By Yumi Gohda.
The world is filled with various kinds of struggles. Humans’ culture and nature, person and person, several emotions in our own, and life and death are all antagonisms. Each individual has a claim, justice and an opinion. All of them are intertwined intricately. We cannot avert from the fact that these relations set up conflicts naturally. How should we grasp and overcome this situation? One Japanese amine film can perhaps give us an answer.
The Ghibli film, Princess Mononoke (1997) has one important theme throughout this film, which is nature. The forest set in this film is Yakushima, where over 2000 years old Japanese cedars still exist. Namely, they know what the earth had been like before humans today was born. On the other hand, humans’ society is depicted by focusing on Japanese aboriginal people called Emishi, people living in Irontown and lepers, which means minority groups are attracted attention. The story follows the prince called Ashitaka. He struggles with his feelings whether he should support gods in nature or humans. He eventually doesn’t choose to support either one, rather, he tries to support both. I think his neutrality has an important meaning for us. In the end, through some conflicts, both nature and humans’ society rebuild their own lifestyle.
Japanese people have the spirit which myriads of gods exist in everything and everywhere in Japan. Not only animals but also inorganic things have their own minds. Nature has been recognized as the existence we are awed and cannot handle. Hence, the ancient Japanese people coexisted very naturally with nature. The film takes place in the Muromachi period, when civil wars broke out frequently, which reproduces the disorder of this era. This means that the transition from a peaceful era governed by coexistence era to anthropocentric era occurred around this time. Deforestation and inventing new weapons emerge as time goes by. Humans started controlling nature, before long the balance between humans and nature crumbled. Humans has extended their own civilization as they desired. In this film, nature and gods that exist there show their anger and hate towards humans’ selfish lifestyle. Sages in the forest said “Every time we have planted trees, humans pulled them. They never come back to this forest. We hate humans. We want to kill them.” This line makes me realize that nature in real world indignant as well, even though the earth never utter its voice.
In the last part of this film, some humans decide to fight against nature by means of their force while others try to avoid fighting. In the same way, some animals attack humans while others don’t. To me, watching this scene, I understand we cannot categorize individuals as human, animal or nature. As such, nothing in the world can be described with the thought of thesis and antithesis.
Nature may tell what humans have to think about the most, which is that we find the synthesis. Shishigami in this film is god of life and death, which means his existence is described as neutrality. I think its existence expresses how humans’ culture and nature should coexist. That is, humans have to pay a great attention to every trivial change in nature around us. This is one of the ways to have a dialogue with nature. I, as a Japanese have naturecultural worldview and it is still deep-rooted in Japanese way of life and our soul. We have the aesthetic called Wabi-sabi which has greatly influenced in various fields from tea ceremony, poetry and theatre to their daily life. What makes our soul is respecting nature and coexisting with it. Only after spreading this worldview across the globe can humans find the synthesis. Until then, we have to keep living to converse with nature.
Haraway, Donna. The Companion Species Manifesto: dongs, people and significant otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003.