15/12/2017

My Neighbors The Yamadas - Cartoon Expressionism, Subdued Impressionism & Innocent Surrealism

Thoughts On: My Neighbors The Yamadas (Hōhokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun, 1999)


Episodes of family life via the Yamadas.


My Neighbours The Yamadas is a beautifully self-contained film. Considering that this had to follow the behemoth that is Princess Mononoke and was to be proceeded by one of Ghilbi's most iconic films, Spirited Away, it is both unsurprising and fitting that this film is one of Ghibli's most unconventional and subdued. We see this on a technical - this is the first fully digital Ghibli film - and a narrative level. In essence, this is a comedic montage that pulls episodes from lives of the Yamadas to paint a portrait of the chaos and trouble that is family life. With optimistic overtones, My Neighbours The Yamadas is ultimately, as it, itself, suggests, a film about acceptance keeping families together. With this basic truth projected quite directly, this is a film that does not need much analysis at a narrative level, but is nonetheless an easily overlooked gem that any Ghibli fan should see.

Though the content of this film's narrative doesn't inspire an essay, its form on the other hand evokes some interesting avenues of thought. Within My Neighbours The Yamadas, we have a spectrum of impressionism, expressionism and surrealism encapsulated by comedy. This spectrum is easily recognised as stories are, in essence, all about perspective and space. This is crucial in terms of cinema because a camera itself becomes an eye of sorts, an eye that sees a story unfold as well as constructs specific spaces in which a story is framed. A story, as simultaneously seen and constructed by a camera, will then be presented as a reflection of either the world or the perceiver.


Cinema's eye, the camera, can attempt to effect the space that it presents to an audience to as minor a degree as possible. Instead of creating a space, a camera attempting to project realism then attempts to preserve a space. Thus, a realist aesthetic is one that views the world without inflection; the presence of the perceiver is masked by the presence of latent space.


The eye of cinema can see a space constructed. What we thus see with expressionism is the world around the perceiver - the camera - being used to project inner psychology. An expressionist aesthetic is then one in which the world is manipulated through set-design, lighting, make-up, costumes, etc.


Still embracing the fact that cinema is a perceived construction, a cinematic eye can focus its attention on the act of perceiving as opposed to construction. We now then step into the realm of impressionism where inner psychology isn't projected by a space, rather it is implied through the manipulation of perspective. The impressionist aesthetic is then defined by the emphasis of, and the search of meaning in, the perceiver through formal techniques: montage, double exposure, lens covers, shutter speed manipulation, etc.


Combining cinema's ability to manipulate its constructions and its own eye, we find surrealism. Surrealism is impressionism in that it plays with form to give a sense of what it means to be a perciever as well as expressionism in that spaces are constructed to emphasise that you are in the domain of the constructed. With surrealism we then step into the body of cinema; we step beyond its constructing hands and beyond its perceiving eye and into its mind that simultaneously imagines and effects, that simultaneously perceives and builds a world. The surrealist aesthetic is then a subconscious one.

From realism to expressionism to impressionism to surrealism we a spectrum that forms the basic boundaries of cinema's abilities to work with the world it captures before a camera and the imagination it projects from behind the camera; space fully defines realism and perception fully defines surrealism whilst expressionism and impressionism deal with inflections of both.

Whilst narrative cinematic spaces function in specific pockets of this spectrum, animation is slightly removed from this mode of thought. Animation, because it does not have the same access to reality that motion picture photography does, cannot reach the same extremes of realism that we see in traditional cinema. However, because the fundamental basis of cinema and animation are different, we see an equal expression of this on the other extreme of the spectrum. Animation can, aesthetically, push far deeper into the subconscious through surrealism than live action because it does not have a basis in material reality. Let us then take a moment to recognise this with a set of comparisons.

Here we have live action realism vs. animated (CGI) realism:



The difference between these two modes often concerns content; animated realism allows you to tell fantasy or sci-fi stories with strong verisimilitude whilst live action realism allows you to project drama that is almost indistinguishable from real life; instead of telling a story about a Nazi invasion with non-professional actors who would have lived through occupation mere months ago, using animated realism stories about the possible rise of apes and fall of humanity can be told.

Live action expressionism vs. animated expressionism:



Animated expressionism is far closer to surrealism than live action expressionism for the fact that the animated space is completely free. With reference to Linklater's Waking Life, this couldn't be more obvious: he shoots a live action film and digitally paints over the near-realism to project bold emotions and themes through every major element of the frame. In noirs like The Third Man, which are heavily expressionistic, we rarely see subjects being manipulated to great degrees (this is often reserved for expressionist horror films). Instead, through lighting - the manipulation of how subjects and sets appear - drama is imbued into the frame.

Live action impressionism vs. animated impressionism:



Again, the freedom of animation distinguishes it greatly from live action. Whilst live action impressionism is heavily dependent on technical effects, animators often work impressionism into a frame. In Bambi, for instance, mark making is used to give the sense and atmosphere of the woods. In Napoleon, impressionism is used psychologically and manifested with a plethora of boundary-pushing techniques. It is in fact quite rare to see impressionism projected in any other way than formally and psychologically in live action. Live action impressionism is heavily bound to the perceiving eye of cinema whilst animated impressionism can prove a crucial, much-used technique in capturing a setting--a background--without unsettling the frame; for example, the most detailed figures will be centralised by un-detailed backgrounds or figures.

Live action surrealism vs. animated impressionism:



A key difference between animated surrealism and live action surrealism is the function of metamorphosis. Animated surrealism is often very fluid and bound to the animator's line, as in the tremendous dream sequence from Dumbo. In such, we see figures shift shape and so capture the immaterialism of the subconscious within a stable frame. On the other hand, live action surrealism can be very dependent on montage. This is of course because it is incredibly difficult to simulate metamorphosis like that seen in Dumbo in a physical space without assistance from some form of animation: stop-motion, cel animation or GGI. Because of the limitations of live action surrealism, time is often made a key motif; we move through space in accordance to a question of when? and how? Conversely, animated surrealism asks where? and how? by projecting impossible change in one block of time, often abstract of quantification; whilst there is a distinct chronology to the scene from Spellbound - this happens, then this, then this - Dumbo is driven by music and so the sequence moves through time irrespective of segmentation - a lot just happens, there are no truly distinguished sequences or sets of time as everything flows.

Having explored some of the characteristics of the perception-construction spectrum of moving imagery, we can turn to My Neighbours The Yamadas to not only see some great examples of expressionism, surrealism and impressionism, but further complicate our classification system.


The majority of My Neighbours The Yamadas is stylised expressionistically. We see this above with the character design; the focus of animation is on the manipulation of space and bodies to evoke emotion. Thus, all of the figures within this film are often portrayed as caricatures with their design connoting personality and describing their emotions. The expression put on display here is then almost a form of melodrama in that it is bound to rhythm and flow - there is a sense of visual music in watching characters emote - and the purpose of this is, of course, to emphatically project subtext (and, notably, to a degree that subtext becomes mere text by virtue of its clarity).


Because the expressionism of this film is so often tied to character design - to caricature - there emerges a specific cartoon expressionism. The cartoon often revels in the fact that it is nonsensical, but uses human emotion and its audience's perception to cry out that these are alive figures. Cartoon animation is then a melodramatic approach to creating a subject; not only is contrivance accepted, but so is the need for musical emphasis that forces us to consider drawings as conscious beings.


It must be noted that the cartoon expressionism of My Neighbours The Yamadas is often tied to the impressionism of the backgrounds. As with Only Yesterday, Takahata designs frames that are restricted by negative space - white emptiness on the edge of the frame. This centralises the eye onto characters, but also impresses an idea of a city with short hand details. In the shot above, for example, it does not matter where in town the family is; it does not matter if they are next to a busy road, if there are passerbys, if its a hot day, a windy day, etc. All that matters is that they are behind or in front of a store with a photo booth. We then get an impression of what it is like to be the Yamadas in this moment in time: the photo in their hands is all that matters; they aren't thinking of the weather, the specific store they are at, etc. Interestingly, the father is most removed from this sequence with his back to the focal points of details: he's thinking about food. Thus, he is not only bound to the nothingness of the scene through his position of the frame, but the streaming light further de-colourises him, emphasising his distance from the family and attraction to something else - anything else - outside of the frame. This is in fact a motif of the film, and so the father is often bound to isolated spaces. We see this in this scene here:



In this scene where he has just be rejected by his son, we see that he is entranced in a world made up of only he and a wall - the wall subtly symbolic of his son who he can't get through to. His mother recognises his frustration and so sees him throwing the ball into a void. Impressionistically, we are then told, via mise en scène, that the father is frustrated and trapped in pointlessness here.


With much of that said, the expressionism of this film is bound to the line - which is what 'cartoon expressionism' should connote. Thus, colour rarely comes to be significant player in expressing or impressing the subtext of a scene. This is almost always done through what a line represents. And so, in a way, the expressionism on display is tied to surrealism ever so slightly in that metamorphosis - the changing of solid teeth from straight to curvy, for example - is bound to the expression of character.


There are only a handful of distinctly impressionistic sequences in this film. Most commonly, we get wide exterior shots like this. However, this signifies the very light use of impressionism in this film that primarily dilutes the expressionism. Impressionism throughout My Neighbours The Yamadas is often used to fill negative space, it very rarely projects subtext positively; it doesn't strike you. The subdued nature of impressionism in this film is largely signified by the lack of colour and, more importantly, the lack of texture. Without colour and texture, the form of a scene is implied, but not its content. As a result, we get the slight impression of an environment, but we're rarely visually signalled what it feels like to be within it; the rain in the scene above is a somewhat uncommon example of being informed what it is like to be in a situation - both in a market on a rainy day and emerging from demoralisation as the father, having been met by his family, is.


Here, we have a more striking example of impression in which we see reality portrayed through visual implication: impressionism. There is then no attempt to fully detail figures - to capture a realist style - only the motion and caricatures that suggest that this is a baseball game.



The best example of impressionism in this film, however, is certainly this scene where we see figures drawn with greater realism and the setting made heavier by a stronger detailing of texture. All of this combined with shading and higher contrast lighting imbues this sequence with greater intensity, giving the impression of danger and fear in the suddenly humanised father; we feel the potential for consequence and the real world as an encroaching threat.


My favourite stylistic approach of My Neighbours The Yamadas has to be the surrealism. This is a kind of surrealism that functions much like that in Dumbo, but it has one core difference: it is innocent. Surrealism is often utilised to show the dark depths of human sexuality, fear, weakness and brutality. And this is often how we think of the subconscious; a dark and dubious place. But, embodying the subconscious of a child, My Neighbours The Yamadas grants us access to a world of free association imagination; a harmless world without darkness, instead, innocence. And as simplistic as this approach is, I began to appreciate it ever more as this narrative maintains a positive tone; never does this become a dark drama. And this is something that Ghibli often manage quite well. Even in Grave Of The Fireflies, one of the darkest and most grim Ghibli films, there is an innocence that the animators manage to hold on to. And that innocence feels incredibly genuine to me as children, both in this and Grave Of The Fireflies, are accepted as children. So, whether naturally or with encouragement, children often manage to stay children in Ghibli films, and without grand narrative arcs certainly comes a genuity embedded in realism. So, the final complication that I'll pick up on is that the surrealism of My Neighbours The Yamadas is actually grounded in some sense of psychological realism; surrealism projects truth in character, and such is its power.

There is certainly much more to be debated and said about the stylistics of My Neighbours The Yamadas. For instance, we could ask how comedy as a genre impacts the functionality of impressionism, surrealism, etc. However, having delved into some detail on the classification and description of stylistic approaches in this film, I'll leave things with you. So, have you seen this film? What are your thoughts on its approaches and styles?

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13/12/2017

The Rhythm Of My Life - Beat Of Coincidence

Quick Thoughts: The Rhythm of My Life: Ismael Sankara (2011)


Made by Marc Tchicot and Frank Onouviet, this is the Gabonese film of the series.


The Rhythm of My Life is a short documentary that briefly tells the story of the rapper, Ismael Sankara. Sankara was born in Burkina Faso, but at only a few months old was sent to the U.S a week before the 1987 coup. His father, who may have been the president of Burkina Faso at the time (there's an article questioning this here) died during the coup and so he was raised by his single mother in Miami. The documentary picks up his story from here on, exploring the rapper's coincidental meeting with a small group of Gabonese music producers. There is then a mix of music video, recreation and talking head documentary within The Rhythm of My Life. Whilst the recreation sequences are clunky, this narrative is held together by some sharp editing and beautiful camera work that makes some great use of shallow focus. This is then an intriguing insight into a small element Gabonese culture that is certainly worth the time.



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Princess Mononoke - Children Of Nature

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12/12/2017

Princess Mononoke - Children Of Nature

Thoughts On: Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime, 1997)


A prince is cursed whilst defending his village from a demon-God.


By 1997, Studio Ghibli had built up a thick catalogue of greats and masterpieces. In many ways, however, Ghibli had started to hit dampened ground as they were beginning to recycle their stories and style in increasingly obvious ways with brilliant, but not entirely transcendent, films such as Porco Rosso, Pom Poko and Whisper Of The Heart. It is with Princess Mononoke that Ghibli pressed through this very minor rut and entirely transcended themselves, manifesting not only one of their greatest films, but, in my opinion, one of the greatest films ever made. In fact, I would be as bold as to say that Princess Mononoke bears one of the greatest stories I know to exist. In such, whilst this isn't a story told with the charm and objective-subjective impressionistic mastery of, for example, Porco Rosso, it holds immense and serious significance and profundity. But, to dive into the depths of this narrative we will have to start with a rather abstract conversation about religion and the male and female of nature.

God, in Abrahamic religions, is a male archetype who sends into the world 'sons' that we call prophets or messengers: Abraham, Moses, Muhammad, Jesus, etc. Male archetypes such as Muhammad and Jesus are the bedrock of some of the most significant cultures across the world. Why is this?

That is a staggeringly monolithic question that I won't suggest I can answer in full. However, I believe that we can stumble towards some kind of insight by asking another ridiculously complex question. In Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto, there isn't an emphasis on a patriarchal being as God, rather, a force of 'mother' nature; the way, the spirit, the transcendent truth. Why is this?

Despite their fundamental differences (which are far more complex than I am presenting them to be) these two sets of theological philosophies seem to be in direct conversation with one another; Abrahamic religions seem to focus on the male archetype whilst other Eastern religions focus on the female archetype. And in cultures that live in conjuncture with these theologies, there are mechanisms of thought in place that attempt to balance the male and female archetype. Thus, quite globally, the idea of a mother in nature and a father in humanity is seemingly paradigmatic. This, itself, may be the result of human evolution and biology.

To consider then these abstractions in the context of a basic hunter-gatherer society, we can see that societies are often centred on females, but represented by men; women define and control the bounds of the home whilst men venture out into the unknown. This manifests generally, not universally, in modern societies across the world, and possibly as an expression of the implicit truth projected through, on one hand, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and on the other, Taoism, Buddhism and Shinto. The former set of religions focus on adventuring out into the world whilst the latter are more about the return to nature; in the former there is a movement away from the female archetype (as represented by home; mother nature) whilst in the latter there is a movement towards it. The complexities of these religions emerge from their recognition of the fact that it is probably not best that people only ever wander nomadically as much as it is best that we not cower at our mother's breast in a cave. And this idea of course manifests abstractly; to heavy-handedly amalgamate the religions, they suggest that we should not stray too far from God (nihilistic anarchy) and that we should not entirely give ourselves to nature (pointless self-sacrifice). As a result, none of the mentioned religions are as simple as we have described them as there is a balance in place that counter-points their fundamental assertions.

This counter-point can be embodied, in the most simple of ways, by contrasting these two theological approaches; by pitting the female archetype focus against the male archetype focus. If we continue to do this, we can begin to see that a powerful undercurrent of life is this idea that the archetypal man is the archetypal woman's tool: he works for her. In response to this, however, the archetypal woman must belong to the archetypal man as he belongs to her; they have to become a mother and son, a daughter and father, a husband and a wife. This is true in human terms as it reflects a more transcendent reality: the universe gives birth to independent beings that allow an internal propagation. If life is feminine and if force is masculine then the motherly universe gives birth to the godly son who will continue to create. Masculine thus serves the feminine, but without each other they couldn't be, and so they must be equals. As almost all religions showcase, family and a marriage between male and female is then essential as it reflects an imperative union between masculine and feminine in the universe. With Buddhism and Taoism, however, an actual ceremonial marriage between man and woman is considered a secular affair, but there is nonetheless a present flow between birth and life or other dualities which suggests there must be a harmony between an abstract feminine (a birthing or life giving entity) and the abstract male (the creator or adventurer).

In my view, speaking in terms of the male and female archetype is essential because of the paradigms in nature and humanity: men and women must come together to live and to propagate life. Recognising the importance of this language and its metaphorical manifestations, we can begin to assimilate something of an answer to all of our posed questions: religions emphasise the male and the female archetypes because the male and the female must co-exist so that society, in the most basic manner, can function. Religions such as Shinto emphasise female traits (abstractly, the idea of a life force) whilst religions such as Christianity emphasis male traits (abstractly, the idea of a sacrificial adventurer). However, both kinds of religions are united in their need to finding a balance between the genders of the universe. The pertinence of this philosophical approach can be seen via the fact that societies function and grow with balanced relationships between male and female. No culture is perfect by virtue of their theology - which is to say that not all cultures have equality and harmony among the genders. But, there is an implicit truth in this male-female archetype focus that is indicated by the prevalence and importance of theological concepts.

If we understand all of these abstractions as some of the most profound and significant expressions of human storytelling, we can now turn to Princess Mononoke to see a film that does not just masterfully manage male and female archetypes, but archetypes of thought that stem from Eastern and Western religions. And such is one of the clear goals of Studio Ghibli; their narratives are focused on bringing the East and West together as well as uniting strong males and females. Without further ado, we must then jump directly into this narrative.



Opening ambiguously, Princess Mononoke simply says that there is something wrong, and it is signified with flowing chaos. We are, however, quickly introduced to our protagonist, Ashitaka:


We never get a true reason as to why Ashitaka is our protagonist. But, there is an implication of harmony that stems from his interactions with females. So, not only here, but also as he interacts with these three girls in a proceeding scene, later, his sister and the oracle (a feminine archetype like the witch that can essentially tap into the matrix: the logic of the universe), it is implied that Ashitaka is a righteous leader of a community that has a strong bond between its women and men. Moreover, this community is shown to have a strong, harmonious connection with nature and a traditional understanding of it through spirits.


It is this implication that fuels the crucial subtext of this catalysing moment. Ashitaka does not want to shoot the demon-God that threatens his village, but, to save its women...


... he has to. And it's here where we have a key trope of this narrative: the females instigate battle. It is then seeing the girls brandish their swords in self-protection that Ashitaka knows he has to attack. And this is in spite of the fact that he knows he must humbly respect nature; though nature throws chaos his way, he knows that he should not react in turn.


Though this seems like a nonsensically hesitant gesture, this can be understood as reflecting a key idea that is seemingly embedded into the Taoist religion. In chapter 61 of the Tao Te Ching (a fundamental Taoist text), we get this quote:

"The Feminine always conquers the Masculine by her quietness, by lowering herself through her quietness."

Nature, or the feminine, often embodies quietness (we see this emphasised later with the Deer God). However, sometimes nature spurts out chaos and violence. In the context of Princess Mononoke, this is shown to be catalysed primarily by masculine endeavours. What we then see in this scene is rage being confronted by Ashitaka with quietness; he simply asks the demon to turn away. Thus, we see a negative masculine trait of rage that has infected nature being confronted by the anima (female) projections of Ashitaka. However, when he sees that women are about to embody rage...


... he knows he has to follow them as their leader, protector and communal brother. And so he kills the Nago, the demon-God, to save his village. Jumping to the end of this scene, we see that this situation is a tragedy.


The dead demon curses the innocent Ashitaka to death; he is infected by a chaos that has come from a far-away land and will die as a consequences unless he goes on an adventure (embodies an archetypally masculine trait). This unjust result of Ashitaka protecting his village then has no real meaning until Ashitaka accepts his fate and so decides to confront chaos; he turns tragedy into responsibility and a chance to right some of the wrongs in the world.

It is in this moment that Ashitaka becomes the classical sacrificial hero; he knows he is going to die, he is told so by the oracle, but will nonetheless find a way to die for good reason. He will have to find this reason, partly, on his journey, but he is also given reason by his sister when she gives him this parting gift...


This is a symbol of the harmony - an implicit harmony between male and female that was invaded and exploited by the chaos of the beyond - that his home represents. In such, this blade symbolises clarity as it is a crystal; practicality as it is a tool; defense as it is a weapon; and beauty as it is an ornament. The blade holds within it a balance between positive male and female traits, a balance between quiet and rage that will come to be the ultimate trophy of his quest.



One of the first things that Ashitaka learns on this quest is that he is becoming a demon; he is being infected by the rage and destruction that blighted Nago. What we are seeing represented here is something that anyone familiar with Star Wars will understand directly. Dark forces are more powerful that lighter forces, but light forces nonetheless prevail. This is an idea that is bound to masculine and female archetypes and our ideas of feminine quietness. Men are, generally speaking, more physically powerful than women; it is a consequence of our biologically an physiology. However, that male power is not a virtue, rather, a responsibility and a cross to carry. This is because power and darkness, just like rage, consumes itself. A harmony between male and female, light and dark, is thus paramount, which is why light (the male-female unit in this context) always prevails and is characterised by good. Ashitaka's super-human abilities are embroiled in rage, not quiet. He thus discovers that he is corrupted - that he is part-demon - and so must use his dark powers for good as to turn them into light so he can prevail on his journey and rid himself of disease. As a result, Ashitaka is horrified at his ability to kill and will refrain from this for the remainder of the narrative - at multiple points he will even take deadly blows and remain quietly pacifistic.



The realisation of his core conflict (he must overcome the darkness in him by assuming great responsibility) is book-ended by his meeting with lost male and female archetypes. Above, we then see townspeople (two males and a female) as well as Jigo, who are all embedded in constant spite and conflict. All of these people then mimic archetypal dark city citizens and drifting samurai; these are people that struggle within or on the boundaries of precariously structured society. This theme of destabilisation is soon revealed to be the crux of all physical conflict in this movie through Lady Eboshi:


Lady Eboshi is essentially the architect of Sodom and Gomorrah. These are two archetypal cities of Abrahamic religions that essentially represent corruption and so are destroyed by divine retribution: fire. The 'backwards people' are a very common feature of stories, and they are often used to show how humanity has been collectively infected by sin. Eboshi is the figurehead of collective sin; she is the reason for Ashitaka's infection...


After all, she is the one who drove the boars out of the mountains. It is then implied that she catalysed the destructive rage of Nago and so forced the tragedy that left Ashitaka no other option but to become the sacrificial hero. Rage and sin - a disregard of nature and its harmony - is a disease concocted by Eboshi that is embedded into vectors (Nago and other gods) and spread across the land like malaria is by mosquitoes. Eboshi embodies this disharmony through her neglect of tradition and a dangerously blind adaptation of fire-arms that leads to a war with archetypes of nature.



The conflict between Eboshi and Moror - the mother wolf - is then an indication of a battle between humanity and nature and an allegory for industrialisation. This battle is not as simple as many will describe it, however; this is not just a commentary on humans needing to expand and nature being harmed by this (Ghibli already tackled this idea with Pom Poko). This conflict between two matriarchs, which is a central relationship of this narrative, is an exploration of a kind of relationship we have not discussed yet: same sex, female-female relations.


As we later find out, Eboshi is not a simple, tyrannical matriarch. The city that she is building is run by strong women who live in relative harmony with the males. There is something subtle that is very off about this place, however. Every single woman is a rescued prostitute: this is why they are all so strong. These women have escaped a system in which they were not real women, rather, beings that survived by becoming a caricature, an object of desire and a sexual organ, for the satisfaction of male caricatures; objects of desire and mere sexual organs. This corrupt basis of their society is expressed through its spreading of darkness into the world; Lady Eboshi is destroying nature because she has to fight off men. Thus, the corruption that Nago represents...


... is not just a projection of a male or female negative archetype - rage or greed for example. Rather, Nogo's rage represents broken societies functioning upon relationships between corrupted male and female archetypes. The reason why nature is turning against humanity is not just because Eboshi is destroying trees, but because humanity produced figures such as Eboshi and her tribe of prostitutes.


Coming back to Lady Eboshi's society, we see its corruption and its strength to be based in misguided virtue; Eboshi only wants to protect herself and women like her from the darkness in the world - and is even willing to include men in this equation. It must be noted, however, that whilst the feminine production (industrial weapons) of Eboshi's tribe is somewhat positive as it represents progress and stability, its masculine effect (pollution, battle and war with weaponry) is clearly negative. And so this paradigm reverts back to our idea that male archetypes are tools of female archetypes: men serve women and in turn enter positive, equal relationships with them. When the female archetype is corrupt, the male limb of society that it controls will destroy. Let us not forget, however, that, in this circumstance, the female archetype is only so corrupt because of negative male archetypes who exploited them as prostitutes instead of supporting them as their equals.

Let us now return to the female-female conflict:



It is not coincidental that a literal conflict between females and males leads to a feminine life force (nature) conflicting with masculine invention (industrialisation) in the abstract. This parallel is an expression of the idea that we are all children of nature. Great male archetypes of the Western world are sons of God; they represent the lineage of positive masculinity whose foundations are in the transcendent. This itself implies that the greatest male archetype is superhuman, is quite literally a demi-God or God, and that we should all aspire to be him (this is why Jesus is the main Christian idol). In tandem with this great male archetype, however, is the great female archetype who is also a transcendent being.

I think it is a downfall of Abrahamic religions that there is no emphasis of a transcendent female archetype that is equal to the highest male archetype (God). However, Western cultures do carry an idea that Mother Nature, which is arguably equal to God, is a transcendent being. With nature and God as transcendent parents, men are sons of the ultimate patriarch whilst females are the daughters of the ultimate matriarch. The depicted conflict between gods and humans in Princess Mononoke is in direct reference to this idea.


Eboshi is, in essence, a matriarch that is attempting to establish a new domain of being that is outside of the traditional societies of 15th century that she perceives to be corrupt. This is why she is constantly fighting the matriarchs of nature; she has to clear a new realm for herself outside of the traditional - or natural - domains of humanity. What this comments on is the idea that, whilst male-female relations can be destructive, they are most destructive when they make daughters fight with mothers and sons fight with fathers. Sometimes this conflict is necessary; we have classical stories of Jacob wrestling angels or Greek demi-gods like Perseus fighting their divine fathers that are mimicked in a plethora of other narratives that see men fight gods and women fight goddesses for the greater good. However, in Princess Mononoke, there is no necessary battle to be had between daughters and mothers; human females (Eboshi's tribe) need to reconcile with their male counterparts. And this is one of the key super-structural themes of this story that we see referenced time and time again; Princess Mononoke is largely about a female conflict between a transcendent mother and earthly woman that is an off-shot of society breaking down. Society breaking down is the foundational idea of male archetypes being the tools and equals of female archetypes crumbling.

Whilst there is a constant conflict between female archetypes (daughters and mothers; humans and gods), this story has a parallel plot of a son attempting to reconcile with his transcendent father. We see this referenced in this scene:



Ashitaka's arm flares up when he is in the presence of the Deer God. This somewhat nonsensical happening has implicit reason to it for the fact that Ashitaka is seemingly a prince or demi-god of nature who is infected with corruption, but in the presence of transcendent good. This scene thus signifies the pressure of the responsibility that Ashitaka is attempting to carry; he senses that he is corrupt, but is fighting this poison internally. Interestingly, the only soothing agent for his pain is life-giving (motherly) water.


Ashitaka's connection with nature is made evident throughout this narrative through his relationship with his deer, Yakul. Yakul and Ashitaka together are sons of the highest male archetype of this narrative: the Deer God.


Together, we can understand Yakul and Ashitaka to be the sons of this Qilin because of the lineage that they are implied to have as Emishi people. With the Qilin being an East Asian symbol that usually connotes illustrious rule and serenity it then seems that Ashitaka is a prince of the forest and so a figure destined to be a righteous male archetype.

What we can understand by recognising that Ashitaka and Yakul are princes of sorts--decedents of a great male archetype--is that their purpose is to reconcile with this father figure so that the destructive mother-daughter feud can be put to an end before the whole 'family' of the world collapses under the heel of deathly rage. And thus we see the solution to Eboshi's conflict potential resolved; she can reconcile with men through Ashitaka.


It is now quite self-explanatory why Ashitaka attempts to settle all conflicts between nature and its daughter, Eboshi, by essentially being a great male archetype: a sacrificial hero. Thus, much of this narrative needn't be explained. However, there is one key character that we are overlooking: San.



San is the antithesis of Eboshi: she is the good daughter of the gods - a spirit princess (mononoke means spirit) - whilst Eboshi is the corrupt, rebellious daughter. What we then have in the depicted scene is a good son of an estranged god meeting the good daughter of a protective goddess. Whilst San and Ashitaka belong to the same generation of children, San has aligned herself with the older generation which is currently at battle with the younger generation; she is apart of the transcendent female archetypes whilst Ashitaka isn't a true god. This rift between Ashitaka and San is paramount, however, as it will allow Ashitaka to mediate between the transcendent and the human, the older generation and the younger generation.

Much of Princess Monoke's narrative constantly plays with the relationship dynamics that we have so far identified with a focus on the feminine conflict. I will then leave the minute details of the second act for you to explored on your re-watches of this film. The only other key element of this narrative that we will explore is bound to a question of reconciliation. How can Ashitaka and San come together to bring peace back into the world?


The answer, quite abstractly, is a marriage under God: San distancing herself from the wolves to be closer to Ashataki. Having embraced after San refused to hear that she is not a wolf, but a human, we then have the symbolic separation of mother from daughter. Just as Eboshi created her own kingdom by separating herself from society and even from her transcendent mother, so must San. However, whilst Eboshi's kingdom was based in destruction and rage, San's must be one of peaceful quiet; and, in this case, sacrifice connotes such peace.


The founding of this new kingdom is witnessed by the Deer God in its dark Daidarabotchi form. What this means is in fact implied in the image above. The Deer God, whether in this form, or this one...


... is a king of forest, but, is also a servant of nature. So, just like Eboshi's men, who both create in tandem with women and destroy for them, the Deer God gives life in the day and takes life in the night. This is all decided by a feminine celestial body above: the moon. This is why the moon is the symbolic head of the Deer God here.


This image is of a lost male archetype who, like Ashitaka in the beginning of this story, wants to protect its female archetype, but can only do this by channeling destruction and rage. Without its head, and with no other choice, the Deer God does not realise that its destruction will ultimately consume itself and that it wants to protect: nature. Subverting this, the Deer God is allowed to witness the union of San and Ashitaka - positive female and male archetypes.


In offering the Deer God his head back, San and Ashitaka are silently suffering, taking the weight of collective sin on their shoulders.



This symbolic offering signifies the union of earthly male and female archetypes, a marriage of sorts, under the transcendent male and female above. And just like rage spread across the land, so does peace as idols of sacrifice and quiet have proven to their transcendent parents that they can live in harmony once again.


So, ultimately, Princess Mononoke is not just a film about pollution and the environment. Rather, this is a film about the degradation of human-human relations and human-nature relations, all of which are predicated on a poisoned lineage of male and female archetypes that transcends basic, worldly structures. The re-installation of harmonious structure through sacrifice, responsibility and quiet is then Miyazaki's solution to a collapsing system; this is not a political statement, it is not even a theological statement; this is an abstract statement of art transcendent of even the words you have just read.

There is so much more to be said about Princess Mononoke as, like all truly great films, its narrative seems inexhaustible. So, what are your thoughts on all we've covered today? What have I missed? What more is there to be said about the archetypes and symbolic figures in this film?


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