When Feminisms clash

The Studio Ghibli Movie, “Princess Mononoke”, directed by Hayao Miyazaki paints a complex and emotional picture of the distinct, intricate political questions that arise from the conflicting claims of many social groups to the forests. It brilliantly excels at capturing the essence of the moral dilemma that we as nations and human beings face between economic prosperity and environmental protection. On another level, the film like many of Miyazaki’s movies, is notable for the remarkable portrayal of strong female characters, a refreshing and commendable departure from the “Damsel in distress” trope. The two female characters, Lady Eboshi and Princess Mononoke share many similarities, even though at initial glance, they may seem to be polar opposites of each other. This paper shall attempt to examine how Gender as a social category functions in the world Miyazaki has created and how this exemplifies the environmental and socio-political conflicts portrayed in Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke”.
It is evident in the movie that Princess Mononoke and Lady Eboshi have very different perspectives of the forests and mountains. The sacred forests and mountains are the prime source of conflict and it is around this that Miyazaki has spun a marvellous story. Princess Mononoke values the forests for its sake. Growing up with wolves outside the frontiers of human society, she claims she hates humans and hence cannot fathom the greed of humans and the myopic innate human tendencies to exploit forests mercilessly. Lady Eboshi is a head-strong woman who heads the small ecosystem of the Tatara-Ba and skillfully manages it. She is vehemently hated by Princess Mononoke, for what Mononoke considers to be an encroachment on the forests, where sacred deities and spirits have lived for centuries. Other than Mononoke, Lady Eboshi has other rivalries with the Samurai Clans and kingdoms in Feudal Japan.
The two different female characters are a huge distance away from many of the stereotypical, stock female characters that are so prevalent in Japanese pop culture and art. Factoring the fact that Miyazaki, a man who has remarkably achieved the feat of portraying strong female characters, into the analysis of the story, doesn’t dampen the message of the movie. In fact, Miyazaki should be commended and celebrated for it. The two female characters could be construed as the different opposing strands within the feminist movement. One represents the increasingly popular sub-movement of eco-feminism, for whom the two goals of smashing the patriarchy and saving the environment are inseparable and go hand in hand. The other represents the capitalistic, militant feminism for whom the environment is either given lower priority or doesn’t even feature in any list of social concerns. Lady Eboshi, in her misguided attempt at escaping the clutches of the patriarchal Samurai clans and kingdoms, ends up destroying the forests and its fragile ecosystem and thereby, destroys the autonomy of Princess Mononoke. Therein, lies the tragedy of such a feminism, which annihilates other feminisms. While Lady Eboshi’s actions are understandable, they’re not justified at all and in fact, reprimandable.
It is not far-fetched to assume that this movie is an anti-capitalist or pro-environment movie. But the catch is that Miyazaki treats both the main female characters with sympathy and at a few moments, with mockery as well. The audience is told as to how Lady Eboshi has accomplished the dream of equality for men and women in Tatara-Ba. The womenfolk are happy and they claim that men know their place in Tatara-Ba, unlike the place they grew up in. But this new independence owes largely to the capitalistic and exploitative pursuits of Lady Eboshi. It is this fact which traps the audience in a very ambivalent position and makes it so hard to take any sides. Miyazaki’s skill is in opening our eyes up to the ambiguities of human existence and how any action, no matter how justified, comes with a huge collateral damage. For this, he has deservingly ensured a place in the public’s consciousness.