Princess Mononoke: A discovery of human nature

graphic by Chenxi Yan

Why are we, as people, addicted to certain things? I am talking here, about the certain kind of sadness; the specific emotion when you are listening to a familiar, favourite, song.

There must be a reason why such happiness and satisfaction about life should be cherished. But what is the function of this  spectrum of emotions, rather than just happiness and positive attitude? 

It is the curiosity at the core of human nature which drives emotional responses to art. We feel strong emotions about that which sparks this curiosity, that which makes us feel enlightened in the discovery of our humanity.

That which sends chills down our spine and sends adrenaline through our blood. That which makes our heart beat fast. Are these chills and stimuli the indicators that something about this art is meaningful for us to watch? The Japanese director, Miyazaki Hayao, experienced life and human nature in such depth that the movies he creates amplify these human traits. 

Watching the movie Princess Mononoke, I find my response to the movie comes from the combination of these complex emotions.

Such as the observed beauty of loneliness when Ashitaka is  enslaved in their suffering of the curse. Or witnessing the fundamental conflict between nature and unsatisfied human life, which creates the central war of the story. Or the protagonists’ heroism. Or the realization of the balancing mechanism of nature. Or the film’s portrayal of romantic love. 

This movie encompasses so many themes that target the cores of human nature. But why should you care? 

Understanding human nature gives insight into our own life. What do we want to be? What is our life supposed to be like?

It can allow us to understand ourselves as humankind. This is why I encourage people to watch Princess Mononoke and engage more broadly with Japanese cinema –  to widen their perspective on humanity. 

This is especially true in university, where the environment is designed to serve a single mission – to encourage learning by protecting the student from distractions. Outside campus, there are many complex social relationships that must be intertwined with real-world problems.

However, most of us prioritize our academics rather than other meaningful things. In my personal experience, university is calm and satisfying.

However, I still feel that something is missing, and that is this desire to discover humanity. 

What, then, is this movie expressing about human nature? To me, it illustrates the human situation in a specific heroism setting.

It provides answers to the anxieties of the modern world. Such as, what will people do with a fundamental conflict between nature and human survival?

In our world, the pollution of the environment and the natural world is only considered as human selfishness and greediness. Conversely, this movie shows a different perspective. Humanity functions in a way that destroys the balance of nature, like building weapons to kill animals, and creating pollution.

However, instead of focusing exclusively on guilt,  the movie shows the reason for it. 

To Miyazaki Hayao, humanity’s destructiveness is a product of a constant sense of conflict between mankind and nature. Ashitaka, the main character of this movie, helps to solve the conflict through a respect for nature.

His motivation comes from the realization of this embedded hatred. In the movie, he uses his courage and extraordinary strength to resolve the conflict between humans and nature.

This kind of heroism illustrates that humanity can be moved to solve the very problems that have become essential to our nature. 

 This movie shows us humanity’s potential whilst also giving us chills.

As students, we need to be reminded of this kind of power, and be motivated to utilize it in the face of our problems. This kind of art is not just trivial, but essential.

It teaches us to use courage to stand up for people who are being bullied, or to stand up for the environmental movement, with a sense of courage and an ability to make a change.