[DWJ] Re: Heyer and Ghibli (now with Mononoke spoilers)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sun May 13 17:26:49 EDT 2007

Kyra wrote:
>So, what you say about _Princess Mononoke_ sounds very familiar to me -
>it's a claim or similar to a claim that I remember people making to me
>before I saw the movie, and one that I have heard many times since.  But I
>have never understood this claim.  

I think that if you assume this claim is being made in opposition to
other things, then it is perhaps hard to understand; if you take it as
being not about "this work in relation to other examples of that class
of art called film" and think of it as being simply about "this
individual item", you won't find what I wrote of it to be particularly
extraordinary.  What I wrote was "Nothing in it is cut-and-dried,
black-and-white, good-and-bad, nobody is quite what they appear
superficially to be, and there are more small important twists than I
can readily keep track of." I would stand by that, particularly during
the course of the film; even in retrospect I personally still feel that

For myself, there was nobody in *Princess Mononoke* whom I found to be
unambiguously *and consistently* wrong or right, might be the best way
to express my reaction.  I therefore had to think about it rather more
than I otherwise would.  I think there *may* be one individual in it who
isn't actually at any point in the wrong in essence, and does not
actually do deliberate harm personally, but I'm not sure, because harm
certainly results from that person's actions, and they are deliberate.

>I think I've seen the movie three times
>now, and, each time, it has seemed very obvious to me that Jigo is the
>villain of the movie, a completely cut-and-dried bad guy who only does
>horrible things and is not at all sympathetic (maybe he is sometimes
>comically appealing, but that doesn't actually make him a sympathetic
>character, just a funny villain).  So what am I missing here?  (I admit
>that the last time I saw the movie was five years ago, so I may well not
>be remembering something.  But the reaction I'm talking about is the one I
>had every single time I saw the movie, immediately following seeing it.).

"Immediately following seeing it" seems to me an important phrase here.

Somebody I know has for some time now (probably since the day it was
first available in this country: he's a tad obsessive) owned the DVD of
*Princess Mononoke*, and regularly shows it to people who have never
seen it before.  About two-thirds of the way through, he stops the film
and asks them to tell him where they think it is going, who they think
is good or bad, and how they think it can be resolved.  So far, he
assures me, not one single person has given either exactly the same
answer as another or an answer that is entirely in keeping with the
film's ending.  Unlike you, many people don't seem to manage to pinpoint
a villain for it with such unerring judgement, certainly not before the
end and sometimes not even then.

Bearing in mind that I haven't seen *Princess Mononoke* since the
England premiere and a couple of video showings shortly after that (I
don't have the film, and if I did I don't have the means to view it) and
cannot remember the names, if Jigo is the one I think he must be:

Is he a Villain?  It could be argued (has been argued!) that he is
honourable within the existing code, and he is obeying the undoubtedly
legitimate orders (no other sort exists) of his Emperor to whom his
first loyalty has to be no matter how much he might wish it were
otherwise on a personal level, and the people against whom he is acting
are ambiguously correct at best, at worst a danger to the common weal,
and certainly in opposition to his Emperor's wishes; therefore he can't
be seen as being exclusively villainous, even if *some* of his
motivation is that he is to be covered in gold if he obeys orders
successfully, and even if he is a mischievous cynic.

It is not possible for the Emperor to be the villain.  That would be
unthinkable in the society in which the film is set.  To suggest that
the Emperor's representative is a villain would be unthinkable too 
unless he disobeyed the Emperor.

>I had this conversation with my best friend (who is actually a Miyazaki
>skeptic too but likes _Mononoke_), and she claimed that people consider
>the movie to depict everything in shades of grey  because Jigo is a minor
>character.  But that doesn't make sense to me.  Of course, if you have a
>black-and-white evil character in your story, he isn't going to be one of
>the protagonists.  Just because the protagonists are more sympathetic than
>the villain but not absolutely perfect does not make the movie
>particularly unusual.  Sure, there are stories out there with completely
>perfect protagonists, but there are also a lot of stories with imperfect
>protagonists, so I don't see why _Mononoke_ is seen as some kind of

I didn't, I think, claim it as an innovation: how would I know?  I 
haven't seen the other anime from which it may or may not differ.  I do 
think it is exceptional, but a thing can be exceptional without being 

When people claim that it is special because it is not
>black-and-white, to what exactly are they comparing it?

I haven't the faintest idea, because I don't know what movies they may
have seen, and I know that most movies I see (few, and always those that
have come very highly recommended indeed, because I loathe the high
sound level in cinemas) I cannot remember at all within about a week
except at a superficial level.  *Princess Mononoke* was one of the very
few films I have seen during the past thirty years that I would bother
to seek out if I ever bothered to get the relevant gear to watch them. 
Totoro is another.  That's out of perhaps thirty altogether, and out of
two animated cartoons or whatever one calls these movies.  (Mind you,
another film I would seek out is *What's New Pussycat*, which is, erm,
unambiguously silly and has no ethical conundrums involved at all.  I
don't *always* want to have my assumptions challenged: sometimes I 
simply want to be entertained.)

If you're asking with what *I* am comparing *Princess Mononoke*, the
answer is, I wasn't (except in that I was putting it into an
order-of-preference among a particular group of films I do happen to
have seen): it is possible to say that something is not black-and-white
without meaning that some other thing necessarily is so.  One can after
all be opposed to two or more things simultaneously even though they are
opposed to each other: just because something is unabiguously god-awful
doesn't mean that anything opposed to it is not also and equally
godawful.  Sometimes one has to say "none of the above" when asked for a
preference.  It is equally possible to like two things that are so
different as to appear to be opposed to each other: whyever not?  Must
one dislike Monet merely because one likes Constable?  I enjoyed
*Princess Mononoke* entirely on its own merits, not because it was or
wasn't like the first Harry Potter film or *The Princess Bride*.

The reason that I found *Princess Mononoke* an interesting film is that 
the "sides" are not obviously intended to be Good and Bad.  That is not 
to say that I think all other films contain nothing but diametric 
opposition between the obvious and the other obvious.

>Thanks for any light you can shed on this question!

>ObDWJ: What I like about the movie is not the human interactions but the
>depiction of the nature spirits.  Combined with my fondness for _Totoro_
>and _Spirited Away_, this makes me think that my favorite thing about
>Miyazaki is his depictions of the numinous.  So for a long time I have
>been thinking that, if Miyazki made a DWJ-film based entirely on my
>preferences, it would be _Spellcoats_.  _Drowned Ammett_, and, more
>recently, _The Merlin Conspiracy_ and _The Pinhoe Egg_ might work, too,
>but _Spellcoats_ is my favorite of those four books.

I think the one he has said most wants to make is *Drowned Ammet*, but
I'm not sure how he would get flying-ships into that one!  Still, I
suppose if he could fit them into Howl he can fit them into *anything*.


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