NapierConfrontingting_Master_Narratives

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Unformatted text preview: Confronting Master Narratives: History As Vision in Miyazaki Hayao’s Cinema of De-assurance Susan J. Napier There is something. . . timeless about the concept ofglobal culture. Widely diffused in space, a global culture is cut off From any past. As the perennial pursuit of an elusive present or an imagined future it has no history. A global culture is here and now and everywhere, and for its purposes the past only serves to offer some decontexualized example or element for its cosmopolitan patchwork—Anthony D. Smith, “Towards a Global Culture?” Ifyou opened a map OFJapan and asked me where was the forest of the s/zz'shz'gamz' that Ashitaka went to, I couldn’t tell you but I do believe that somehow traces ofthat kind of place still exist inside one’s soul.~——Miyazaki Hayao, in an interview with Yamaguchi Izumi, 1997 “Who speaks for the past?” Robert Rose‘nstone asks in his introduction to Rem'sz'oning History, a discussion of New History Cinema. Recently, this question has gained in importance as the past is acknowledged as one of poritiom 9:2 © 2001 by Duke University Press positions 9:2 Fall 200i 468 the key elements in the’formation and maintenance of national identity, paradoxically (but hardly coincidentally) at a time when “historicity” seems to be on the wane. As the trend toward globalization has intensified over the last decade, both national histories and national identities have become contested territories, as the citizens of an increasingly interdependent world attempt to define themselves vis—a—vis what many fear to be an oppressively homogeneous global culture dominated by the United States. This “struggle for memory," to use Henry Giroux’s term, takes place not only in the areas of policies and politics, but also within the mass entertainment industries of television, video, and film, which increasingly take on the job of “speaking for the past” to the audience.I If anything, far more than the diatribes of pundits or the letters (or characters) on a printed page, it is the visual rep- resentations of an embodied historical “reality” offered by the hybridized popular culture space of film, television, and video that most profoundly affect the viewing subject, offering the audience visually arresting and se— ductively plausible simulations of historical time and space. Depending on both producer and audience, these simulations can be either palatable or provocative, reassuring or subversive, but they are always more than simple reproductions of historical reality. As Shohat and Stam put it, “Narrative models in film are not simply reflective microcosms of historical processes; they are also experiential'grids or templates through which history can be written and national identity created.”2 ‘ Iffilm and the visual mass media in general can indeed help to “write his— tory” and “create national identity,” the question ofwho speaks for the past in these industries becomes ofparticular importance. In the immediate postwar period in Japan, for example, the spokespeople included filmmakers such as Kurosawa Akira, whose vivid, humanisticjz'daigeki (period films) both ex- ploit and deconstruct the mythology of samurai warfare, and Ozu Yasujiro, whose films, although set in a contemporary postwar world, consistently elegize a vanishing past in which patriarchal authority was still sacrosanct. Even though Kurosawa’s films often problematized certain myths and Ozu’s work lamented their passing, they both offered memorable visions ofa past that still had room for heroism and humanity and which, though separate from the contemporary world, resonated deeply within a Japan that was struggling to redefine its identity after its defeat in the Pacific War. With the Napier | Confronting Master Narratives 469 rise oftelevision in the 19605 and the beginning ofthe animation boom in the 19703, concurrent with the deep cultural changes occurring as Japan went from economic dependent to economic superpower, however, visions ofthe Japanese past became both fragmented and ideologically diverse. They now ranged from the conservative remapping ofWorld War II history into a vi— sion oftwenty—first—century collective sacrifice in the animated science fiction classic Uchurcnkan Yamazo [Space Battleship Yamato] (dir. Matsumoto Leiji, 1972), to Imamura Shohei’s carnivalistic celebration of popular upheaval in his 1981 film Ez'janaz'ka. In the U.S. context one strong candidate for “speakerhood” is unques— tionably Walt Disney pictures, whose films manifest a distinct U.S. style and tone and have met with great success since the inception of the Disney Studio in the 19205. Disney’s influence both in the United States and globally is so immense that it has also generated a backlash. Indeed, some commentators such as Scott Schaffer suggest that there is a “guiding pattern behind Dis— ney’s use of local stories or histories [which is] the expansion of American political, economic, and cultural imperialistic power in the second halfofthe twentieth century."3 This assertion to my mind overstates Disney’s agenda, which is, after all, primarily to entertain and sell as many tickets and as much tierin merchande as possible. At the same time, however, it is also clear that, as Schaffer and many other commentators suggest,4 Disney products and projects, which distort history and culture, function as mass cultural legiti— mations of an essentially U.S. worldview, one that is upbeat and centered on individual action and initiative, and—while it acknowledges Otherness— often ends up erasing difference through its joyously inclusive finales, such as the “group hug” ending ofA'laddz'n or the uniting ofmermaid and human in The Little Mermaid. As such, these films participate in a larger project of American cinema, especially its most popular films, and that is to function as a cinema ofrcasxumnce, to use Robin Wood’s term,S which promotes a vision ofa world in which all problems are solved and harmony is restored under the aegis ofU.S. ideology and values. This vision, as evidenced by the global success of Disney and films by directors such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, is one that resonates worldwide. Indeed, few would be likely to disagree with the notion of Disney and U.S. mass culture in general as a winner in the contest ofcultural positions 9:2 Fall 2001 470 expansion throughout the world, and this article does not minimize their influence.6 Instead, I give an example of a mass cultural alternative that offers its own distinctive vision of the world, a vision that at times directly challenges the thematics of reassurance of so much of US. cinema. The alternative is the Japanese animation industry, whose products, usually called anime, embrace a far wider continuum of approaches to culture, history, and national identity in general than most ofthe products from the contemporary Hollywood film industry. In contrast to most US. cartoons (at least until the recent success of The Simpson: and Soar/i Park), anime texts offer a dark and complex view of the world. Even conservative fare, such as the popular Gundam and Yamato series of the 19705 and 19805, is set in dangerous science fiction worlds where favorite characters die and, in the memorable climax to Farewell Yamato, national icons such as the beloved space/warship are last seen embarking on a suicide mission. More recent anime set in the domestic world of high school life, such as Revolutionary Girl Utena or Serial Experiments Lain, portray the vaunted Japanese education system as a chaotic world of bullying, betrayal, and fear with no redeeming authority figures to intervene. This is not to suggest that all anime is subversive or that all anime texts are masterpieces. As truly mass cultural products, anime texts differ widely in quality. Estimates vary, but at least 40 percent of the Japanese film industry’s product is animated. With such an enormous output, it is inevitable that a considerable amount of anime can seem simplistic, repetitive, and boring to everyone but the most devoted fan. Even in its most juvenile form, such as the popular Pokemon television series, however, Japanese animation has achieved global impact (with Pokemon on the cover of Time), leading one scholar to declare it “Japan’s chiefcultural export.”7 Not only is anime worth studying in terms of its status as cultural export, but it is also a fascinating harbinger of what might be a new way of looking at national culture and identity, one that rests less on a firm separation or even interplay between self and Other, and more on the gradual acknowledgment that in the transna— tional postmodern world of contemporary mass culture, the Other (in terms of both national and gender divisions) might increasingly be imbricated within the self. Napier l Confronting Master Narratives 47] Nowhere is this trend more obvious than in the animated features written and directed by Miyazaki I-Iayao for his Studio Ghibli. These films are both popular and subversive, especially in regard to conventional gender coding. Furthemore, the studio’s most. recent hit, Mononoke/zz'mc [Princess Mononoke](1997), also problematizes traditional notions ofJapanese history and national identity. Despite its sometimes unconventional representations, however, Studio Ghibli is the most important animation studio in Japan, occupyinga position roughly equivalentto that ofDisney, and Miyazaki is the best—known animator in Japan today. Although he bristles when described as the Walt Disney ofJapan and the studios have in certain respects different agendas, they also share many similarities that cannot be ignored, especially after Walt Disney Enterprises in 1996 acquired the rights to a number of animated films produced by Studio Ghibli. Ghibli was not established until the 19805, but, like Disney, it was a family operation (and still is), presided over by one creative genius whose vision imprinted itself strongly on the studio’s products. (In Miyazaki’s case this includes his imprint on films created by his colleagues at Ghibli, Takahata Isao and the late Kondo Yoshifumi.)8 This vision was not simply aesthetic (although it is that as well—both studios consistently produce films and tie—in merchandise that have a distinct studio look), but also encompassed a moral and ideological worldview that both critics and supporters might describe as an “agenda.” Both filmmakers use similar tools such as tightly controlled narratives, at least by Japanese animation standards, with upbeat endings often involving children or teenagers as the central protagonists, and psychological realism, overlaid with a strong dose of the fantastic, to impart certain messages to a target audience that is usually a family market. These messages can be described as humanistic and emphasize such values as loyalty, friendship, responsibility, and initiative. Indeed, though Miyazaki’s work has darker elements than the Disney films, much of his work can also be considered to negotiate an essentially reassuring narrative structure. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the way the two studios are alike is that they have consistently mined the folklore, history, and fantasy of other countries and cultures for material for their films. In the case ofDisney these include such well—known examples as Aladdin (dir. John Musker, 1992), set in Arabia and inspired by the story from/1 Thousmzdand One NightrgMulan (dir. positions 9:2 Fall 2001 472 Barry Cook, 1997), set in historic China and inspired by a famous legend; and Thefungle Book (dir. Wolfgang Reitherman, 1967), set in nineteenth—century India and inspired by the Rudyard Kipling books. Works of Miyazaki in- clude films such as Majo no tnkkyubin [Kiki’s delivery service] (1989), about a young witch exploring a fictional European city whose architecture and landscape contain hints ofboth Stockholm and the Mediterranean; Kurtnaz' no bum [Porco Rosso] (1992), about an Italian aviator flying the Adriatic im— mediately after World War I; and, perhaps the most imaginative, Tenku no :ln'ro Lapum [Castle in the sky Laputa] (1986), about two children searching for a castle in the sky that is clearly inspired by the flying island Laputa of Gulliver’s Travels. Miyazaki says the heroine ofthe postapocalyptic ane no tnnz' no Nam-icon [Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind] (1984), set entirely in a future world, was inspired by the young princess Nausicaa, who cares for Odysseus’s wounds in The Odyssey, and the valley she lives in, with its windmills and castles, is clearly reminiscent ofEurope. Although they both decontexualize other cultures for material, there are crucial differences between the ways the studios use this material. First, Miyazaki uses non—Japanese sources to serve as the basis for distinctively orig— inal visions. With the'exception osz'kz', which is based on a children’s novel by Japanese writer Kadono Eiko, the other works are entirely Miyazaki’s creations. In contrast, Disney follows the essential. framework of the origi— nal story (often within very broad outlines) and then adds the touches that transform the original into a more Disney-like product. Even more important is the difference between the ideological messages from each studio. Although both messages are broadly humanistic, it seems that Disney, almost paradoxically, concentrates on “Other” cultures to con— struct or at least reinforce its vision of U.S. identity. As Schaffer suggests, “[Disney] does this by utilizing stories from the past—from traditions, gen— erally those of other countries—in such a way as to reinforce the values and cultural practices of America.”9 The female protagonist in Mulcm, for example, seems to owe more of her plucky humor and self—starting ability to contemporary idealizations of the young American female than to the actual heroine ofthe'legend. No matter what country or culture they belong to, virtually all of the Disney protagonists engage in what might be called “performing Americanness.” Napier | Confronting Master Narratives ' 473 In significant contrast, Miyazaki’s characters can almost never be solely described as “performing Japaneseness.” Instead, Miyazaki seems to use his cosmopolitan sources and settings to create characters that, while retaining certain characteristics linked to Japanese society, are distinctively more in— dependent in thought and action from the group-oriented characteristics traditionally celebrated in Japanese culture, such as the group allegiance of the samurai in Kurosawa’s S/zz'c/iz'm'n no samurai [Seven samurai] and the collective fighting power of the “Sailor Scouts” in the anime series Seem munu [Sailor moon].IO In other words, Miyazaki’s works do not simply decontextualize foreign countries and cultures to reinforce a national iden— tity. Instead, he works them into the narrative in a way that subtly erases traditional distinctions between the Japanese self and the foreign (usually Western) Other. This is especially true of his female characters, who are often the protagonists. These female protagonists are an intriguing mixture ofcharacteristics that include elements that are explicitly Japanese as well as others that suggest a Western identity. On the Japanese side, they clearly partake in contempo— rary Japan’s culture of the :hojo (young girl). As delineated by both Japanese and Western scholars, the :hojo occupies the site of play (515051) in mod— ern Japanese culture. Feminine, inn0cent, and cute in the quintessentially Japanese form of cuteness known as kawaz'z’, the shojo serves as an appeal— ing alternative identity in contrast to the image of the hardworking, highly pressured Japanese male. In the works of writer Banana Yoshimoto, they are also linked with nostalgia, an aspect that can be seen in the vision of 19505 female children in Miyazaki’s Tomzri no Totoro. Often, however, the s/zojo is depicted as older and is subtly eroticized. Most ofMiyazaki’s heroines are in their early teens, and although their sexuality is never highlighted, charac— ters such as Nausicaa and San have clearly female figures and relationships with male characters that seem at least potentially erotic.11 Miyazaki’s heroines differ from the typical shojo, however, in their active— ness, determination, and independence. Even in the 19905 the :lzojo depicted in anime and manga (comics) often had overtly traditional characteristics, as exemplified by the dreamy, nurturing, and ultimately passive heroines of such 19905 romantic comedies asAa megamz'mma [Oh my goddess] and Dcnez' 5/10j0 Az‘ [Video girl Ai]. Although the heroines in recent, more subversive positions 9:2 Full 200] 474 s/zojo anime such as Serial Experiments Lain or the comic Sailor Moon are more complex (in the case of Lain) and more aggressive (in the case of the heroines ofSczz'lor Moon), they often are at the mercy ofcomplex, sometimes frightening forces over which they have little or no control. In contrast, many of Miyazaki’s female characters are remarkable for tak— ing charge oftheir lives. For example, Kiki in Kz'kz": Delivery Service stoically leaves home at age twelve to learn to be a witch, and the heroine ofNamz'— ma explores the apocalyptic wasteland and performs scientific experiments entirely on her own. In Monono/{e/iimc, San is a raging mix of anger and aggression who in one memorable scene attempts to take on human civiliza— tion with only the help of her two wolf “siblings.” Rather than try to refract contemporary Japanese reality through an idealized fantasy lens, Miyazaki instead seems intent on producing figures whose prime attributes could be found in Japan, but they exemplify more Western—type models of courage and heroism. Furthermore, these are attributes that are conventionally coded as male. Whether or not Miyazaki’s protagonists are realistic is another question. The critic Murase Hiromi quotes a letter she wrote to the director when she was twelve asking was he ever going to create a “real” female protagonist. As with Disney, therefore, Miyazaki seems to be explicitly fashioning his heroines as inspirational icons for his audience. The difference, however, lies in the fact that these heroines are indebted to both Japanese and West— ern sources for their overall characterization, unlike Disney’s more purely American protagonists. Miyazaki’s works were part of national debate in Japan during the 19705 through the 19905 (and, indeed arguably, from the Meiji period opening to the West) about what it means to be Japanese in an increasingly global world. Japan’s "national discourses and practices of this period often contra— dicted each other and increasingly showed the fault lines of any notion of national unity and homogeneity. On the one hand, the Japanese from the 19705 on bought books on Nz'lzonjz'm‘on (theories of the Japanese people em— phasizing Japan’s uniqueness vis-a—vis other countries) while a Diet member, Ishihara Shintaro, and Morita Akio, president ofSony, issued a controversial book urging the Japanese to “say no” to Western demands. The Japanese Napier I Confronting Master Narratives ' 475 National Railway even launched an immensely popular campaign, “Dis- cover Japan,” in which passengers, especially young women, were exhorted to go on journeys that would lead to a recovery ofJapan’s vanishing past and a discovery of the self as well. On the other hand, during this period many Japanese traveled abroad, and an increasing number of young Japanese at— tended summer school or spent semesters in the United States and Europe. Furthermore, supported by a government—sponsored program known as kokmaz'ka (internationalization), Japanese citizens imported and consumed Western goods in enormous quantities, while on the more abstract level of culture, Japan remained, in Marilyn Ivy’s words “a voracious and seemingly insatiable consumer ofAmerican cultural forms.”12 In the case of Miyazaki, with the exception of his nostalgic personal fantasy Tomm' no Totoro [My neighbor Totoro] (1988), most of his work supports the kokusaz'ka side of the debate, as both texts and subtexts of his films clearly advocate a flexible openness to and appreciation of other cultures. Throughout the 19805 and much ofthe 19905, the director mined with great box office success a rich vein of global fantasy, legends, and science fiction to create original stories that reinforced a distinctly transnational message focusing on human responsibility and the oneness ofhumans with nature and minimizing distinctive racial or national characteristics. This is not to say that Miyazaki’s narratives do not contain elements more traditionally associated with a specifically Japanese identity, such as the clearly Shintoesque elements in Totoro,13 but that overall, these were minimal compared to his tendency to use exotic locations and stories. The Japanese public has responded strongly to Miyazaki’s blend ofinter— national and native elements. Although much of anime is for children and teenagers, Miyazaki’s films are also appreciated by families and are consis- tently box office hits. Some of them even became the highest grossing films of the year, such as the Mediterranean fantasy Porco R0530 (1992), a tragi- comedy about a lonely, presumably Italian, World War I aviator with the face of a pig, or the postapocalyptic science fiction film Nausz'cm'z', which is still the favorite family film in Japan.14 In contrast, therefore, to Disney’s dissemination ofU.S. cultural attributes in exotic disguise, Miyazaki’s work seemed comfortable in an equally exotic world where different cultures and national identities playfully intermingled to offer audiences an alternative positions 9:2 Fall 2001 476 to a sometimes oppressively defined national identity. At one point, for ex- ample, when asked why he prefers “exotic” or European locales, Miyazaki bluntly explained, “I think that right now the last thing that Japanese people want to see is Japanese people.”15 In the mid—19905 however, Miyazaki turned away from such cosmopolitan visions, choosing instead to create Mononoke/zime. The film at first glance appears very different from his previous work; it gives a vision ofJapanese culture and identity set in the fourteenth— and fifteenth—century Muromachi period. Miyazaki’s vision ofJapan’s past is as idiosyncratic and original as his View of the rest of the world, and Mononoke is certainly not a conventional history film. Despite its unconventionality, however, it was an immediate box office success. By the end of 1997 the film was the most popular in Japanese history and remains the country’s highest—grossing film. Even after it left the theaters, Monono/{e’s popularity continued, and when it was shown on television in January 1999, it drew a 35.1 percent audience share.16 Mononoke’s success is somewhat surprising. Although its production val— ues are stunning and its narrative, essentially a conventional questromance, has enough action to appeal to a wide audience, the film’s text is also complex, ambiguous, and dark and confronts many long—held notions about Japan— ese identity. Mommoke exemplifies an increasing tendency in Japanese pop culture and society to offer visions of both Japanese history and historical Japanese femininity, which take into account alternatives to the master nar— ratives that were promoted after the Pacific War in Ministry of Education textbooks. For example, the live action film Ezjanaz‘kcz includes a tumultuous climax in which the female characters lead an uprising. And the popular 19903 anime series Rm‘oum' Kent/ii recreates the Meiji period of the 18703 as a world in which martial values are viewed as problematic and a young girl can be a superb fighter and also run a dojo (martial arts academy) on her own. Princes: Mononokc adds a darker edge to these visions of popular resistance and feminine strength. In contrast to the idealized myths of harmony, pro— gess, and an unproblematic homogeneous Japanese people (minao/(u) ruled by a patriarchal elite that held sway in Japanese textbooks and postwar Japan— ese history, the film offers a vision of cultural dissonance, spiritual loss, and environmental apocalypse in which humans and nature battle each other and Napier | Confronting Muster Narratives 477 women are major players. The film also offers conventional elements such as a love story, heroic warrior, and inspiring visions ofnatural beauty, but over— all it suggests a theme ofde—assurance. This is true not only in comparison to the themes of reassurance offered by Hollywood, but also in comparison to previous Miyazaki films, which are full of dark elements, such as the vivid depiction of apocalyptic catastrophe in Nausz'caa. However, Miyazaki’s films subsumed these elements with upbeat endings that, as with their Disney counterparts, usually offered a vision ofinclusiveness and harmony. In this regard, the film’s enormous popularity is intriguing. Rather than provide a happy form ofclosure, the film ends on a note of uncertainty and fear. Instead of being disappointed, however, Japanese audiences were pro- voked to a variety ofenthusiastic explorations ofissues in the film, including the role of women, the nature of the premodern Japanese people, and the vulnerability of the environment, as evidenced in the variety ofletters from Mononokc fans collected in the book Monono/{e o Rake; karma [Writing, telling Mononoke]. _ In part the film’s popularity reflects the rising acceptance of a new form of historiography in contemporary Japan that is expressed in the writings of scholars Amino Yoshihiko and Sasuke Nishio, whose works Miyazaki knows. Amino in particular takes issue with conventional narratives of Japanese history from the “top down” (history as made only by the court and warrior aristocracy), stressing the contributions of conventionally mar- ginal groups such as women and particular kinds oflaborers, while Sasuke’s work reexamines how rice farming, traditionally one of the most power— ful symbols ofJapanese culture, negatively affected the indigenous Japanese national landscape of great glossy—leaf forests. The film explores both is— sues and offers a vision that consistently and consciously problematizes any simplistic notion ofJapanese history. In an interview Miyazaki explicitly dis- tances himselffrom the work of his predecessor Kurosawa, calling the Seven Samurai “one of the great entrapments for period film creators.”'Miyazaki says he wants to go beyond the “simple, historical perspective, or concepts like ‘farmer good guy/samurai bad guy.’ ”17 With its insistent offering of alternative visions of Japanese identity, Princess Mononoke’s success constitutes an intriguing link with Miyazaki’s earlier “exotic” films and suggests that the Japanese audience is increasingly positions 9:2 Fall 2001 478 comfortable with more varied and wide—ranging identities, not only in the worlds of fantasy and science fiction, but also within Japanese history itself. By confronting and even subverting traditional notions of the past, the film offers a new approach to constructing Japanese national identity, one that is not necessarily based on a strictly accurate adherence to historical fact but instead intermingles fact, extrapolation, and fantasy to provide a provoca— tive, heterogeneous, and often bleaker view than the conventional vision of Japanese history and identity. The film employs a number ofstrategies to accomplish this. Miyazaki uses the Fantastic and the feminine to defamiliarize and even subvert conven— tional notions of history, progress, and gender coding in Japanese culture. In contrast to his previous films,which mined the history and legends of other countries, Miyazaki this time decontextualizes and defamiliarizes his country’s past to create a vision of shifting alterities allowing the audience to range freely across a far wider continuum of both historic events and historical identities than the traditional history film usually presents. Miyazaki realizes how his film confronts traditional notions of the past. In his introduction to his book about the film he states, “Contrary to the usual period film (jz'daz'geki), this is a movie in which few samurai, peasants, or feudal lords appear. And ifthey do they are simply on the sidelines. The main protagonists are people and wild gods (kamz'gamz') who usually do not appear on the stage of history.”18 The film itselfestablishes its paradoxically ahistorical tone from its opening scene, set squarely in the realm of the nonhuman: a wide—angle shot exposes dark, mist—laden mountains over which are superimposed the words “Long ago, this country was covered by deep forests in which, from ancient times, there lived the gods.” The film begins in liminal space, a notion supported by the fact that there is no explicit date in the film (although the promotional material states that it is set in the Muromachi period). Even when humans are introduced, Mononokc' continues this liminal theme by focusing on a group ofmarginal people, the Emishi (the promotional literature says they are the equivalent of the Ainu), whose dress, choice ofsteed, and architecture indicate their differences from the Yamato, or “pure” Japanese people. The film focuses on marginals throughout its narrative, which is a quest with romantic, epic, and apocalyptic overtones: Ashitaka, a young lord of Napier | Confronting Master Narratives y 479 the Emishi tribe, is cursed by a dying boar god. In hope of undoing the curse, he travels to Yamato (the traditional name for Japan). There Ashitaka discovers two unusual places. One is a forest, a realm of myth and nature, ruled by a gigantic deerlike presence known as theshzlv/tigamz', with creatures that are either explicitly supernatural, such as the doll—like spirits known as the koa’czma, or that go beyond nature, as in the clans ofsentient animals such as wolves, monkeys, or boars who also populate the forest. The other place is Tatara, a product ofcivilization quite different from conventional notions of settlements during the Muromachi period. Ashitaka learns that Tatara is a weapons manufacturing plant that mines iron ore for armaments. In another example of undermining expectations for the conventional, guns, rather than swords, play a major part in this supposedly medieval setting. Tatara is to some extent in league with the Yamato court, since they are both united against a common enemy, the gods ofthe forest. As a consequence and again contrary to what audiences might expect ofa medieval setting, the important battles of the film are not between samurai and samurai or even samurai and peasants. Instead, various human factions battle the beasts and spirits ofthe forest. Furthermore, the emperor, whose usual role was to bring the forces of nature into harmony with his court and subjects, is shown as inimical to nature as he sends forces to fight the forest gods. In another subversion of traditional conventions, Tatara is governed by a woman, Lady Eboshi, who has created a refuge for outcast women and people with incurable illnesses such as leprosy. Eboshi is pitted against forest creatures and another female human, a girl named San, the mononoke/zz'me, or “possessed princess,” of the title. Although mononoke traditionally means “possession by a human spirit,” in this case San is clearly possessed by the fearsome spirits of nature. Raised by Moro, a female wolf, San detests all things human and lives only to destroy civilization, which to her is Tatara. Eboshi, in turn, is determined to destroy the forest, which means she must kill the slzz's/zz'gamz' for victory. In the film’s apocalyptic climax, Eboshi, along with samurai and priests from the court, battles the forest and cuts off the head of theslzislzigamz', which causes the destruction ofthe forest. The earth turns brown and cracks open, the forest spirits die, while the s/zz's/zz'gamz', barely alive, searches for its head. Eboshi has promised the head to representatives of the Yamato court, who positions 9:2 Fall 2001 480 intend to take it back to the emperor, but in the film’s penultimate scene, San and Ashitaka seize the head and return it to the shir/zigami. Princess Mononokc ends with the apparent restoration of nature and har— mony, including a patently reassuring scene in which the world turns green and flowers bloom, but ambiguous currents remain beneath the surface clo— sure. Although Ashitaka is seemingly freed from his curse and decides to stay in Tatara to work with the now penitent Eboshi, he cannot convince San to live with him. She insists that she cannot forgive humans and continues to lament the death of the forest god. Ashitaka in turn maintains that the slzzk/zigczmi is still alive, but Eboshi remains unpersuaded. The last lines of dialogue between the two have them agreeing to “visit each other sometime.” Although it uses historical material, Princess Mononoke is clearly “history as vision,” as Rosenstone describes the New History Cinema,19 creating a representation of historical reality that is recognizable yet unfamiliar and therefore provocative. Or as Komatsu says about the film, “This is not a work based on historical faithfulness . . . this is fantasy dressed as historical fiction with a variety of facts and fictions gathered together.”20 Miyazaki himself makes this clear when he says that he chose the Muromachi period because “marvelous encounters and beautiful things could still exist.”21 The way the film mixes “facts and fiction” is an important element in its overall defamiliarizing effect. Perhaps the two most important aspects of this defamiliarization are the film’s outright subversion of conventional female characterization and its “supernaturalization” of nature. With his female characters in Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki not only undermines a plethora offemale stereotypes from conventional Japanese culture and from the anime world itself, he also proceeds in a somewhat new direction from his previous female creations. As Murase points out, there are actually three important female char— acters in the film: Eboshi, San, and Moro, San’s wolf—mother.22 Female characters have traditionally been important in Miyazaki’s oeuvre, but these three depart from his more typical heroines. They are infinitely less “cute” (kawaz'z') than previous Miyazaki female protagonists, who, independent and self—possessed though they might be, still provided the audience with the reassurance that these assertive young women were fundamentally feminine. Since “cuteness” constitutes an entire cultural style in contemporary Iapan, positions 9:2 Fall 2001 482 Other, a creature of supernatural forces, totally outside the realm of the human and only barely within the territory ofthe animal. San’s “mother,” Moro, is also a destabilizing mixture of characteristics. Although clearly sentient and intelligent, she contrasts markedly with the cuddly anthropomorphic creations that viewers of family animation (both in the West and in Japan) have come to expect. She does have nurturing qualities. For example, in a strangely poignant scene, San buries her face against Moro’s fur, creating another destabilizing vision of mother—child bonding because San, wearing a fur headpiece, appears as both human and animal. And she gives wise advice to both her real offspring and San. But she is also a relentless fighter as emblemized by her death scene: as she is dying, her head magically flies from her body and she bites off Ebosbi’s arm. Eboshi is perhaps the most ambiguous character of all. Without any ap— parent famly ties or a hint of male support, she rules Tatara independently. Even more than Moro, she is characterized by an odd amalgamation of the nurturing and the ferocious. She is clearly protective ofthe diseased and out— cast citizens, and, at the same time, she is fanatically determined to destroy the this/zz'gamz' and, by extension, the natural world of the forest. Even more than San, she does not belong to any historical context. There is a tradition ofisolated utopian communities throughout Japanese history, and the film’s presentation of the fourteenth century as a time when iron ore manufactur— ing appeared is apparently accurate. But the notion of such a community being led by a woman who is also a military commander and a fiercely de— termined fighter is clearly fictional. Furthermore, in diametric opposition to San and Moro, Eboshi aligns with technology and culture. The question remains: Why did Miyazaki choose to present his female characters in such a self—consciously Other light? In her provocative essay, Murase sees the three females as occupying sig— nificantly different positions in relation to the nature/culture dichotomy that is one of the main pivots of the film. For Murase, San and Moro exist as a mother—daughter coalition aligned with nature and in opposition to the “civ— ilization” of Tatara that Eboshi rules. Eboshi in turn can be seen as a kind of artificial mother to the collectivity of Tatara. In the death of Moro at the film’s end, in contrast to the continued existence of both Tatara and Eboshi, Murase sees nature being overwhelmed by culture and also, perhaps, a hint Nopier | Confronting Master Narratives 483 of the transition from the flesh—and—blood ties that characterized premod- ern Japan to the kind of suprapersonal relationships that characterize the industrial collectivity of contemporary Japan.25 Murase also suggests that Miyazaki might be covertly playing with gender boundaries behind the screen ofthe nature/culture dichotomy. It is certainly true that all three female protagonists possess characteristics and play roles that are traditionally coded as male. It is also true that, with the exception of Ashitaka, there are no other male heroes in the film. In a departure from recent Miyazaki films we see the film’s female protagonists through the focalization of Ashitaka. This male focalization, however, might make the female protagonists appear all the more Other in relation to Ashitaka’s more normative figure. The fact that the female protagonists are really not “there” for the male in any substantive way underlines the strong separation ofgenders in the film.26 But it is also possible that using females in conventionally male—coded roles is another strategy to destabilize. The three female characters defa- miliarize what might otherwise be hackneyed film roles. Even Moro could have been a male wolf, the standard patriarchal beast of the forest. But making her a mother without conventionally maternal characteristics desta— bilizes the audience—there is no assurance that the beast is nonthreatening. Moro remains an unrepentant threat to the humans until her death, which is portrayed unsentimentally. Even more obviously defamiliarizing is Eboshi. Her character subverts any conventional notion of the traditional female role, or, what Keirstead and Lynch term a “vehicle for tradition.”27 Furthermore, had Eboshi been a male in charge of making armaments, governing a collectivity, and lead— ing troops into battle against the denizens of the forest, the audience would likely have found her far less interesting and read her as being another typical representation of the evil human male pitting his draconian tech— nology against helpless nature. By making her a female who can both de- stroy and rebuild, the film problematizes any facile stereotyping of technol— ogy/armaments/industrialized culture as evil. Eboshi’s tragedy is that she is not evil and is coerced into her destructive attack by her natural desire to protect a collectivity that is in many ways a utopia. Napier | Confronting Master Narratives . 481 linked to the culture of the 5/10j0,23 the absence of“cute” traits in the female protagonists of Princess Mononoke is especially notable.24 Overall, Princess Mononoke’s females possess a relatively gender—neutral or at least ambiguous characterization that is far from the traditionally female and completely out— side of the misogynistic patriarchal collectivity that was rapidly becoming the foundation of Japanese society at that period. Eboshi is a leader who, while she cares for the sick and the outcast, is equally concerned with mili— tary matters and the destruction ofthes/zz'slzz'grzmz'. Moro appears to be a wise and brave mother, but she is also a ferocious killer. Most intriguingly of all, San, who one might expect to occupy the conventional “heroine position” as such Miyazaki protagonists as Kiki or Nausicaa, is shown as a ruthless figure of unrelenting violence. She has her moments of softness, as when she cares for the injured Ashitaka, but the viewer is most likely to remember her first appearance in the film, when she is clad in a costume of fur and bone, her mouth smeared with blood from sucking the wound in Moro’s side. This remarkable initial appearance is worth probing, especially since it is this depiction of San that appeared most often in promotional material for the film. Her blood—smeared face, fierce demeanor, and fur clothing obviously associate San with both violence and nature, but there is also a strong element of the sexual, primordial female as well. The blood around San’s mouth (metonymically reinforced by two slashes of red paint on her cheeks) suggests menstrual blood and an aggressive sexuality that is clearly confrontational rather than reassuringly feminine. The fur around San’s neck, visually reinforced by Moro’s furry coat, might also suggest genitalia, but in a far from comforting or traditionally feminine manner. San’s body is thus inscribed with wildness and primitive sexuality, making her Otherness not only female, but also bestial. This reading is supported by most of her appearances in the film, which emphasize her aggressive, terrifying intensity. For example, the scene of her attack on Tatara is a tour de force of assaultive action. The viewer first sees her from a distance running with her two wolf “siblings” in a horizontal streak that zooms across the screen. Horizontals switch to verticals in the scene of the attack as she leaps, rolls, and plunges from rooftop to rooftop, knife in hand. Overwhelming the clearly outmatched citizens ofTatara and far more frightening than her wolf companions, San appears as terrifyingly positions 9:2 Fall 2001 484 Eboshi’s character thus defamiliarizes the standard notions of both his— torical femininity and industrialized culture. San’s character, while it too defamiliarizes the feminine, in contrast, it also defamiliarizes at least one conventional view of women and nature, that ofthe feminine and the natu- ral as a form ofsanctified Japanese harmony (wa). Even today modern Japan emphasizes women and nature as emblems oftraditional Japanese aesthetics. Thus, as Brian Moeran points out, fashion magazines such as Katez'ga/zo fea- ture only Japanese models, usually wearing kimonos and performing some seasonal activity to promote the magazine’s image of traditional harmony: “together with nature, something Japanese.”28 Obviously, San’s connection with nature is far from romantic and mys- tical. The “nature” that San epitomizes suggests assault, destruction, and profound, unstoppable rage. In this regard, San’s character is a link to his— torical Japanese beliefs, such as the kamz' in Shinto. In Shinto’s animistic beliefs, natural products, animals, rocks, and mountains, as well as individu— als, can all become kamz'. Kamz' were gods not because ofany moral attributes (as would be the case in the Buddhist pantheon that came to Japan later) but because oftheir special powers. Although not a kami, San is clearly a liminal figure, infinitely closer to the animal and other kami characters, who are at least as important in the film as the human protagonists. This brings us to the second major destabilizing strategy of the film, the use of the fantastic. and uncanny to align nonhumans and nature with the supernatural. Robin Wood says that fantasy “can be used in two ways, as a means of escaping from contemporary reality or as a means of illuminating it.”29 Princes: Monono/{ev’s use of fantasy is clearly to disturb our notions of reality. The center of the film’s fantasy is the forest, which stands in uncanny opposition to the civilization ofTatara. Freud defined uncanny as something that is both unfamiliar yet eerily familiar (unfiez'mlz'ch). The forest certainly fits Freud’s definition. For Miyazaki, apparently, the forest is a buried ar— chetypal memory. According to Komatsu, Monono/{chz'me’s forest is based on Miyazaki’s reading historical ecology, particularly Sasuke Nishio, whose works inspired a spiritual revelation. As Miyazaki said: Napier | Confronting Master Narratives 489 is instead wrapped in a vision of idealized American childhood in which all differences are obviated. Monono/{e/zz'me stands in stark contrast to this. Rather than promoting a “more or less coherent national identity,” the film problematizes the whole notion of a single Japanese identity, and rather than "spanning the gaps and fissures” ofcultural transition, it exposes them, manifesting a world in which technology and progress cannot be seen as unambiguously positive. At the same time, it must be emphasized that Princes: Monono/(e’s overall message is not only one of “dc-assurance.” Miyazaki is, after all, in the business of making films that sell, particularly to families, and it is probably the reason the film ends with the paradoxical combination ofstunning visual imagery and a bleak environmental message. As with Nausz'cac’z', Miyazaki’s previous work of ecological apocalypse, the film presents a vivid warning about ecological disaster that is somewhat undercut by the beauty of its visual representations. Nausicac'z' counterbalances its tropes of destruction and the wasteland with pastel—colored visions of the pastoral Valley of Wind and the triumphal final scene. In the end the heroine is reborn and strides across the sky in a field ofgold, offering a message of unification and hope to both the humans and giant insects who populate her thirtieth—century dystopia. Similarly, Mononoke balances scenes of the forbidding industrial wasteland of Tatara with the lush beauty of the forest of the s/zzlr/zz'gczmz'. In a final paradox, the scene ofbudding flowers and new green grass at the film’s end pastes a rather fOrced upbeat visual closure over the brilliantly evoked scenes ofenvironmental apocalypse shown only moments before. Princess Monono/(e does not have the equivalent triumphant, religious revival closure (swellingmusic, revived heroine preaching harmony between humans and nature) that Namicac'z' has. But the dialogue between San and Ashitaka in their last scene can also be read as a problematic attempt to span the fissures of technology versus environment that the film dramatizes. That Ashitaka and San are willing to live apart and visit each other while Ashitaka helps Eboshi suggests a resigned acceptance of the necessity ofthe wholesale industrialization that the film was at such pains to attack in earlier scenes. The ambiguous fate of theshzkhz'gami is problematic as well. Although San insists that the god is truly dead, Ashitaka’s vehement rejection of her positions 9:2 Fall 2001 490 Notes statement in combination with the lush natural beauty surrounding them offers viewers at least a strong hint that it is San who might be mistaken. Despite these clearly reassuring elements, the film’s ending is still a far cry from the resolutely upbeat ending oszzrzun. With its myopic vision in which the imperialism of the Victorian period and the technologicalfuture it pre- saged can he escaped simply by finding refuge in a jungle, Tarzan ultimately ignores historical reality for the sake ofa reassuring fantasy. In contrast to this vision of US. culture, Japanese society remains aware of plurality and otherness. Miyazaki’s earlier films reflected this awareness in an upbeat way, offering visions ofother worlds and identities in a nonthreatening, even em— powering manner. Mononoke takes a darker, more realistic look at this issue. In Ashitaka and Sam’s agreement to live apart, the film suggests the pain involved in choosing identities in a world in which choices such as theirs are increasing. Although set in a historical past, the film reflects the extraordi- nary array of pluralities that exist in the complex world of the twenty—first century. I See Henry Giroux, "Memory and Pedagogy in the ‘Wonderful World of Disney,” in From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender; and Culture, ed. Elizabeth Bell, Lynda Haas, and Laura Sells (Bloomington: University ofIndiana Press, 1995). 2 Ellen Shohat and Robert Stam, “From the Imperial Family to the Transnational Imaginary: Media Spectatorship in the Age of Globalization,” in Global/Local, ed. Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 154. 3 Scott Schaffer, “Disney and the Imagineering ofI-Iistories," Postmodern Culture 6, no. 3 (1996): 19. 4 For further commentary on Disney and ideological imperialism, see Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialirt Ideology int/1e Disney Comic (New York: International General Editions, 1975). Also see Giroux, “Memory and Pedagogy"; and Julianne Burton—Carvajal, “Surprise Package: Looking South with Disney," in Disney Discourse: Producing the Magic Kingdom, ed. Eric Smoodin (New York: R0utledge, 1994). 5 Robin Wood, “Papering the Cracks: Fantasy and Ideology in the Reagan Era,” in Mania and Mass Culture, ed. John Belton (New Brunswick, N.].: Rutgers University Press, 1996), 206. 6 A measure of America’s cinematic dominance can be seen in Richard Kuisel's statistic that 80 percent ofthe film market in western Europe is “in American hands.” Richard F. Kuisel, "French Cinema and Hollywood,” in Transactions, Yinnrgrersions, Tinnsformatiom:American Napier | Confronting Master Narratives IO II 12 I3 14 491 Culture in Western Europe andjapan, ed. Heide Fehrenbach and Uta G. Poiger (New York: Berghan Books, 2000), 208—222, esp. 216. Analee Newitz, “Anime Otaku: Japanese Animation Fans outside Japan,” Bad Subjects, no. 13 (April 1994): 11. For a briefbut provocative discussion of anime’s place in global culture, also see Susan Pointon, “Transcultural Orgasm As Apocalypse: Urotsukidoji: The Legend of the Overfiend,” Wide Angle 19, no. 3 (1997): 41—63, esp. 41, Although the films ofTakahata Isao are quite different in style from Miyazaki’s, they are often quite dark, particularly Hotaru no hata [Grave offireflz'es], which many consider Takahata’s masterpiece, and have strong ideological subtexts such as the environmental messages of Omoirle poroparo [Only yesterday] and Heirei tannukt’ gassen ponpo/{o [Modern day racoon war Ponpoko]. However, Takahata’s films are explicitly tied to Japanese settings and themes. The above-mentioned films, whose subjects range from the Pacific War to a war waged by Japanese badgers against developers, could have been made only in a Japanese context. They also have less complex characterizations and promote a more black—or—white moral agenda. Schaffer, “Disney,” 5. Although Miyazaki downplays the influence of Disney and US. pop culture, his young protagonists share the adventurous traits ofpostwar Disney creations such as Belle in Beauty and the Beast (dir. Gary Trousdale, 1991) or the title character in Aladdin. A more significant influence, however, might have been the books ofEleanor Farjeon, Rosemary Sutcliffe, and Phillippa Pearce that Miyazaki read in a children’s literature class at Gakushuin University. Pearce, for example, often writes of lonely young protagonists who find adventure and companionship through the interpolation of the fantastic in their lives, much like young Mei in Totoro. Another Miyazaki favorite is Arthur Ransome, whose stories also privilege adventuresome children and boy—girl camraderie, a persistent trope in many ofthe films. For a discussion of nostalgia and theshojo in the works ofBanana Yoshimoto, see John Treat, “Yoshimoto Banana Writes Home: The Shojo in Japanese Popular Culture,” in Contemporary Japan and Popular Culture, ed. Treat (Honolulu: University ofHawaii Press), 1996. Marilyn Ivy, “Formations ofMass Culture,” in Postwarjapan A: History, ed. Andrew Gordon (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University ofCalifornia Press, 1993), 257. In her book on Miyazaki, Helen McCarthy suggests that the religious trappings in Totoro are “decorative, not functional,” suggesting that the nature spirits the film invokes “live outside" religion. Helen McCarthy, Hayao Miyaza/{L‘ Master of [apanese Animation (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Stonebridge Press, 1999), 122. In fact, I think that Shinto’s animistic spirit clearly infiltrates the film, especially in the vision ofthe great camphor tree the girls and their father bow down to and that later becomes a symbol ofpower and empowerment. At the same time, the “totoro” itselfis an equivalent ofthe European troll, another transnational touch in what is perhaps the most “Japanese” of Miyazaki’s films. For a discussion ofthese films, see McCarthy, Hiyao Miyazaki. positions 9:2 Fall 2001 I5 16 I7 18 I9 20 21 22 23 24 25 492 Miyazaki, in an interview with Shibutani Yoichi, in Shibutani, Kurosawa Akita, Miyuza/{i Hayuo, Kituno Takes/1i: Nihonjin no :amzin no enshutsu/{u [Shibutani, Kurosawa Akira, Miyazaki Hayao, Kitano Takeshi: Three directors] (Tokyo: Rocking On Inc., 1993). For further details concerning Monono/{ehime’s box office success, see McCarthy, Hayuo Miyuzuki. Miyazaki, in a roundtable discussion, “Anime and Animism," in Kyoto journal 41 (1999): 32. Some Iapanese commentators say that Princess Mononoke was the 1997 equivalent to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. See Kobayashi Kyuzo, “Shichinin no samurai kara no ketsubetsu o kuwadate” [Undertaking a farewell from Seven Samurai], in Monono/(ehz'me o kaku, kataru, Comic Box 3 (1998): 152—153. In fact, the two films have some interesting parallells. Both promote moral agendas using historical situations to serve as warnings for the present day (although Miyazaki’s “history” is more clearly fantastic); both subvert certain myths of the samurai as warrior hero; both implicitly point to a technological future with guns replacing traditional means of warfare; and both celebrate the power of nature, although Monono/{e sees nature as almost always antithetical to humanity, and the final scene in Seven Samurai shows the peasants planting rice in seeming harmony with the rhythms of the natural world. Miyazaki Hayao, Manonokelzime (Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 1997), 8. Robert Rosenstone, Introduction to Reuisioning History: Film and the Construction of a New Port (Princeton, N.].: Princeton University Press, 1995), 6. Komatsu Kazuhiko, “Mori no kamikoroshi to sono noroi,” Burt/(u 29, no. 11 (1997): 51—52. Ibid., 51. Murase Hiromi, “Kumorinaki sunda manako de mitsumeru ‘Sei no yami,’n Pop Culture Critique 1 (1997): 64—65. For a discussion of “cuteness” in Japan, see Sharon Kinsella, “Cuties in Japan," in Women, Media, and Comumption injapan, ed. L. Skov and B. Moeran (Honolulu: University ofI-Iawaii Press, 1995). This absence ofcuteness is particularly interesting in the case ofSan, especially in comparison to Miyazaki’s other famous female warrior character, Nausicaa. While Nausicaa is a superb fighter (in a genuinely shocking scene early on in the film she kills a group ofarmed men who had killed her father), she also performs reassuringly cute shojo actions as in the scene in the Sea of Corruption where she discovers a giant insect carapace and removes the eye shell to take home to her people. While showing herself as adventurous in exploring the forest and competent in removing the shell, the film also has her exclaim [time (pretty!) at the beauty of the shell and shows her twirling around with it in a clearly feminine dance ofappreciation. Like San, Nausica'a also has an animal sidekick, a “fox squirrel,” which, typical to the film’s dynamics of reassurance, she tames and makes “cute” as well. This is in significant contrast to San’s two wolf“brothers,” who remain thoroughly untamed throughout the film. Murase, “Kumorinaki,” 64. Napier | Conlronting Master Narratives 26 27 28 29 3o 31 32 33 34 493 This distancing ofthe genders is not confined to Miyazaki's worldview but also appears in the “high cultural” texts ofJapanese literature. Whereas, before the war, Japanese writers such as Natsume Soseki or Kawabata Yasunari often depicted female characters as oases ofnurturing tenderness for their suffering male counterparts, recent works by male writers Such as those of Nakagami Kenji and Murakami Haruki portray men as painfully deprived of any union with the women (except, perhaps, a temporary sexual one). See Susan J. Napier, The Fantastic in Modem japanese Literature: The Subversion of Modernity (London: Routledge, I 996), 5 3—90. Thomas Keirstead and Deirdre Lynch, “Ez'janai/(a: Japanese Modernization and the Carnival ofTime," in Rosenstone, Introduction, 7r. Brian Moeran, “Reading Japanese in Katei Gaha: The Art of Being an Upperclass Woman," in Skov and Moeran, eds. Women, 121. Wood, “Papering the Cracks,” 223. Quoted in Komatsu, “Mori no Kamikoroshi,” 49. The forest in Tamra with its magical denizens might be considered a twentieth—century remnant ofthese wild forests. Miyazaki, in an interview with Yamaguchi Izumi, Eureka 29, no. I 1 (August, 1997): 44. John Belton, "Introduction," in Movie: and Mars Culture, 2. Edward Rothstein, “From Darwinian to Disney—esque,” New York Times, 15 July 1999. ...
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