Now for another of my occasional series on how to get your kids into communism using cartoons (see part 1 for my spurious justifications for such actions).
Princess Mononoke (Studio Ghibli, 1997)
What its about:
Princess Mononoke is a modern legend about man’s relationship with the environment as told by one of the greatest story tellers of the age. Basically, in the middle of the 20th century
went from a fairly agrarian / semi feudalistic society to a fully
industrialised advanced capitalist economy in an incredibly short space of
time. They went from a green country
side still full of the gods and spirits of the Shinto religion to
miles of sprawling suburbs and industrial production zones practically over
night. The environmental pollution that
inevitably came with it meant that what had been almost unheard of as a problem
became a national crisis in a few short years as the Japanese saw their natural
environment ravaged by industrial development.
Also, because of the topography of the country a lot of land was too
mountainous to be built on, so quite close to the cities you have great
towering reminders of everything that was lost.
One of the ways that this has impacted on Japans arts and culture is that environmental considerations have never been far from the imagination of its creative community. In
Ireland we used
to say that the Banshee had been driven from the countryside by the electric
lighting. In Japan where this process was much
quicker and they still had a much more direct relationship with the gods and
spirits of the land it must have seemed like man kind was at war with the
spirits. Princess Mononoke is a story
about that war and a parable for modern times about its implications.
Why Its Good:
For starters, the animation is absolutely beautiful. The colour and detail shine out from every frame, the character design is exquisite and the backgrounds are just as detailed as the foreground. At the very beginning of the film before anything really happens we see the main character riding his Elk through a wood in the shade of some branches and the way the light is picked out and moves is amazing. It’s not just at the level of Disney but actually better than anything ever produced in the west. The plot is well structured and although the characters are essentially mythic archetypes they still feel real and are capable of inspiring real emotion. Although it doesn’t speak in the entire film, the Elk thing the main character rides has more soul in one of his antlers than all the characters in all the Disney animations in the last 20 years put together. It is an adventure film and more than satisfies on that level, but it completely runs the gamut of emotions, there is a very touching love story in it and it has moments of genuine horror as well.
What the young ’uns will hopefully take from it:
Well, they should certainly take from it a more balanced and nuanced idea of man kinds position in with regards to the environment than they would from watching Walt Disney’s Bambi or such other schlock with its trite black and white morality or even James Cameron’s Avatar. It contrasts nature and the natural environment with all its violent and brutal inhumanity and the inevitable forces of civilisation and industry, which are depicted as progressive as well as destructive and motivated by human greed. Most of all, the message of the film is that hatred and anger are the most destructive forces of all, you can draw on your pit of rage for strength but you never let it consume you. This is a small lesson that we could all do well to learn, even (indeed especially) those of us on the revolutionary left.