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Miyazaki Hayao’s もののけ姫 [Mononoke Hime]

Mononoke Hime

もののけ姫 [Mononoke Hime]

もののけ姫 [Mononoke Hime], Japan 1997. Directed and screenplay by Miyazaki Hayao.

Bambi Theater 1, Row 1, Seat 6. Original version with German subs.

(This post originally appeared, in much shorter form, at my Instagram account betweendrafts.)

When I mentioned in my recent post on Akira that there are “many anime” out there I’m very passionate about, Mononoke Hime was among those I had in mind. Luckily, there was a rerun in a local movie theater last August of the original version with a German subtitle set.

I know this movie so well but still—or because of it—I have to cry most of the time, right from the start. “Transience/impermanence” is certainly a major motif, from the (implied) fate of the Emishi to Ashtaka and Yakkuru saying goodbye to their betrothed/partner, respectively, to the death of Moro, Okkoto, and eventually the Shishigami/Daidarabotchi. But there’s a second major motif, “renewal,” which applies to San and Ashtaka; regrowing nature and “new” Tataraba; and the Kodama and—in a way—the Shishigami.

On a side note, another thing that makes me cry all the time is Joe Hisaishi’s incredible music. Add to that, I haven’t been able to get Mononoke Hime’s main theme out of my head for more than a year now because there’s this one damn piece of Inazuma music from Genshin Impact—which is played more or less 24/7 in this household—that is just too reminiscent of it.

Then, the movie’s functional characters. (I wrote about functional characters quite exhaustively in my book Ludotronics.) Before I watched it again in the theater, I’d firmly settled on San as the protagonist who drives the story forward; Eboshi as the antagonist; and Ashtaka as the main character through whose eyes we experience the story. But things aren’t that simple, it turns out—Ashtaka does a lot more to drive the plot forward than I remembered. Also, he’s what can be called equidistant to San and Eboshi—to whose roles I’ll come in a minute—all the time, and he continuously tries to get both parties to sit down and listen to each other.

One of the things that fascinate me with regard to Miyazaki Hayao’s scripts is that the conflicts between his protagonists and antagonists are not driven “Hollywood Style” by the former being good and the latter being bad, but “Greek Tragedy Style” by irreconcilable ideas and intentions. Sure, San wants to protect nature that Eboshi destroys. But Eboshi fiercely protects her people and the habitat she has built for them, while San is cheerily of the “if it looks human, kill them” kind. Both are ruthless in their own personal ways for their opposed convictions and intentions. And in the end, a kind of mutual, if fragile, understanding begins to emerge. This kind of conflict even holds true in Myazaki’s scripts that are based on Western fiction, like ハウルの動く城 [Howl’s Moving Castle].

All this you rarely find in Hollywood-style conflicts, but regularly in Greek Tragedy-style conflicts. In the course of the latter, however, any mutual understanding usually emerges too late and everybody is killed off, with Antigone as a stock example. (It should be added that, because we tend to see every conflict through our Hollywood-style lens, a lot of nonsense has been written about both Eboshi and Creon.)

Just like 阿基拉 [AKIRA], this theatrical copy came with a German subtitle set I wasn’t familiar with; but this time, there was nothing to complain about, and it did a very decent job.

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