Monday, January 30, 2012

Analysis: Princess Mononoke

The role of an author, writer, or artist within the confines of a narrative can be an intrusive one. Ideally, the audience should be presented material without comment, so they may apply their own views and experiences upon it and make their own decisions about who's right and who's wrong. However, the guiding hand of narrative control often makes its presence known, adding a sense of moral direction and "this is what you should feel" to an otherwise standard story. 

One obvious example of this is the character of Lady Eboshi from Hayao Miyazaki's much-lauded "Princess Mononoke". While the film has been praised for presenting a fairly grey-vs-grey view of the otherwise-polarizing conflict between man and nature, it's still obvious in many places that the story represents an authorial viewpoint and is occasionally willing to glorify or vilify one side or another to get its point across. I intend to talk about the film as a whole, due to its spectacular usage of historical and natural designs as well as the tangibility of certain effects (such as arrows fired at the "camera"), but I also feel that Lady Eboshi is at the nexus of many of the movie's interesting bits.

Synopsis
Princess Mononoke is set during an unspecified period in medieval Japan, an era when ancient gods still roamed in the dense forests and high mountains. It is a time where humanity is still desperately struggling to survive in a largely hostile world, made even more hostile by conflicts between humans.

Lady Eboshi is the ruler of Irontown, a small mining settlement that is currently in conflict with the denizens of a nearby forest. The cause of their conflict is iron ore, which the people of Irontown need to make a living. Prior to Eboshi's arrival, the people of Irontown had made their living by using the iron-rich sand underneath them. However, when the sand's deposits of iron dried up, they were forced to look to the nearby mountains for ore. Getting access to the ore required that the trees on the hill be removed, which angered the gods of the forest and their clans. Any attempts to get at the ore were met by vicious assaults, primarily by the Boar clan, whose thick hides could not be pierced by arrows. For a time Irontown fell into a decline, forced to use the dwindling deposits to try to avoid starvation.

Lady Eboshi's arrival was both mysterious and decisive: arriving from parts unknown with guns and gunners in tow, her new weapons proved to be powerful enough to pierce the hides of the boars and clear out enough space for the men to work. She also revolutionized and revitalized the town's industry by hiring the outcasts of society - prostitutes, beggars, lepers, and so on - to bolster Irontown's workforce. She is beloved by her people for giving them a second chance, whether they're natives who can return to making a living or outcasts who appreciate being treated like human beings for once. She is shown treating them in a polite and caring manner, and in return they trust her implicitly as a leader.

Eboshi's true role, or at least the reason that she was given access to firearm technology and men capable of using it, was to kill the great God of the Forest, whose head is said to bring eternal life. Yet it is not made clear what her actual "goal" is - whether agreeing to help kill the Forest God was her ambition all along, or whether it was simply an agreement made so that she could help the people of Irontown. This, at least, must be analyzed in terms of her character and her other actions.

Character Analysis
Lady Eboshi is depicted as a bit of a revolutionary, not in terms of overthrowing an existing order but in terms of societal and technological progress. She is an independent woman recognized for her own intelligence and prowess in the sometimes-chauvinistic medieval Japanese society (more on that later). She represents the advance of technology in terms of presenting advantages to human settlement and production, which makes her somewhat of an antagonist in a story founded around the concept of a "green moral", yet the social aspects of her character often endear her even to audiences who have made up their mind to support "nature". To quote Roger Ebert's review of the movie

As Lady Eboshi's people gain one kind of knowledge, they lose another, and the day is fading when men, animals and the forest gods all speak the same language. The lush green forests through which Ashitaka traveled west have been replaced here by a wasteland; trees have been stripped to feed the smelting furnaces, and on their skeletons, yellow-eyed beasts squat ominously. Slaves work the bellows of the forges, and lepers make the weapons. But all is not black and white. The lepers are grateful that Eboshi accepts them. Her people enjoy her protection.

As a character, Eboshi is composed, mature, and kind-hearted without being weak or indulgent. Despite her mysterious origins, her people appreciate her both for what she's done for them and how she treats them. Her innovations have brought prosperity and stability to the Irontown community, who live free of the threat of starvation or the yoke of some feudal lord, and who all seem to enjoy their lives despite hardships and labor. Yet, in most perceptions of the movie, she is not the "heroine" or the "good side", but rather "morally grey" at best. Why? Because she opposes nature. Because her advancements, despite aiding human lives and human habitation, hurt trees and animals. Because her settlement offends the Gods of the Forest, who hound her caravans and threaten her people. This is connected, intrinsically, to the guiding hand of authorial influence.

The Environmental Moral
Princess Mononoke is a prime example of an aesop or moral outside its zone of applicability. In a modern story, there are plenty of reasons to have a pro-environmental message, because environmental destruction is something that has only really begun in the comparatively recent past. The idea of human settlement being overdeveloped enough that it's negatively affecting the environment is based on humans actually having enough influence to do that. The classic "anti-industrialist" story relies on deforestation and pollution being conducted by an entity that is doing it unnecessarily - the profit-hungry capitalist fat cat, or the uncaring consumerist first-world public. In a story set in medieval times, humans are in most places still struggling to survive, and this is certainly true in Princess Mononoke's setting. The people of Irontown are not wealthy; rather, they are an independent collective barely able to maintain their lifestyle due to their economic reliance on the outside for supplies and their constant conflicts with the creatures of the forest. If they don't mine that mountain, which requires the much-hated clear-cut deforestation, they're either going to starve to death or they're going to be taken over by a lord who is undoubtedly going to be less kind and permissive than Eboshi is.

Now, honestly, I don't think Princess Mononoke is that overt with its message, because again, even people who see it as a "green aesop" can pick up on the virtues of the human faction. In fact, the movie generally seems to have more of an anti-conflict message than a pro-nature one. However, what it comes down to is this: Princess Mononoke is not a movie about "man declaring war on nature". Princess Mononoke is a movie about humans trying to survive, and nature wanting them to die. That's the story. The humans want to dig up a mountain so they can make enough money to continue eating, and the Forest Gods want to stop them. Keep in mind that this isn't the 19th/20th century, with its manifest destinies and industrial revolutions and mass extinctions. This is medieval Japan, at a time where forests covered most of the country. This isn't the last tiny patch of trees in the country or something, this is just "a forest" in a land full of them. 

When it gets down to it, the "nature" faction in the movie doesn't really have a real argument. They don't want humans to cut down any trees, so they kill the humans. The humans weren't even really killing animals, they were just fighting them off so they could get at the iron ore. The forest is important because it is intrinsically valued, not because of any actual traits that can be empathized with, or because of an argument about future sustainability. The fact that the inhabitants of the forest are sentient certainly changes the dynamic, but they were the ones who attacked, and it is the humans who were forced to defend themselves.

The basic problem with environmentalist messages in fictional scenarios is that they always seem to have to rely on some element other than "hey, we live here, don't fuck up the place you live in". There's always some appeal either to the intrinsic value of nature (which is nice, sure, but let's try to get that whole "starvation" thing out of the way first) or the introduction of a sentient species who represents "nature" (the faeries in Ferngully, the Na'vi in Avatar, the Lorax, etc). Princess Mononoke appeals to both: the protagonist, Ashitaka, is disgusted as the abuse of nature until he comes to empathize with the townsfolk a bit more, and the Gods defend the forest for no reason other than "it's our forest".

Lady Eboshi is portrayed as having entirely positive traits with the lone exception of her attitude towards nature. She doesn't even particularly hate nature, she just thinks it's in the way of the process of helping her town grow and her people prosper. She places the welfare of human beings above that of the forest and the animals, and that is her "flaw". Ashitaka, the protagonist, defines it as "hate" because it involves the use of violence, yet can it really be called that if all she's doing is defending her people from aggressors who refuse to surrender even an inch of land?

Eboshi As A Woman: The Feminist Perspective
It's actually somewhat easy to overlook the fact that Lady Eboshi is a strong, independent, well-rounded female character in an otherwise-detailed period piece. It's easy to do so because it's never that big a deal: nobody mentions her gender as being either a boon or a detriment. There's no prejudice against her, even from the neighboring lord who attacks Irontown. It's simply accepted that she's a capable, intelligent noblewoman whose actions have helped her settlement to prosper.

Part of this can be traced to the fact that the treatment of women during much of Japanese history was founded in their capabilities. There are many examples of female warriors or leaders, whether mythical or historical; among their number are Tomoe Gozen, Hojo Masako, Tachibana Ginchiyo, and Maeda Matsu. While there is an obvious bias for male succession and masculine control in these periods, the basic fact was that women were essentially expected to take care of things while their husbands were away, and that included defending the homestead and managing finances. In fact, once the conflicts died down and the position of "samurai" became more of a bureaucratic role than a military one, the status of women fell dramatically. So it's not surprising, in-universe, that a woman like Eboshi would be judged on her conduct and merits, rather than her gender.

The sexual politics of Princess Mononoke largely stem, instead, from the women of Iron Town - the wives, daughters, and liberated prostitutes who serve as an equal part of Irontown's workforce alongside the menfolk. They work, fight, and die alongside the men, with no real distinction apart from the specific tasks they carry out. It is stated that the independent nature of the settlement, and the freedoms Lady Eboshi allows, have made the women of Irontown more open and boisterous than many of their contemporaries. This isn't really contrasted particularly well, because while we are given that information, we do not see many "normal" women of the period to compare them to. The only time it really comes up is when a messenger says they have "brazen impudence" and "need to be taught some respect", but honestly that comes off as more of a commoner/noble thing than a male/female thing.

What's interesting is that, after seeing so many Miyazaki movies and knowing his general stance on feminism, I was actually sort of expecting it to be a bigger deal (and remembered it as being such). Instead, it comes off as very utilitarian: people respect Eboshi because she's capable, and they accept women doing "men's work" (if they even thought of it that way) because they're all working together to keep Irontown running. There was one moment in the movie that came off as being somewhat misandrist, and yet without the pre-conceived influence of Miyazaki as a writer, it might have just come off as regular banter. It was the implicit feeling that the women mocking the men were supposed to be absolutely right when they did it, yet the men remain sympathetic and effective throughout the movie (at least to some extent).

Depiction: The Style & Substance Of Princess Mononoke's Art
Princess Mononoke is, unfortunately, one of Hayao Miyazaki's only ventures into the world of Japanese history. It's unfortunate because he represents it excellently, making use both of the natural world and the aesthetics of the period. These things are integral to telling the story, because without the level of accuracy and detail found in the movie it would be much more difficult to immerse the audience in its narrative.

One might almost assume from the colorful designs found in almost every part of the movie that there were some artistic liberties taken with the material. Honestly, there's not a lot, if there's any at all. Perhaps colors are brighter than they would be in real life; perhaps the grass is greener, and the water bluer. But things like clothing, banners, armor, and so on are exactly as colorful as they would be in real life, if not less. The environments are well-rendered, showing off the natural rises and drops of the mountainous Japanese landscape and the twisting ground of its forests. The historical fidelity doesn't detract from the fantastic nature of the film's premise, but instead grounds it in tangible items and the plausibility of history and myth. The magical or fantastic parts of the films - the giant boars and wolves, or the Forest God - are effectively made more fantastic by the fact that the rest of the film is so realistic.

One part of the movie that deserves note is Ashitaka's cursed arm, the result of an early battle with a demon. The arm has surges of strength that allow Ashitaka's bow-and-arrow to be fired with much more power than normal. The contrast between an "unpowered" shot (which glances off armor, or pierces flesh) and a "powered" shot (which removes limbs and heads) is a simple, yet effective, form of showing the magical as simply a modification of the mundane. Ashitaka accomplishes many unbelievable feats during the course of the movie, yet all of them are justified as products of his arm. The contrast between "what a normal person can do" and "what Ashitaka can do" helps to make the impact feel more real.

The one thing that I felt was represented poorly was the movie's guns. Guns in Princess Mononoke are superweapons; they fire powerful explosive shells, and a single volley can wipe out an entire unit of soldiers. It can be argued that this is to make them more plausible as a war-winning weapon capable of holding off invading samurai, or it can simply be a dramatization of the weapon's effect for reasons of visual distinctiveness. Maybe it was even meant to be an exaggeration for purposes of the environmental message - "look how loud and destructive these guns are". Whatever the reason, it just came off as being weird to me.

Conclusion
When viewed from an authorless perspective (i.e. taking everything at face value), Princess Mononoke is a perfectly legitimate, well-represented, well-thought-out movie. Its only problems, in my opinion, come from the things that one might attribute as being part of Hayao Miyazaki's personal agenda. It doesn't even really matter whether or not you agree with that agenda, it's an issue of the film presenting things in a judgmental or biased matter. A storyteller ought to be neutral, so that the audience may judge content for themselves. I focused on Lady Eboshi throughout the article because she is a prime example of that: viewed without the assumption of "nature is good on its own merits", she is unequivocally a positive, kind, and caring character, and it is only when the movie begins suggesting that nature is worth preserving even at the cost of human life that her character becomes "grey".

Aside from that, Princess Mononoke is an absolutely wonderful example of the way that realism and fantasy can be combined to enhance both things. This applies to both its visuals and its story - the consistent logic and characterization helps to immerse the audience just as much as the representation of the costuming and environments. Yet it was the sense of authorial interference that occasionally broke that immersion, and that ought to serve as a warning (or at least a suggestion) to future writers and directors.

15 comments:

  1. Doesn't the nature side have a good argument that the people of Irontown are the real aggressors?

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    1. They're the "aggressors" in that they need to cut down part of the forest in order to get at the iron that forms the basis of their entire economy. They weren't even killing animals until they were attacked first; they just wanted the trees out of the way. This is sort of the issue, the idea that trees are worth preserving for their own sake. Trees die naturally all the time; there's a specific kind of tree that encourages forest fires specifically so it can grow in to replace the other trees. The idea that "cutting down any trees = abhorrent to nature" is itself ridiculous.

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    2. Eh, opportunistic fire-loving trees are one thing; they're part of a long-term succession cycle in some forests and their actions open the ground up for other species as well (of course, so do ours- that's the point of agriculture, though our agriculture's getting less biodiverse every year). Environmental ethics is often about whole systems, so while cutting down one tree may or may not be a good thing, changing the whole system by, say, clear-cutting the trees, is another thing. Now, obviously, there's some ethical nuance there, as well- trees naturally replace grasslands, which naturally replace bogs, which form from filled-in lakes. Each of these ecological successions kills off the stage before it, and is sometimes itself killed by disruptions, allowing opportunistic stages. Humans, of course, are a species of the world, evolved in the same processes as other species, that by dint of evolution hit a sort of singularity wherein we developed (in some of our populations) cultural-technological evolution and intergenerational information sharing at a rate much greater than other species, and have since undertaken a campaign of terraforming that has exponentially raised our material wealth and (with few dissenters) our standard of living while displacing so many species that we've managed to reverse the ecosystem's usual trend of increasing biodiversity and speciation by outstripping the background extinction rate and initiating what appears to be a major extinction event.

      Applying ethics to ecology is difficult because our conception of ethics is based largely in both individualism and non-harm, which become problematic in ecology (because it's focused on huge interconnected systems where killing is an integral part of living). All that said, while even the most radical of environmentalists (with the possible exception of the voluntary extinction project, but I think they're just misanthropes) recognize the right of humans to take what they need to live, the standard of living that entails and what's 'necessary' is... hotly debated, to say the least. Of course, then you've got modern techno-optimism, bright greens, sustainable development theories, and reconciliation ecology... though Miyazaki's always leaned more towards the Deep Ecology side, and I can't say I blame him.

      Eh, sorry for the lecture; doing research for an analysis of environmental rhetorical strategies in Miyazaki's film for my Environmental Studies major. Great article, by the way!

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    3. The problem is that "environmentalism" as per real life has nothing to do with the environmentalism depicted in the movie, both because of the human element (when we talk about environmental ethics, we're not talking from the perspective of starving peasants, we're talking from the first-world perspective) and the animal element (in real life, nature is hardly as united and more importantly sentient as they are in PM). The scenario could not possibly be more different from modern environmental situations.

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  2. totally agree with ejdoyle. your article is pretty awesome but your reply to the comment is so wrong.

    and there's some parts in the analysis that i couldn't help but to shake my head. killing that one patch of forest seems little to man. however, it's home to the animals. it's not as simple as 'oh, this forest is dead, they can move to the next' because in the other forest, there will be other animals occupying it. and again, it's not as simple as 'let's live here together'. it gets REALLY complicated.

    i hope you can understand more about how nature works and see the film in a new light :)

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    1. You're applying modern ethics and scenarios to a feudal situation. This is not "oh well we burn the trees down to get more luxury items", this is "if we don't get this we are going to starve to death".

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    2. The problem with this response is indicative of the larger issues with the thesis of your argument: you are unable to separate yourself from a human-centric viewpoint when quantifying value in prioritization.

      At multiple points in your article when confronted with the important question: "does non-human life have intrinsic value" your response was perpetually the same: "come on, let's deal with the starvation thing first."

      This conclusion has two glaring flaws

      1) You assume that the inevitability of death is beyond question - that it's either "nature" or us. While this is not an unpredictable conclusion, it continues to foster the kind of ignorance that Miyazaki has devoted his filmography to critiquing. Iron town (parabolic of the christian ethic), is by no means intrinsic to human survival - it is only a means to uphold the certain standard of living that those who live within iron town have become accustomed to. The argument that these humans are "fighting for survival" begs the question of what "survival" means, and whether alternate definitions of survival are possible.

      2) It is indicated of the mentality that Miyazaki has devoted his filmography to exposing as cancerous to existence: that humans have inherent value over forms of existence.

      The larger mistake you make in this paper is not recognizing the film for what it is: a Shinto parable critiquing Christianity. Instead you continue to assert that this is indicative of a larger environmental movement, which I suppose is true and false.

      Some dead giveaways:

      1) Lady Eboshi has a mysticism about her as a benevolent savior of humans from all walks of life - specifically lepers, ring any bells?
      2) The Yokai living in the forest and all references to the mystic
      3) That when asked Miyazaki told reporters that this film was a shinto parable

      Without a firm understanding of animism and shinto, this film is near impossible to fully comprehend. I suggest researching both.

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    3. Of course this would be a highly human-centric view. We are all humans and other humans are our responsibility. The fact that people can actually discuss the ethics of cutting down trees with as much importance as human lives is just obscene. This discussion shows the source of a great deal of human suffering in the world: when well off people in first world nations allow their sense of aesthetics and religions prevent less fortunate peoples from being able to improve their lives. When we prevent others from industrializing and improving their economy simply because we don't want a few trees and animals to suffer, we condemn billions to poverty, famine, and wars for resources.

      And no, there is no other way of survival. History has shown time and time again that only industrialized countries eventually thrive, while more "harmony with nature" nations continue to live in poverty. Nature, in real life, is cruel to all life. Famine, disease, war, and natural disasters all exist in nature. Protection against them is why humans created technology in the first place.

      To seriously justify leaving humans to die in order to save some plants can only happen in well off nations where people are generally well off enough to not die even if we do respect nature. Such views are not the case with less well off nations, and it's first world ignorance to think that way.

      Besides, why would nature care if the forest is cut down? If nature truly cared that much for animals, then is 99.99% of all species in history extinct? Most of them died off before mammals existed, let alone humans. Nature, in real life, couldn't care less what we humans did. Eventually, we will either leave Earth or die off, and nature will still go on. Saving that small patch of forest is unnecessary and unethical in any real sense of the word.

      Frankly, these reasons are why I'm not a particular fan of this movie, despite it being well done. The generally broken ethics that act as this movie's foundation bring down the whole thing for me.

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    4. Here are my thoughts, for what they're worth. They're kind of extensive, so I might have to post in more than one response.

      Firstly, human-centrism is little more than thinly-disguised human speciesism, an ideology which is naturally in our best interest to embrace but not necessarily one that is correct or even ethical. Apart from self-consciousness and the capacity for reasoning and abstract thought, we are in every biological (and even social) sense as much an animal as any other life form on our planet, having been tempered by the same evolutionary processes as other species have. We are perhaps more complex mammals (at least mentally) than that of, say, a mouse or a deer, but greater complexity does not suggest (or even endorse) the superiority and dominion of one organism over another. If there is any perceived sense of man’s preeminence over beast, it obviously stems from our own deep seated desire as a species to survive, regardless of the cost to other species. Believing that the suffering of other sensory-conscious creatures (who have as much a right to live off the resources of this world as we do, and who do so at an exponentially lesser volume) is less tragic than human suffering reveals an egotism that justifies destruction. But since humans are very much egotistical creatures, this line of thinking is to be expected in their defense, although it also suggests a disquieting error of human logic: that of the conqueror who must always justify his plunder.

      Secondly, I agree when you say that this discussion shows the source of a great deal of human suffering in the world, but where I deviate is in my claim that human speciesism constitutes much of this source. Everything we value and rely on for survival depends on the vitality of our biosphere: a fact at once irrefutable and endemic to all life forms across the planet and evolutionary spectrum. And when a species such as the human race, with all its proclivities and capacities, evolves in such a way to the point where it has the means to affect whole ecosystems in potentially adverse (and potentially irreversible) ways and at the cost of other species, then the time has come to give pause and contemplate our actions. Regardless of who we are, where we live, what our ideologies are, or what standard of living we are resigned or aspiring to, if our biosphere is destroyed, so we shall be, as well. What is obscene is not the notion that the trees being rapidly depleted and consumed may be as important an issue as human lives (as they both warrant equal consideration and intervention). What is obscene is the extent to which our species has degraded mentally and socially so it that it now believes it doesn’t require these trees to survive. So swollen and sickly is the ego of man that he has insulated himself from nature, from the very world whose bounty has fostered his whole evolutionary line. It is not a choice between “us” or “nature.” Our survival is intertwined, and only the sentiments of a truly warped modern technological era could distort that.

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    5. (continued from above):

      This world is one of limited resources, with industrial countries hoarding them all for themselves after viciously plundering these resources from the lesser industrialized ones. It is not the people in the first world’s “sense of aesthetics and religions” that is “preventing less fortunate peoples from being able to improve their lives.” Rather, it is the governments and militias of the industrialized countries (and the multinational corporations that run them) that are doing the stifling. People in the third world are being prevented from industrializing and improving their economy not because “we don't want a few trees and animals to suffer,” but because first world countries employ violent force to ensure that these third world countries fulfill their “service role” to them: that is, to complement the industrial economies of the West. It is not the environmentalists who “condemn billions to poverty, famine, and wars for resources,” it is the sadistic multinational corporations who unabashedly intend for the third world to fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials and a market for the industrial capitalist societies. One need not look far to see examples of this. In countries like Thailand or China, ecological catastrophes are looming. These are countries where growth is being fueled by multinational investors for whom the environment is what’s called an “externality” (which means you don’t pay attention to it). So if the forests of Thailand are destroyed, for instance, that’s justified as long as a short-term profit is made of it. So if you are expressing a concern for the human race, it might better serve you to see what forces in this world are truly working against its interests and trying to drive down life to the lowest level while keeping profits high. It’s certainly not the trees and the animals, or the people who care for them.

      Thirdly, your claim that “history has shown time and time again that only industrialized countries eventually thrive, while more ‘harmony with nature’ nations continue to live in poverty” is simply untrue. An irony of modern life is that, in spite of spectacular increases in material abundance and centuries of technological progress, hunter-gatherers, people who have lived with almost no material possessions, have enjoyed lives in many ways as satisfying and rewarding as lives led in the industrial West. Many hunter-gatherer societies have been affluent in the sense of having everything they needed. Ethnographic accounts of the Ju'hoansi of Southern Africa, for example, show that members of that society had adequate diets, access to the means of making a living, and abundant leisure time. They spent their leisure time eating, drinking, playing, and socializing: in short, doing the very things associated with affluence. Many hunter-gatherer societies have also enjoyed a great amount of personal freedom. Among the !Kung and the Hadza of Tanzania, for example, there were either no leaders at all, or temporary leaders whose authority was severely constrained. These societies had no social classes and arguably no discrimination based on gender. Their ways of living and ways of collective decision-making allowed them to survive and thrive for tens of thousands of years in equilibrium with their environment, without destroying the resources upon which their economies were based.

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    6. (concluded from above):

      The more we learn about hunter-gatherers, the more we realize that the cultural beliefs surrounding modern market capitalism do not reflect universal “human nature.” Assumptions about human behavior that members of market societies believe to be universal, that humans are naturally competitive and acquisitive, and that social stratification is natural, do not apply to many hunter-gatherer peoples. The dominant school of economic theory in the industrialized world, neoclassical economics, holds these attributes to be essential for economic advancement and affluence. It is true that hunter-gatherer societies show a wide variety of patterns of culture, some less egalitarian and some less “affluent.” Yet the very existence of societies living adequately, even happily, with no industry, no agriculture, and few material possessions offers a challenge to the concept of human nature held by most economists.

      To conclude, you are, of course, correct in claiming that famine, disease, and natural disasters all exist in nature (though I don’t agree at all that war is a product of nature). Seen from this angle, I can understand how nature may be called cruel. But “cruel” is a morally-loaded word (a word of the human ego that once again brings to mind this unnatural gulf that has sprung between “us” against “nature”), and is furthermore only one word in the rich dialogue that has spanned centuries in our conversation with our planet. Yes, nature is capable of acts of cruelty (at least from a human viewpoint, based on our ethical conceptions), but so are humans, and animals don’t commit even a fraction of the brutalities and absurdities that we humans inflict on each other ceaselessly (our much-lauded human development of technology has evolved as much for the purpose of devising new ways of harming and subjugating one another as for anything else). But even in spite of our far worse cruelties, do we still not feel that we deserve to survive? If we feel that our species still has the right to persist, even after all that it’s done and is still doing, then how can we even countenance the thought that other species are less deserving to survive, too? Just like mankind, nature may be cruel, but it is also nurturing, sustaining, ever-changing, and struggles bitterly, sometimes violently, to keep on living. Nature has been our oldest teacher and provider, and I find it difficult to believe that a species as resourceful and innovative as the human race cannot find a way to live with the planet instead of just devouring it.

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  3. Interesting analysis, as I believe most people would indeed see this film purely as moral play advocating a more ecological way of life and the sinfulness of man. It is in that context rather interesting that you would have a totally opposite opinion on the film: you completely take the side of the humans and refuse to give the animals in the film any credit in their side of the struggle. Which in my opinion, isn't what the film is about.
    I personally would side more with the forest side than the humans, but that's not the message of the movie either.
    In the movie, the truly moral ideal is neither the forest, nor the humans, but rather Ashitaka, who has taken the duty to see evaluate the situation with eyes 'unclouded' by hate and bring back balance in the conflict.
    Contrarily to what you say, the forest where the story is not 'just "a forest" in a land full of them', it's the last forest with a Deer God, and its death was unneeded. By killing the Shishigami, the humans are killing the last vestige of what once was.
    And speaking of the killing: killing a God just to have some promotion or live a longer life can't really be defended. The same goes with Iron Town as a whole: saying that everything they did was just to feed themselves, doesn't excuse their actions. The people in Iron Town could have given up their ambitions of harvesting iron, a luxury product in the Middle Ages, and gone to find a piece of land to make a living of. You don't see the home village of Ashitaka having too many problems with the creatures in their forests.

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    2. To say the people of Irontown has the "option" to not harvest iron is naive and unrealistic. We saw what the farmlands we're like, raided by Samurai, with the farmers unable to defend itself. By harvesting that iron, they were both feeding and protecting themselves, as it allowed them to live within a fortified area surrounded by rough terrain, while still having the means to trade for rice. Contrast the animals, who just want to kill humans. Hell, the humans can't even travel through the forest without being killed. Why should the humans give up food, shelter, and their quality of life to maintain a hostile forest full of hateful animals?

      The first rule of nature is to survive. The humans have a right to survive , and remove obstacles that hinder that, such as removing the forest. The animals also have a right to defend it to survive. Nature doesn't forgive the extinct.

      Just cause Ashitaka's village isn't currently being raiding, burned down, or purged doesn't not make it an ideal example from which to follow. They were enemies of the government, exiled, at any moment they can be attacked for who they are. Choosing to remain exposed to hostile humans instead of encroaching on the environment is a personal choice. It only becomes wrong in the eyes of nature if they get themselves all killed.

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  4. You guys realize that this film does a lot of thing to the extreme and give things definition that usually have very little to help present points and messages that otherwise are usually quite tricking and very hard to explain or even exist to our knowledge. That is why somethings are little off to our understanding as humans such as the living value of a tree. You must also remember that other messages and what not a re mixed in or can be taken from it so not every little bit compliments or matches the other.

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