5 Reasons I Love 'Princess Mononoke'

I grew up watching my fair share of Japanese animated programmes. Back in the day, we lumped everything animated, regardless of the country of origin, under the umbrella of ‘cartoon’, whereas now the proper term for Japanese animation is ‘anime’. I watched Transformers (don’t ask me which one!), Astro Boy and the original Ultraman – my boys were gobsmacked when I told them that!

When my boys started venturing from Western cartoons to anime, I was amazed at the amount and variety on offer. It was fun watching different shows with them as they were growing up. Nowadays, they watch mainly on their own, and occasionally, I’ll watch some series and films with them.

‘Princess Mononoke’ - San and Moro, the wolf goddess

‘Princess Mononoke’ - San and Moro, the wolf goddess

They’ve watched more Studio Ghibli films than I have, but of the ones I’ve seen, my favourite is ‘Princess Mononoke’. The film is set in medieval Japan, during the Muromachi period to be exact, which fell roughly between 1336 and 1573. This was the time firearms were being introduced to Japan. The film is basically about the natural world being threatened by new, technological developments. In this world, it is accepted that animal gods and trees spirits are part of the fabric of nature.

The story centres around the prince of a clan, Ashitaka, whose remote village is attacked by a boar god overwhelmed by a deadly curse. While trying to stop the maddened boar, Ashitaka is, himself, inflicted with the curse. The wise woman of the village deciphers the reason for the boar god’s behaviour – he’d been driven mad by an iron bullet.

Ashitaka and Yakul

Ashitaka and Yakul

Ashitaka has no choice but to leave his village and his people to find the source of the bullet and, hopefully, a cure for the curse before it kills him. His quest brings him to a mystical forest, watched over by a benevolent Forest Spirit. He also comes into contact with San, a human raised by Moro, the wolf goddess. San is Princess Mononoke (Spirit Princess). Close to the forest is a human settlement, Irontown, led by, surprisingly, a woman, the Lady Eboshi. It is in Irontown that Ashitaka finds the source of the iron bullet and finds himself caught in a battle between man’s industrial innovations and the magical balance of nature.

Lady Eboshi

Lady Eboshi

That’s the basic plot of the film. And here are 5 reasons why I love it so much:

  • Life is mirrored in the plot, in that it’s full of moral ambiguity. Unlike most animated series and films out there, there is no clear-cut villain in ‘Princess Mononoke’; in fact, I’d venture to say the same of all Studio Ghibli productions.
    If you go into this film thinking you already know who you’re going to be rooting for, you may find yourself having a change of heart.
    The Lady Eboshi seems to be the main antagonist, determined to keep moving in the direction of ‘technology’ and new innovations and woe to any who stand in her way. She’s not in awe of the animal gods, viewing them as nothing more than adversaries she has to fight and defeat. But when it comes to her people in Irontown, she treats them well and cares for those whom society has cast out.
    As the eponymous princess, San isn’t a shining example of the calm gentleness of nature. Her blinkered hatred of humans is what drives her to keep fighting Eboshi and her people.

  • The characters. There are no redundant characters; every single one is interesting in their own right, even the minor, nameless ones. A few words, facial expressions and body language is all that’s needed to convey enough of a person’s character, so you have their measure in minutes.
    I love the way the animal gods are portrayed. The main ones we see are Moro, the wolf goddess, and the boar god, Lord Okkoto. As for the tree spirit… Let’s just say he blew my mind! I’m dying to say more about them but don’t want to venture into spoiler-territory.
    I have to mention Ashitaka’s companion and mount, Yakul, a red elk. His loyalty and love for Ashitaka is a pleasure to watch, and Ashitaka’s care for him is plain to see.

  • Strong females. Don’t make the mistake of thinking there are any damsels in distress here just because the word ‘princess’ is in the title. San’s first appearance shows her with blood smeared on her face. The first time she sees Ashitaka, she basically tells him to get lost.
    The Lady Eboshi is a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners type yet retains her femininity. The women in Irontown have more ‘balls’ than the men and, even though they continuously make fun of them, they don’t hate men; they love their husbands but happily speak their minds, thanks to Eboshi’s equal treatment of all.

  • Romance, more specifically the lack of thereof. We have a young couple – San and Ashitaka – who are attracted to one another, though Ashitaka’s attraction to San is more obvious but, at no point, are we distracted with a ‘getting to know you so we can be in love’ side-plot. It makes a refreshing change not to have a neat, tied-up-in-a-bow romance.

  • The art and music; a real feast for the senses. The animation is mainly hand-drawn with some CGI. Bear in mind this was in the 1990s; CGI was nowhere near what it is now. Some might say it looks simplistic, but that’s part of the charm. In my opinion, it makes it easier to get lost in the story. As for the music, it doesn’t intrude. Each part complements the setting, be it Ashitaka’s village, the landscape he passes through on his travels, Irontown, and the forest. There are moments where there is no music, no sound except what is actually happening in the story. That ratchets up the tension more than any piece of music.

Lord Okkoto, the boar god

Lord Okkoto, the boar god

Have you had the pleasure of watching ‘Princess Mononoke’? What do you think of it? Do you like Studio Ghibli films; do you have a favourite?

(Images from ‘Mononoke himé’ Wiki)

Horses, Wild and Free - The Mustang Part 2

The dawning of the 20th century heralded changes that would directly impact the thousands of horses roaming free in America.

(Image by Klaus Stebani - Pixabay)

(Image by Klaus Stebani - Pixabay)

Large herds of horses didn’t pose much of a problem until the western United States became settled, introducing cattle and other grazing animals. Mainly arid, the lands in the west couldn’t support livestock as well as free-roaming horses so it became the policy to shoot mustangs. Another factor that saw the deterioration of the mustang population was the country’s involvement in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the First World War, which saw countless of these horses rounded up for use.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the mustang population was estimated to be in the region of 2 million; by 1926, it had almost been halved.

But there were those who recognised the importance of these mustangs, many who still possessed the blood of their Spanish ancestors. One of these was Robert Brislawn who, along with his brother, Ferdinand, started efforts to preserve the disappearing original mustangs. In 1957, they and Lawrence Richards set up the Spanish Mustang Registry.

By the 1930s, the majority of free-roaming horses were mainly confined to public lands still being administered by the General Land Office (GLO). Created in 1812, the GLO was an independent government agency responsible for the country’s public domain lands. Public domain lands cannot be sold because they legally belong to the citizens of the country.

In the early 20th century, the GLO’s function altered to focus mainly on collecting grazing fees from those who raised their livestock on public lands and royalties from minerals withdrawn from those lands. Remember this little fact and ask yourself, with the majority of free-roaming horses living on those same public lands, how invested was the GLO in the horses’ conservation?

As more and more livestock were being raised on public lands, the Taylor Grazing Act established the United States Grazing Service in 1934. In 1946, the US Grazing Service was merged with the GLO to become the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This agency is responsible for managing public lands still in federal ownership.

(Image by ‘mdimock’ - Pixabay)

(Image by ‘mdimock’ - Pixabay)

By the 1950s, the mustang population had dropped to an estimated 25,000. This was mainly due to violent ill-treatment linked to some capture methods, like hunting from airplanes and poisoning their water holes.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of people like Velma Bronn Johnston, an animal rights activist also known as ‘Wild Horse Annie’, the first federal free-roaming horse protection law was passed in 1959 – the Hunting Wild Horses and Burros on Public Lands Act – forbidding the use of motor vehicles for capturing free-roaming horses and burros.

In 1971, the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed, increasing their protection and providing protection for some previously established herds. The Act covers “unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands in the United States”. The BLM was given the mandate to oversee the protection and management of the free-roaming herds on the lands it administered.

In 1973, the BLM began a program, rounding up excess numbers of horses and burros and putting them up for adoption by private owners. This is still the primary method used to remove excess horses and burros even after the adoption rate stopped keeping up with the removal rate. The ‘excess’ horses are kept in long-term holding facilities.

The Act has been legally challenged, mainly by those who argue the legal status of the animals, stating they’re not ‘wild’ but ‘feral’ and therefore shouldn’t be covered by the act. Yet, the Act has continued to be upheld.

From what I’ve been reading, it would seem that the main threat to these horses and burros comes from livestock owners; they view the horses as competition, eating that which should be for their livestock, mainly cattle.

Mustang supporters argue that, despite not being native, the horses are a ‘culturally significant’ part of the American West, something I strongly believe. Another supporting viewpoint is that the mustangs re-inhabited the ecological niche left from the extinction of Equus 10,000 years ago. This supporting argument calls for the horses to be legally classified as ‘wild’, not ‘feral’, and managed as wildlife, reasoning that the horses that went extinct 10,000 years ago are genetically the same as the reintroduced species.

The main bone of contention seems to be the priority BLM gives to the free-ranging horses and burros. Mustang advocates want the BLM to increase the mustangs’ priority as too little forage is allocated to them. But the ranchers and those in the livestock industry want the mustangs to be given a lower priority because they depend on public land forage for their livestock.

(Image by Klaus Stebani - Pixabay)

(Image by Klaus Stebani - Pixabay)

A closer look at this so-called ‘competition’ between mustangs and cattle makes me wonder how true it is. Over the years, these horses have adapted to living in areas with vegetation that’s typically poor in quality. Cattle, on the other hand, haven’t. The areas mustangs generally live in aren’t suitable for cattle mainly because of lack of water. Unlike horses, cattle aren’t known for traversing vast distances to find food and water. In the vastness of the public lands that they inhabit, horses have a better chance of finding food and water than cattle. It’s also argued that the way horses digest their food compared with cattle – faster and more efficiently – means they are able to gain sufficient nutrition from poorer forage by eating more and, thus, have a better chance of surviving; conversely, cattle are more likely to starve.

As with most everything in this world, does it come down to the same old adage, ‘money talks’? Is that the deciding factor in the survival of the mustang?