Ashitaka takes his place among them as a human in ancient Japan caught in the divide between gods / nature and humans / progress, but expressing ideals that don’t fall on either side or in-between, simply committing to what’s right.
As such, Ashitaka also provides a nice model for what it means to be a believer; there’s a genuineness there that must mark Christians in their character. As an aside, some of those same characteristics mark Porco as well. While visibly a pig, Porco is at heart more human than individuals around him who are succumbing to evil. The 1930s and 40s were a dark time in Europe as thought drifting toward violence and hatred, and governments to fascism. Porco is a flawed individual—his outward appearance matches some of his personality—but he is willing to leap into danger to help others, and obstinately and emphatically refuses to support the tide toward evil.
"Better a pig than a fascist." – Porco Rosso
— Studio Ghibli (@GhibliQuotes) January 31, 2017
What’s always fascinated me about the time frame is how people fell into line, either as bystanders or vocal supporters of fascist parties. Even more troubling is the record of support given to many of movements by churches and church leadership. In Porco Rosso, even a “pig” understands what’s right and wrong; in the real world, the hands and feet of God did not. Well, many did not—the historical record is also full of accounts of those that resisted, most famously Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was executed for it. In a time of great evils and violence, the faithful were forced to question their beliefs: Do I really believe what claim to believe?
That question is not only important in turbulent times—if we adhere to scripture, it’s a question important to us all, as is an accompanying one: Am I really a Christian? The route to becoming one is explained in scripture, but so many are unsure of their salvation. I questioned mine, too, in various moments of fear through the years, later eventually understanding that the answer, as it is with everything, is shown through what one does. If the Holy Spirit is in you, you’ll be transformed inside and out. The Spirit will cultivate fruit, and your soul will cry out to do what’s right.
Ashitaka provides a good model of authenticity and adhering fully to what one believes. And he’s an evangelist of sorts—not the kind who demands his congregation fund a new herd of red elk for him to ride, but one who spreads the gospel of peace no matter what the cost and through any way he can, by being strong and physical, as when he subdues both San and Eboshi, and by being gentle, as when he first speaks to the wolf princess.
Ashitaka is filled with a spirit of peace and it impacts all he does and how he thinks. Notice how Ashitaka journeys—he is methodical in every step, in every word. He will not succumb to fear or hatred. We’re not privy to his mind, but his words are the closest thing to that, and they are words of peace, understanding, and openness in a world where all the major players he encounters do not exhibit those qualities. Likewise, our minds and hearts are filled with the things of the Holy Spirit—a sign of salvation is that we desire the things of Christ. We may struggle to live them out, but they are firmly planted in our minds. Like Ashitaka seeking peace, we seek to bring the message of salvation to the world—this is our desire, whereas before we came to know Christ, our primary desire was ourselves.
The other evidence of salvation is how the Holy Spirit works through us to produce action, which can be exhibited by the Fruits of the Spirit. I once detailed further how Ashitaka demonstrates one of these fruits, peace. In his life, he also shows many others in accordance to what he believes, but for believers, the fruits are laid clear in the Bible. We will never perfect them, but our lives will move toward them. If the Holy Spirit is in us, and we desire to obey Christ, the work will happen which leads us to exhibit these fruits. Whether in giant gallops or by slow, sure footing, we’ll go along the path to doing what the Spirit desires us to do.
These days, I’m not concerned anymore about the state of my salvation. While I’m not as faithful as Ashitaka in walking my path—another win for anime in challenging me how to live properly—I know that my mind is right—it is filled with the Spirit and desires the things of the Spirit, where once it did not; and I know my actions show the authenticity of my salvation experience, as the Holy Spirit is transforming me more and more to display these fruits, to break the sinful habits and terrible choices I too often make. My journey is long, broken, and every day full of missteps, but the end is clear, and maybe ultimately that’s how I’m most like Ashitaka—one now able to see with eyes unclouded.
Princess Mononoke is available for purchase on Amazon.