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The Agendas

My dad, when he first looked at On Violence, asked me why Michael and I didn’t name it “On Evil.”

The reason is that evil may exist, but it is not simple or straightforward like many believe. Evil, if it exists at all, defies definition. Violence and conflict, though, are readily apperent.

Princess Mononoke, directed by Hiyao Miyazaki, illustrates the difficulty of defining Evil. As Roger Ebert writes, “It is not a simplistic tale of good vs. evil, but the story of how humans, forest animals and nature gods all fight for their share.” The main character, Ashitaka, states his motivation, the driving force of the film, “What I want is for humans and the forest to live in harmony.” Harmony vs. disharmony, chaos vs. order, is the real battle of the film.

There are no “good” characters in Princess Mononoke. Each straddles the line of good and evil. San--the eponymous Princess Mononoke--hates humans and kills ox drivers trying to earn a living for their families. But she does good by protecting the forest and saving Ashitaka's life. Lady Eboshi kill the boar god Nago and razing his forest. But she does so in hopes of finding a cure for the lepers she employs and to save women who work for her from lives of prostitution. Jiko seeks to kill a God, and destroy the forest, for the hope of eternal life; but, even he is kindhearted to Ashitaka at the beginning of the film.

One incident defines this duality. Princess Mononoke has come to kill Lady Eboshi, and Lady Eboshi lays down the main conflict, “If you seek revenge for all the animals we’ve killed, then there are two women down here you might want to meet. They want revenge for their husbands killed by two wolves."

Even within each side, man and nature, things are not black and white. Man fights man. Jiko fights both the samurai and Lady Eboshi. Moro, the wolf god, fights Okkoto the boar god at the end of the film. The monkeys fight the wolves. It is man vs. nature, but also man vs. man, and nature vs. nature. Conflict is the only constant.

The world of Princess Mononoke is filled with conflicting interests, multiple parties with different interests, multiple agendas. What is the solution? The solution comes from Ashitaka, whose only want is harmony. As Jiko asks at the end of the film, “Whose side is he on?” He does kill in the film, but in hopes of convincing both man and nature that they can coexist.

The movie ends cheerfully, if not naively. The villagers, who started the whole mess by pillaging the mountain, agree to build a new town. Jiko, who gave them the weapons that started the whole mess, chalks the whole thing up for a loss and takes off. Princess Mononoke goes off with the wolves to tend to the forest. Ashitaka says he will visit Princess Mononoke, his new love, but must assist the people in building a new town. He must continue to provide balance and harmony.

The film has no “moral” but a point of view about point of views. Let me make my own lesson I took from the film: If Ashitaka had deemed San, or Jiko, or Lady Eboshi "evil" at any point, the film never would have ended in harmony.

three comments

People rarely considr their own actions evil; or if they do they are necessary evils for a purpose. Killing to protect the forest is still killing and destroying the forest gods to provide for your people is still destruction. We rationalize these acts, but they still have a negative effect. Perhaps it’s not evil in the manner that we are taught to percieve evil, but neither is it good.


PS it was an excellent movie. Good reference.


Also, very literally in this film each side “dehumanizes” their opponents. It is much easier to commit violence if you don’t believe your opponents are human or the same as you.