(Princess Mononoke spoilers)
A movie that most certainly made my top 5 anime list, shows great depth in understanding the nature of life and death, and overall existing. Many will say that it’s a story about love. Others might claim that it’s about Japanese culture, or understanding of nature–human relationship. Lastly, it might be an adventure story about a quest. It is. It is all that, but none of that truly matters.
The upcoming analysis is an explanation of one small detail of basic life principals: one does not negotiate with the fools. The story starts with the attaching demon. The home-village of Ashitaka and its elders come to the demon and try to calm it down, make peace with it.
“Disgusting humans. You’ll all know my rage.” — the demon replies.
And this is just the first example of the wrong behavior, that leads straight to disaster. The elders then have to mourn the last lord in their generation has to travel to the cure and then die.
But it is all just bad luck, isn’t it? Completely wrong. What the elder woman shows here is an old ideology, passed from generation to generation. A traditional behavior almost burned deep into the souls of Ashitaka’s family. Negotiating with fools.
And we see the results of that strategy. What comes off as a simple misfortune, we’re being told that each generation in Ashitaka’s family becomes weaker and weaker in both body and soul. That they’ve lost favor in Emperor’s eyes and he destroyed them, somewhere along the way. That now the last one in the family also got killed (in future tense) by some random demon.
What an unlucky family, one might say, feeling pity. But nay, sirs and ladies, since luck is a character trait and therefore shows the downgrading of a family as a result of a certainly made decisions.
A question arises: since a loss after a loss falls onto the family, isn’t it the time to reflect on the difference between the lucky families and those of misfortunes?
One of the elders makes a conclusion, hearing that Ashitaka has to leave them forever: “After the Emperor destroyed us, our generations have been growing weaker and weaker. And now our last prince has to leave us and never return? Sometimes I feel like the gods are laughing at us.”
According to the demon’s words, they have no real “relationship” with humans. He is an animal, filled with rage that became a demon only seeking destruction. Later in the universe, we see that “gods” also have very little interest in human species. Yes, everyone gets healed for returning the head they stole, but that’s about it. Ashitaka, being taught by the elder, comes to the forest spirit to ask for his life.
He wakes up and makes an interesting conclusion: “He healed the wound but left the curse.”
After that, there is nothing left to do. That’s literally all the elders have taught him. Bow your head to both gods and demons so they have mercy and if they don’t — give up and die.
But let’s go back to the “laughing gods”. So, instead of reflecting on their mistakes, this elder man — a man of deep age, prefers to blame the gods who are laughing at this particular family. As if they were diligently bowing down, but for some reason “the gods” decided to laugh at that. What despicable creatures they must be. On the other hand, when other families also bow their heads to the gods, nothing bad happens to them. So an elder-man lives in self-deception, and so does the elder-woman who is a fortune-teller and the rest of the family. Ashitaka is born to a family with traditions of the hardened losers, who love to lose, love to mourn, love to blame others.
“Luck is a character trait.”
A different situation we see in the Iron-Village, where the mistress doesn’t rely on “god’s mercy”, but rather prefers to take actions. We see this woman making an amazing village from ashes — picking up worthless-to-others man and women, teaching them, building and inventing with them. She takes war with another lord with ease, who wants her iron. She took an order from an emperor to bring the head of a forest god. She fulfills it as well.
After losing, she doesn’t talk about “laughing gods”, but rather about building an even better village from scratch. It’s obvious that she’ll succeed. When facing trouble, might that be boars, demons, other lords, or gods, she taken an action, loses or wins, and reflects on a new experience. We can easily predict that she won’t go against the forest-spirit anymore, knowing what disaster it causes. She’ll also learn not to trust outside groups with emperor orders too much. We see a person who doesn’t have to negotiate her way out because she is strong enough to fight her way out.
As a result, she doesn’t have to mourn about her or her villagers’ life either.
Now, I don’t intend to set her as an example, she has her fair share of trouble. Yet, this is the world Ashitaka must-see. A fortune teller says: “go ask gods, if they refuse, you’ll die”. It doesn’t come true.
So if I’m being asked what the story’s about, I’d say it was about Ashitaka’s learning. Learning to NOT negotiate with the fools. But how that journey went is a totally different topic.