Exploring Environmental Relationships With Princess Mononoke

Understanding the human-environmental relationship is vital to addressing more fully some of the impacts we have on the ecosystem. This relationship, evolving carefully over millions of years, tells the story of all living beings on the earth. While a characteristic of life is resilience, life may be challenged more harshly in both the shorter and longer-term. An example of this may be an environmental/natural resource catastrophe sparked by either human or non-human causes. Life, although challenged, can spring back despite loss and rebuild a more positive future (or a not-so-positive-future). This perspective is exemplified in Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke.

In this film, environmental relationships are explored with some depth and, arguably, some pretty heavy symbolism. The gist is that the exploitation of natural resources creates a divide between humans, non-humans, and sometimes even other human populations that leave behind a trail of negative and misunderstood consequences. It is through appreciation, awareness, and knowledge of the environment that we are better able to understand how our interactions impact its processes. This film examines these aspects by presenting a few well-reasoned arguments for each of the positions represented in the story. Because I do not want to spoil the story for anyone who has yet to enjoy the film, I will be as general as I can but still try to convey some of the messages offered in Princess Mononoke.

Eboshi, who is the primary exploiter of natural resources, mines the forests and mountains for iron to make weapons. While seeing the old ways as obstacles to progress, she provides a service to others by employing those seen as undesirable (lepers, former brothel workers) and giving them shelter. The non-human animals are seen as gods who protect the earth and various natural resources, but exploitation means an all-out war between humans and the gods. After being shot with these new weapons - guns - the gods turn into demons who, blinded by their rage, destroy all things in their path until they finally die. Ashitaka, a prince from a small village to the east, sets out to discover the story behind these emerging issues. On his journey he crosses paths with San, a human raised by the wolf god Moro, who fights with the wolf clan and other non-human animal tribes against humans destroying their homes. The diverse dynamics of this story show some of the complications we face as an advanced, intelligent species.

Miyazaki does a fine job teaching about the concepts of conservation and preservation in Princess Mononoke. Bad things happen when we do not honor the relationship we share with the natural environment. Although it has become easier for us, as humans, to feel disconnected from the natural environment, we retain these connections nevertheless. These connections may appear differently to each of us, depending on our interests, professions, and experiences, but ultimately satisfies this innate need to be part of the ecosystem in a meaningful way. We may do this through recreational (camping, hiking, hunting) and/or cultural (spiritual, religious) means, to name two larger and sometimes overlapping activities, but we do it. The relationship we have with the environment manifests itself in different ways to different people. That is not an excuse for reckless and irresponsible behavior, but it is an acknowledgement of the vast diversity and thought that enriches human populations around the world. Maybe that is another component of what makes human life resiliently maintain environmental relationships.