Trevor invited me to contribute to the blog, so I thought I’d just write about some meaningful experiences I’ve had with some films...
Miyazaki has so many valuable things to offer on issues of war, gender, the environment, and spirituality, and I think its especially important that he’s offering these insights to specifically to children. Let me just a couple of spiritual lessons that Princess Mononoke is helping me learn.
I love that our protagonist, Ashitaka, is engaged in moral struggle in which he must navigate two warring ideological opposites. I was kind of disappointed the other day when I looked at AFI’s top ten animated films list and saw that Disney held every place. Not that Disney isn’t great (Finding Nemo and Dumbo are pretty stellar), but I think that the standard formula for children’s melodrama—employed almost without exception by Disney—is to pit hero against villain…period. In Mononoke, Ashitaka (and the viewer) sympathizes with both Sen’s primitive spiritualism and Lady Eboshi’s Enlightened secularism. And this is a conflict that is not unfamiliar to us (in the Old Testament, current ideological battles between left and right, and even the “war on terror”). Eboshi seeks to end the reign of the gods, but she also plants gardens, cares for the leprous and releases prostitutes from their bondage. The forest gods are noble, spiritual beings, but can be violent and overzealous—boars blindly charging into battle.
I think that if we’re ever to resolve the real-world conflicts to which the film alludes, we’ll need to adopt an Ashitaka-ish perspective. He starts his quest just to rid himself of the demon that’s slowly killing him (created by Eboshi’s attack on the gods), but his motivations become more selfless as he seeks to mediate between the warring groups. Our own spiritual well-being may, rightly, be our first priority, but I think that engaging in these moral battles—with both sympathy for and a healthy skepticism of both perspectives—may be a key to greater spiritual growth.