No Damsel in Distress; No Daring and Dashing Knight-in-Shining Armour

The first binary that most people easily recognize is male and female. It does not take long before you notice that Princess Mononoke is filled with strong characters, especially female characters. The female characters dominate the screen and refuse to be characterized under the stereotypes that go along with women. Rifa-Valls says, “In Miyazaki’s films, there are multiple subjective positions available for women/girls, who defend causes, do jobs, govern microterritories, and form social communities…women forge iron as commanded by Eboshi, who takes on San, the wolf-girl” (Rifa-Valls, 93). Rifa-Valls points out that the women within Princess Mononoke are not in their heteronormative roles (I did not expect for the ideas in queer theory to pop up but I will use them sparsely here for this discussion). Heteronormative roles are roles that are viewed as normal by society based on gender.

San is a princess but also a wolf. She is brave, strong, fearless yet when Ashitaka is injured, she takes care of him and even protects him when the apes and boars want to eat or kill him. She tells Ashitaka, “I’m not afraid to die if it will drive the humans away ” (55:12). Her mission for vengeance against Eboshi and her hatred towards humans, fashions her not as the typical woman but more as a warrior princess but with an animal-like view point. Rifa-Valls says, “San [is] the abject one who carries out vengeance, as a liminal figure who alters femininity and aligns herself with the grotesque and the nonhuman (the animals), the gods, and nature” (94). San has no allegiance to humans nor the normal roles a woman would play in society because of her upbringing by animals and her need to fight against what she views as evil.

San is set off against Eboshi; normally if one woman is strong, the other should be weak but this is not the case. Eboshi is brave, strong, fearless like San and shows her caring side through recruiting prostitutes to work at the iron works and lepers to make guns (those often thought of as outcasts in society). Eboshi chased out the gods and took the land from the gods by leading men in warfare. This shows her as a leader for people to follow. Her ideals of recruiting those society does not want or casts aside, shows perhaps her more nurturing side and perhaps shows her only feminine quality as she cares deeply  for her female followers. Yet once, she has given the women the tools they need to protect themselves and the iron works, she leaves them to it. She tells Jiko-bo, “I’ve done all I can for the women. They can defend themselves” (1:45:30). I believe she tells Jiko-bo this because she has empowered Toki and the other women, done all she could to teach them how to fire a rifle, and now has a job that only she can do (kill a god).

In between these two strong females is Ashitaka. He is a prince and a warrior, and an outcast from his home due to his curse. He embodies the quiet warrior on a quest for answers, but instead of planning (except to find San several times), he simply acts on what happens around him. He is not exactly your typical heteronormative male role model as he has to be saved as well, not his soul or from his emotions, but physically. He saved San from Eboshi and in returns becomes injured, she saves him by taking him to the Deer god for healing. He is saved from death physically but it does not change his personality, only makes his convictions and opinions stronger. Ashitaka acts as a mediator between Eboshi and San, as he wants to “see with eyes unclouded by hate” and does so. He does not take either side of the war. He simply does what he thinks is right, whether that is helping the iron works or helping the wolves. He is not your typical hero who picks a side, fights on the side of good and wins the battle, the girl and a happy ending (this is not a Disney movie after all). Ashitaka does not win the battle in the typical way; he gives back the Deer god/Nightwalker his head but it is too late and the god disappears although he restores the forest. Ashitaka does not end up with San in the end as she still hates humans but she is willing to try to be his friend. This leaves the ending ambiguous as we never know whether there is a happy ending, whether the humans continue to destroy the forest, whether the samurai fight the iron works again; we simply do not have an obvious happy ending, it is a beginning.

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