|Interview: Miyazaki on Mononoke-hime|
An Interview with Hayao Miyazaki
Mononoke-hime Theater Program, July 1997
Translated to English by Ryoko Toyama
Edited by Deborah Goldsmith
© 1997 by Tokuma Shoten and Studio Ghibli
Translated without permission for personal entertainment purpose only. The translator is solely responsible for any mistranslation or misunderstanding due to it.
This interview contains spoilers. If you have not seen the film, you may want to avoid reading this interview.
- Please tell us about the hero, Ashitaka.
Miyazaki (M): Ashitaka is not a cheerful, worry-free boy. He is a melancholy boy who has a fate. I feel that I am that way myself, but until now, I have not made a film with such a character. Ashitaka was cursed for a very absurd reason. Sure, Ashitaka did something he should not have done - killing Tatari Gami. But there was enough reason to do so from the humans' viewpoint. Nevertheless, he received a deadly curse. I think that is similar to the lives of people today. I think this is a very absurd thing that is part of life itself.
- How about Yakkul?
M: I made Yakkul because I somehow felt it would be easier to draw an imaginary animal. The other reason is that if I had a boy riding a horse with a Japanese sword and a topknot (a typical hairstyle of Japanese in period dramas), he would be a samurai. Then he would associated with the image of a samurai which existing period dramas have built. But I didn't want that. I wanted to have a boy, not a samurai boy, in the movie.
Ashitaka is at a loss as he comes into the outside world, that is, town, from his village. At this point, he is hiding his face to show that he is a non-person. Actually, at the moment he cut his topknot off, he was no longer human. Cutting one's topknot in a village has that meaning. So, it looks like Ashitaka leaves (the village) of his own will, but actually, the village forces him to leave, I think. Ashitaka, as such a boy, cannot negotiate well when he goes to the market. The Northeast area, where Ashitaka's village was, used to produce gold. So Ashitaka just offered a gold grain instead of money, not knowing the value of it.
- Judging from her attire, Eboshi looks like a Shirabyoushi (prostitutes who danced in men's attire).
M: I also have that image (about her). I think that she got there after going through considerable hardships. So from Eboshi's standpoint, she must feel that Ashitaka's karma is nothing.
- So she did go through a lot of hardships.
M: Yes. I thought up a story that she was a wife of a Wako boss (Japanese pirates/smugglers who raided the Chinese and Korean coastlines), or something like that. And what Eboshi is trying to do is to build a paradise as she thinks of it. Hence, she is a person of the 20th century. She has a clear ideal and can take action. Well, I just think so (laughs).
- And if she was interfered with...
M: She wouldn't hesitate to kill, sacrifice, or even sacrifice herself. I think that she is that kind of person. And that somehow jives with the big experiments humans conducted during the 20th century, or what socialism did.
- How about the war between the Samurai and Tatara Ba?
M: Such things were rather common. Tatara Ba eroded the valleys and mountains with water to wash out iron sands. Water is conducted through a gutter, and hits a cliff. Then, the muddy water is conducted through (another) gutter to allow the iron sands to precipitate out gradually. The process pollutes the water, and washes mud downstream. So the villages and the river downstream get buried in mud. It was a disaster for those who grew rice.
Therefore, the farmers downstream and the Tatara people were often in conflict. When the local Samurai attacked Tatara Ba, they were not doing something bad; they were doing something rightful. In that time, Samurai and farmers weren't clearly separated (i.e., some Samurai were also farmers). So it's natural to have a conflict when Tatara Ba's presence became bigger.
However, since these Samurai said they are (Samurai of) "Asano Kubo" ("Kubo" is a title for a noble high-ranking Samurai, such as a Shogun), they are (men of) noble Samurai such as Kanrei. So they treated Ashitaka honorably, as a Samurai, when he hurried to Tatara Ba. If they feel that Ashitaka is coming to meet them in single combat, they say "Come on!". When they see a great (combat) technique, they appreciate it and think, "I saw a good thing." I wanted them to be men like that.
I don't consider the Samurai as bad and the Tatara people as good. So, in the scene where the porters were eating, I tried to put several unlikable guys. Kouroku doesn't say a word to the Ishibiya guy, although they were both wounded.1 Even a guy as good-natured as Kouroku could not be free from the social restrictions of the era. The Ishibiya people are functioning as mercenaries, but at Tatara Ba, they are not treated as people with feelings or personalities.
- I thought the strength and toughness of the women at Tatara Ba are traits we find today.
M: It's not that I wanted to make it modern. It's just that depicting Tatara Ba under the rule of men would be boring. And if I made the boss of Tatara Ba a man, he would be a manager, not a revolutionary. If it's a woman, she becomes a revolutionary, even if she is doing the same thing.
So I didn't make them women who have to be protected by men, or women in their families. I intentionally cut them off (from such things). I think that actually there were children at Tatara Ba, but it would make things complicated if I put children there, so I didn't. Eventually, many children will be born there, but I wanted to portray Tatara Ba as not yet in such a stage.
And not all the Tatara men are good guys. I wanted to make crowds that included disagreeable guys. "This is a disagreeable guy, so let's kill him" - I didn't make the end (to the story) like that.
Kouroku is not a special guy. It's the first time that I made a movie in which an ordinary guy didn't do anything heroic, right to the end.
I made the character of Jiko Bou without knowing what kind of role he would play. He could be a spy of the Muromachi government (the Samurai regime which was ruling Japan at that time), a henchman of some religious group, or a Ninja, or he could actually be a very good guy. In the end, he became a character who has all of those elements.
- I thought that he was all of what you have just said.
M: And still, he isn't a bad guy. I wanted him to be that kind of person.
- In that sense, this movie does not have what you could call a bad guy.
M: No. When you talk about plants, or an ecological system or forest, things are very easy if you decide that bad people ruined it. But that's not what humans have been doing. It's not bad people who are destroying forests.
- Humans have their own reasons to do it.
M: Yes. Hard-working people have been doing it. During the Edo era, many beautiful forests were raised, but that was because trees were planted to finance a Han (feudal domain). So if someone cut even one branch off, they cut his arm or head off. That's how they protected and raised the forest. And since the farmers around the forests were really poor, they hoped that they somehow could cut the trees in the domain.
If we had only talked about this situation from the human's side, there would have been no forest. Because of such terrible power, the forests were born. Then, there is actually a dilemma between the issue of humanism and growing a forest. It is exactly the problem of the environmental destruction we are facing on a global scale. This is the complexity in the relationship between humans and nature. And since this is a big theme of this film, I didn't want it to be a story about a bad guy.
I think that the Japanese did kill Shishi Gami around the time of the Muromachi era. And then, we stopped being in awe of forests. Well, I don't know if it was really during the Muromachi era or not, as there would certainly be regional differences, but at least from ancient times up to a certain time in the medieval period, there was a boundary beyond which humans should not enter. Within this boundary was our territory, so we ruled it as the human's world with our rules, but beyond this road, we couldn't do anything even if a crime has been committed, since it was no longer the human's world - there was such asyl (a sanctuary which is free from the common world. It is a free and peaceful domain), or a sanctum. It is written in books by Kin-ya Abe or Yosihiko Amino (both are historians). I think that there were such things. As we gradually lost the awareness of such holy things, humans somehow lost their respect for nature. This film deals with such a process in its entirety.
- We lost our awe (of such things)
M: Yes. After all, this film is just reenacting what humans have done historically. After Shishi Gami's head was returned, nature regenerated. But it has become a tame, non-frightening forest of the kind that we are accustomed to seeing. The Japanese have been remaking the Japanese landscape in this way.
- So, San's last word was...
M: It is a thorn that stuck in Ashitaka without being resolved. Ashitaka is the kind of person who is willing to live with the thorn. So, I think that Ashitaka is a person of the 21st century, who decided to live with the thorn, San. He does not say "well, I can't do anything about it."
If Ashitaka says "I'll become a deep ecologist", things are easier, but it doesn't work like that. In our daily lives, things that humans can do to protect nature are limited. And Ashitaka also has a distrust of the humans' acts to survive in the ecosystem as a thorn. And at the same time, he can not turn a blind eye to people dying from starvation. Ashitaka has no choice but to suffer and live, while being torn between such conflicts. That's the only path human beings can take from now on.
- In that sense, Ashitaka is not a typical hero.
M: Rather, the biggest characteristic of Ashitaka is that no one has expectations of him. If Ashitaka is totally swayed by the way (the people of) Tatara Ba think, he could stay there, but otherwise, he has no place to stay. During his journey, he saves people who were caught in the middle of battles, but he isn't thanked. Ashitaka almost always fights when people are not watching. It's a lonely war.
When he went to notify the porters that Tatara Ba was under siege, since the porters didn't know how he fought, they didn't even say a word of thanks (laughs). They just thought that Ashitaka came to tell them. San seems not to hate Ashitaka, but she left souvenirs 2 to tell him "go now". Moro also says "leave the mountain". Ashitaka has no place to stay.
- How about going back to the Emishi's village?
M: He can't go back. Even if he could go back, what would be there? There might be some time lag, but eventually, the world of what Eboshi has been doing at Tatara Ba will come rushing in. So if Ashitaka says "I will go home" since his curse was cured, that will be no solution. And it will be a big problem if he brings San back.
- Kaya, who saw Ashitaka off, loved Ashitaka, didn't she?
M: Yes of course. She calls him "Anisama (older brother)", but it just means that he is an older boy in her clan.
- So they are not real brother and sister.
M: If they were, that wouldn't be interesting at all. There used to be a lot of marriage among blood relations in Japan. I thought of Kaya as a girl who is determined to do so (marry Ashitaka). But Ashitaka chose San. It's not strange at all to live with San, who lives with such a brutal fate. That's life.
- I would like to ask you about Shishi Gami (the Great Spirit of the Forest), who is key to this film.
M: In this film, Shishi Gami is not a gentle creature who gives blessings. I depicted it as a low-ranked god. There are legends of giants, such as Didarabocchi or Daidarabou, but we don't know why they exist. So, I just decided, "it's nature's night, given form," and then, I was able to convince myself (laughs). I just thought, the creature is gathering and giving out lives during the night. So that's why I gave it different shapes during the day and the night. I just dreamed up that it is such a creature (laughs). So, it wanders from forest to forest during the night.
- And Eboshi tries to kill Shishi Gami. What is the gun she is using?
M: It's called a "Kasou" (Ka=Fire, Sou=Spear), or "Fire Spear". In reality, it had a longer rod, and it often exploded and injured the shooter. It was often made from copper, and was used in the Ming Dynasty in the 15th century. It had been brought to Japan before matchlock guns were. The Tanegashima, the gun that was brought to Japan by the Portuguese, was not really made in Portugal. It was a gun used in Java.
Even before that, more primitive guns and cannons were used in China. There is a historical document that says they might have been used in the War of Onin (1467-1477). But they weren't powerful enough to decide the fate of the war.
However, for the power balance between humans and animals, that was decidedly changed when humans started using gun powder. Really, though, the biggest reason why mountain animals decreased so much is agriculture. It's human arrogance to say that the country scenery is beautiful. A farm basically takes away the chance to grow from other plants. It's more like barren land. The productivity of wasteland is higher than that of farmland. It's the same for other creatures. It's because of the time (we live in today) is such that I have to even think such things.
- How did Eboshi feel about killing Shishi Gami?
M: Eboshi thinks that she doesn't have to do it now. She thinks that if they continue to make iron and diminish the forest gradually, it would weaken Shishi Gami, and then, she can just take it. It's not like she respects Shishi Gami, but she has to fight against Samurai, and she knows that killing Shishi Gami right now would cause many unnecessary casualties. She thinks that trees can be replenished. She thinks that if necessary, they just have to replant the trees.
- Jiko Bou has the letter from the Emperor for the Shishi Gami hunt. What was it?
M: It was believed that when you do something dangerous, you can avoid misfortune if you have a pardon from the Emperor. The Emperor was not just the political power, but was also the highest religious figure. And Jiko Bou made a contract with a certain mysterious organization of monks. He also works as a member of the organization.
- And the organization believes that the head of Shishi Gami has the power of eternal youth.
M: They think that it has some power. Humans are like that. They think that a strange thing has power, and if it's a rare thing, they want to have it. So Jiko says "it's human nature to want everything between the heaven and the earth." Jiko does not deny human karma. He says, "Speaking of curses, this world is a curse itself." Still, he loves to eat, and shows interest when he meets a mysterious boy.
- About the idea of forests and trees cursing the humans who destroyed them.
M: It's interesting, isn't it? There are many stories about trees giving curses (Tatari) in the Western part of Japan. Such folklore, or something that goes back to our distant memories, remains strongly in Japanese culture. People on Yakushima Island didn't cut the trees. They thought that cutting trees would bring about a curse. Trees are beings that make us feel that way. I learned it when I went to Yakushima. When they decided to cut and sell trees because they were too poor to eat, there was a monk who recommended cutting the trees. It was not the case that they started cutting tress because a certain person happened to be on the island and said so, but rather to do with the changes in the society itself.
M: In the past, humans hesitated when they took lives, even non-human lives. But society had changed, and they no longer felt that way. As humans grew stronger, I think that we became quite arrogant, losing the sorrow of "we have no other choice." I think that in the essence of human civilization, we have the desire to become rich without limit, by taking the lives of other creatures.
The place where pure water is running in the depth of the forest in the deep mountains, where no human has ever set foot - Japanese had long held such a place in their heart. There lived big snakes you don't see in a village, or something scary - we believed so until a certain time. I still have a feeling that there is such a holy place with no humans in the deep mountains, the source where many things are born. I think that Japanese gardens definitely try to create a holy, pure world. Purity was the most important thing for Japanese.
We have lost it. I'm not interested in Japan as a state. But I feel that we have lost our core as the people who live in this island nation. I think that it was the most important root for the people who have been living on this island.
And it leads to the idea that the world is not just for humans, but for all life, and humans are allowed to live in a corner of the world.
It's not like we can coexist with nature as long as we live humbly, and we destroy it because we become greedy. When we recognize that even living humbly destroys nature, we don't know what to do. And I think that unless we put ourselves in the place where we don't know what to do and start from there, we cannot think about environmental issues or issues concerning nature.