A studio ghibli film directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Critique by Heolruz / Translated by Maia Sefton
I would like to start this paper off by disclosing my thought process and why I chose to present this film. First of all nature is one of the leading themes,it is as if you were to take a paint brush and dip it in green paint, you would find the untouched, unexploited and immaculate forests and fields that are represented in this movie.But there is also the matter of the other colors and shades of green that are meant to represent a higher power that reigns over the world, a power that humanity cannot overrun or dictate. To be put shortly, this is meant to be the way the world works, nature is everything to which humanity cannot apply strict rules and regulations, nature is free, it is the product of the earth. Nature isn’t just a geographical area defined by legislations and environmental borders.It isn’t just a place devoid of human life and activity.
Nature can’t be influenced and it is not judged. It’s what’s left when you remove all the changes provoked by human activity.
Keeping in mind this principal/idea, I searched high and low for a cinematic piece that would be interesting enough to share with you and, I realized that a lot of the movies that broached the subject such as Into the wild, Out of Africa or (even if it’s very good)okja weren’t what I wanted to talk about. While I was searching I listened to quite a few broadcasts on the subject including a great broadcast on France Culture about Hayao Miyazaki’s animation films. That was the trigger. What better way to talk about nature than with an animated film. Contrary to traditional cinema there is a real affinity towards nature in animations, maybe because of the targeted audience, so I had a large choice between Pocahontas, Princess Mononoke or even Brother bear. I decided on the second, without hesitation since I listened to a fantastic broadcast and because I feel that it is by far the most interesting and complete to explore together.
Now where do we start? This film is produced by the Ghibli studios and has been broadcasted in cinemas since 1997, the director wanted to share his point of view of a very industrial dominated world. By the end of the 90’s Japan was one of the world leaders in technological advancements. The idea that the director had is shared by tradition and many other people, the idea is that there exists a connection between every individual and the earth. It’s also the idea that, after the second world war and the huge industrialization that followed, that there was some form of an ecological reaction that developed.
The movie is set in the XVth century, Ashitaka is a young man from a remote village with ancestral traditions, he is respected by all within his community. These traditions are what speak to the japanese public, I was specifically thinking of the scene where Ashitaka is forced to leave the village without being seen and he is not permitted to turn around or look back. There is a similar proceeding in The Ballad of Narayama by Shohei Imamur released in 1983. Ashitaka was poisoned by a sick/possessed boar so he must leave the village to find a cure. He must cross many different lands where he comes across villages, some home to crooks trying to make a bit of coin. Places and fields devastated by war, where even Ashitaka is forced to fight and kill, so he can continue his search for the god of the forest who is said to have thaumaturgic powers. What has the first passage tried to show us, well we have seen some of what is causing the people’s ailments and troubles, but there is also a complete rejection and very negative image of cities and towns, which go against, up until now, our only protagonists beliefs and way of life.
After his departure, Ashitaka meets an important character in the mountains, Miss Eboshi, a woman who leads an army as well as a forge, she is the leader of her community. This film is never thanked enough for the important roles given to all the female characters that are so well developed. Miss Eboshi is at the top of a whole work organisation that is divided into sections where everyone has their place. She built this place and united women that were thought to be inferior, lepers and quite a few indigineous people. The forge is at the heart of their new lives where everyone is considered equals since work at the forge is divided equally and one task is no more important than the others. So where is the problem?
Well there isn’t just one problem there are two, the first being the neighboring Lord who wants to get his hands on all of Miss Eboshi’s accomplishments, but he also craves immortality that can supposedly be found within the sacred forest. The second problem is Miss Eboshi’s work. Within her little community, her people are thriving, however on the outside nature and the forest are suffering. Ashitaka now has two enemies, and he decides to flee the forge when Miss Eboshi attempts to kill a wild girl, San, and her wolves.
When Ashitaka joins up with San, he learns that because of the deforestation of the magical forest to fuel the forge, the sacred animals have been cursed which pushes them to attack the nearby men and women. By perfecting her weapons and her army Miss Eboshi spreads the curse wherever she goes. We can see the moment Ashitaka realizes that a huge crisis is looming over the world since he knows, thanks to his experiences and his journey, that if the balance between the sacred forest, and human activity is broken, a great danger will be unleashed onto the world.
I will stop here so as to not spoil the whole cinematic art piece. We could linger on the many incredible friendships Hayao Miyazaki is able to build up in his movies but we have already gathered enough material on the subject of nature.
In summary you would need dozens of views to analyse all the ideas on nature and it’s preservation that are portrayed in this film. I didn’t talk about the role of the sylvains who are magical creatures that inform us whether the sacred forest is doing well, nor did I talk about San, who becomes a more prominent character in the second part of the film. The music used in the film is that of Joe Hisaishi and it allows us to really understand the aim of the film. I also never broached the subject of the mysticism bound to japanese films, but I don’t think I’m competent enough to touch on the subject.
To finish off there is a really good short film on the subject of nature called L’homme qui plantait des arbres it’s by Frederic Back and it dates back to 1987. It’s easy to find and I recommend you watch it, it retraces a touching story in less than thirty minutes with a really nice voice over.