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Themes of Environmentalism and Feminism in the Movie 'Princess Mononoke'

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The Studio Ghibli movie ‘Princess Mononoke’ is a Japanese fantasy movie that was released on July 12, 1997, directed by studio head, Hayao Miyazaki. This film was the highest grossing film of Japan after its release. The movie is based during the Muromachi period, in 1336 to 1573 CE; this period was likely chosen due to the progress of the era. It is about a prince who finds himself in a journey of conflict, a fight between gods of the forest and humans. There are many themes explored within this film, with two examples being environmentalism and feminism. These key themes can be seen within the story, characters as well as ties to certain religious beliefs. I am going to be looking specifically at these issues in the 1970s and 90s as well as how they were represented within this movie.

Two main figures in this movie include the characters San and Lady Ebosi. Although they are two parallels, they both are ambiguous and determined fight for their own beliefs, they are neither good or bad, they’re complex, which makes this movie so exciting and real as a feminist movie. Lady Eboshi is the leader of Iron Town, respected by the people of her land, she created a safe place for social outcasts, saving women from brothels and giving them equal opportunities: “Here we get to eat as much as we want, and the men don’t bother us” (Princess Mononoke, 44:10, Miyazaki). Many good things have come from her actions however the result caused negative environmental effects, represented in the corruption of Nago (a boar god).

San, the princess of the wolf gods, is the one of the main protagonists, being brought up by the wolves of the forest she intends to protect her land. San is truly a unique character of that time, she embodies a carefree spirit, she does not fit into societal norms and does not try to. Miyazaki has made a character that is not there just to complement the hero but a character that moves to her own will.

Both these female characters are revolutionary to the world of animation. Using this form of media allowed Miyazaki to portray strong one-of-a-kind females leads that challenge gender norms. This is a good example for people to follow in terms of feminism for the time that the movie was released.

In a short Japanese documentary Toshio Suzuki, close friend of Miyazaki and chief producer of Studio Ghibli, stated: “Miyazaki is a feminist, actually. He has this conviction that to be successful, companies have to make it possible for their female employees to succeed too. You can see this attitude in ‘Princess Mononoke’. All [the] characters working the bellows in the iron works are women” (The Birth of Studio Ghibli, 1998, 22:14).

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Using this form of media allowed Miyazaki to portray woman in a positive light and showing that they can be in high positions despite the gender norms. This was a good example for people to follow in terms of feminism for the time that the movie was released. At this time (1997) there was a third wave of feminism that committed to supporting individuals and groups working towards social justice within gender, race and the economy. Due to the fact that the movie was so popular upon release, this movie would have further helped promote the growth and message of feminism, empowering more women, but also help impact the views on them in a working space.

The movie also hints at the economic inequality in the workspace of Japan during the 1970-1980. Although there was the Labor Standards Law in 1947 that authorized equal pay and maternity leave and the Working Women’s Welfare Law of 1972, there was still no consequences to those who didn’t follow this act. So, in 1997, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (Japan) was revised against the discrimination in hiring. Despite all these laws Japan still lagged behind in these conditions, so the fact that the movie was released during this time, it is a real empowering statement for feminism.

‘Princess Mononoke’ explores the conflict and the damage made to nature and its environment. Miyazaki is a firm advocate for environmentalism, through the animation he has helped people understand the concerns of the environmental crises, and how its effecting the world. In a 1997 interview with Asia Pulse, Miyazaki has stated: “I feel the relationship between the Japanese and nature has changed greatly over the centuries, becoming what it is today around the time of the Muromachi era. While holding nature in awe, the Muromachi people approved of cutting down trees. Iron production jumped, people came to feel they could control nature. I’ve come to the point where I just can’t make a movie without addressing the problem of humanity as part of an ecosystem…” (Asia Pulse, May 16, 1997). The destruction of natural environment can be present when a boar god is shot, that single bullet causes it to corrupt, turning it into a demon as a result of the hatred caused by humans who destroyed natural resources provided by the gods. Later the Forest Spirit is beheaded, causing a toxic substance to destroy everything in its path, it is not until its head was returned that the land wall fully restored back to its original form. Another example is when the people are seen chopping down trees and producing iron, causing pollution. The movie shows how we must hold accountability of our actions and there is a consequence to destroying the environment.

In a 1989 Japanese survey it was said that 75% of people voiced concerns over global issues such as, air pollution, shrinkage in rain forests, endangered animals and the destruction of the ozone layer etc. All these concerns are reflected upon in the movie, in turn enlightening the people of these issues.

The importance of environmentalism in the film can be seen through the lens of Shintoism, which is a Japanese religion, that highlights the value between harmony with nature to the point that even trees could be considered a god. The movie heavily shows the significance of the forest and nature; the forest is more than just an inanimate space; it also has a spiritual quality. In the movie the destruction of the forest represents the destruction of gods. The destruction of the land would be considered as sin within Shintoism, emphasizing the atrocities man have made to nature, the divine beings. The modernization of Japan has made people slowly forget the idea of Shintoism (connection of man with nature). Through this movie Miyazaki wanted to remind the people of Japan of their traditions and heritage focused on nature before it is forgotten. Tying this to the first point the belief of harmony with nature is reflected during the end of the film where the two forces come to understand each other.

In conclusion, ‘Princess Mononoke’ holds an important message that needs to be heard to this day as climate issues continue to peak. The animation holds deep values towards both themes of environmentalism and feminism, that are fleshed out clearly though the characters and their actions. When analyzing the two females, I find that there is no true evil within them, except we learn to recognize each side and understand the purpose of their actions, as the characters also develop to understand each other. The movie successfully demonstrates the consequence of human greed, where we take as much as we want from the environment to the point of destruction, we realize there will be a point where it will be too late unless we act for what is right. The outside events that happened in the 1980s and 90 have clearly shown their influence throughout the movie, and gives a voice to those who need it most. Through the events that happened in the 1870 and 90s, I believe Miyazaki has cleverly displayed the problems of society during that time through this animation, highlighting the problems and spreading awareness. The individualistic characters have made a mark in female characters within animation, making them one of its kind.

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Themes of Environmentalism and Feminism in the Movie ‘Princess Mononoke’. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from
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