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Possessed by and of: Up against Seeing: Princess Mononoke

By John Leavey
Figure 1

Preliminary Prelims

(1) All of the “images” within this piece are taken from Princess Mononoke, a Miyazaki Hayao Film, Studio Ghibli, 1997, DVD.

(2) The status of the images here is uncertain: at times illustration, at times mere souvenir, at times counterpoint to the surrounding discussion, at times subjectile for the reading it is called upon to support. The images, however, are always citations cut from another and without caption: some readable, some less so, and as citations of anime, their sound has been cut from them, rendering them mute, reduced in a battle to becoming the dumb beast (one danger here to be avoided would be to equate a dumb beast to an animal lacking language, because even cut of sound these citations are possessed of the ability to disrupt or extend the conversation). No rubric can decide in every case among these possibilities. At times the text appears not to refer, as here, to the image, or relates only obliquely (for instance, the cut of the citation, its possession in reading, citation as cap, recap, etc.). But the opposite case must also be entertained: the image appears not to refer to the text, perhaps because there is no need, or refers only indirectly because the text illustrates the image, is a means by which it might be read or restored to a context (never the one single saturated context). Perhaps they develop among themselves, image and text, a totally other syntax not yet comprehended but captured in the space between that cuts them up or apart or puts them up against each other.

(3) As screen captures taken on the computer, the image citations exist neither as animation nor as comic, although there is the five-volume comic film Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, adapted by Oniki Yuji, that I have used in many places to cite dialogue (using the format 1:5 to refer to page 5 of volume 1). If short clips would have been possible, preferable, legal, the more pedagogical and scholarly to a presentation, they would not have escaped the situation with which we are nonetheless left: if the imagetext possesses images and texts, their possessions are precisely the topic at risk here.

Preliminaries Not to Be Gotten Around

Figure 2

If I have never seen Princess Mononoke, if I never get to her/it, if I want to avoid the syndromes of King Kong and Frankenstein, from what perspective would it be possible to write of Miyazaki and Princess Mononoke? Do I write from the watchtower of Prince Ashitaka’s village, the village hiding five-hundred years of exile or destruction of the Emishi (the Emishi elders say, echoing what the boar Lord Okkoto says of the boars, that they have become diminished; Jikobo of the imperial court says of the Emishi, “They were all wiped out 500 years ago” [1:138]), from a tower that falls at the attack of the possessed? Do I write from the enraged eye of Lord Nago, the demon or demonized god-boar, spirit-boar, possessed of and or by an iron ball? Lady Eboshi, who shot him, calls him “that brainless pig” (2:118). Do I write from the headless body of Shishigami transforming into Didarabocchi searching for its/his head (the gender of the possessives will never be gotten around in this translation space)? Do I write from the twirling “heads” of the Kodama, the tree spirits (and there remains the question of how a tree is possessed of a spirit, animism and Shintoism notwithstanding)? (See Toriyama Sekien’s Gazu Hyakki Yakô [The Illustrated Night Parade of A Hundred Demons] for an earlier image of a Kodama.) Up against arguments of no competence or a lack of competence or the laughter of irrelevance or ignorance, of learned ignorance or nonrelation, from the Kojèvian animal to the snob, what is relatable in this post-historical encounter of perspectives called Princess Mononoke?

I can artificially place Azuma Hiroki in the watchtower of Prince Ashitaka’s village, in fact some of the preliminary questions have already done so. Up against the snob and the animal, Azuma proposes the database animal as a more general possibility beyond the national—beyond the nation-state or the economic regions or globalization. Perhaps this is one possible hope of a perspective on the question of perspective in Princess Mononoke, on seeing “with eyes unclouded” (this phrase is repeated in the encounter of Lady Eboshi and Ashitaka regarding the purpose of his quest [2:103], about which she says, “I see”). The function of eyes, of blindness, of San being Okkoto’s eyes as he is “blindly charging forward” (4:64) into the trap of Eboshi and the humans, nobly but not stupidly (as Moro points out), of the eye as the hole through which to fire a weapon or receive an arrow—all these are in play around the “eyes” of Ashitaka, unclouded or not.

Up against a close reading (often including the possibility of imagetext, film, sound, any object or event tied to an interpretative mode or model) of universalist and philosophical conditions (and yet part of Azuma’s appeal below), there could be the comparative and literary historical perspective: maps (always at least two for comparison or overlay), a graph (data across time), or a morphological tree (how to picture the Kodama of this tree or understand it cannot be a silly question here)—all absolutely necessary against the presumption of close reading (the object of literacy) and syndromes of interpretation. Moretti begins in Graphs, Maps, Trees about distant reading, an idea and practice not even approached in what follows, perhaps not even in spirit, but which citation must be justified as nothing less than an apotropaic evil eye against the dangers and possibilities of being subsumed by a close reading and in hopes of other forms of knowledge in the briefer history of anime):

a new object of study: instead of concrete, individual works, a trio of artificial constructs—graphs, maps, and trees—in which the reality of the text undergoes a process of deliberate reduction and abstraction. ‘Distant reading’, I have once called this type of approach; where distance is however not an obstacle, but a specific form of knowledge. . . . (1)

With all these hesitations as to the beginning, the commencement of writing gets little beyond or not even up to the release of the stone-tipped arrow and the shot through the eye, the tower, and the command of the village oracle to “see with eyes unclouded.” The first stone-tipped arrow through the eye does not kill Lord Nago (addressed as “O nameless god of rage and hate” [1:76] in this first encounter). The second arrow strikes between the eyes, and Lord Nago dies as he expels his hatred in the curse of Prince Ashitaka. This conflict of technologies, iron and stone—here the first (iron) drives mad and demonizes, the second (stone, which is chronologically first) in skilled hands kills in reduplication of the possessed iron ball—this conflict undergirds the narrative. There, in the gift of the “crystal dagger” (1:95) to Prince Ashitaka, the gift of a young woman in the village as a token of love to the one she addresses with the honorific title “older brother” (see “Interview: Miyazaki Hayao on Mononoke-hime” and, the gift that becomes a re-gift to San and the mark of identification in her dispossession from Lord Okkoto, possessed of the curse of the iron from battle with the humans. These conflicts of iron and stone run across the differences of god, human, animal in a technology of possession.


Figure 3

Up against imagetext here, there obtains the database animal. Perhaps the relation of database (to) animal is as the relation of imagetext, of image (to) text. In any case, these relations should be worked otherwise, Azuma argues. As one of the “Envois” in The Post Card of Derrida puts it regarding the questions of one such relation and in playing the postcard against literature:

What I prefer, about post cards, is that one does not know what is in front or what is in back, here or there, near or far . . . recto or verso. Nor what is the most important, the picture or the text, and in the text, the message or the caption, or the address. Here in my post card apocalypse. . . . (13)

Database Animal

Figure 4

In losing my head I am (dis)possessed of sight. Up against the narrativist animators (see Azuma Otaku 12), the animators of cell banking and limited animation, up against the “worldview” animation, there is the “expressionist”—full animators/animation, of a movement still flat. So begins Azuma’s look at otaku. The result, of course, as you know—is the database animal. One example, for instance, of the animal of this animal can be read quickly (against all the other animals in his corpus) in Nietzsche’s herd that opens the first section of “On the Utility and Liability of History for Life.” This animal of the animal could be called post-historical in the following sequence: Nietzsche vs. Hegel via Kojève on the absolutely present animal. Nietzsche writes:

Observe the herd as it grazes past you: it cannot distinguish yesterday from today, leaps about, eats, sleeps, digests, leaps some more, and carries on like this from morning to night and from day to day, tethered by the short leash of its pleasures and displeasures to the stake of the moment, and thus it is neither melancholy nor bored. It is hard on the human being to observe this, because he boasts about the superiority of his humanity over animals and yet looks enviously upon their happiness—for the one and only thing that he desires is to live like an animal, neither bored nor in pain, and yet he desires this in vain, because he does not desire it in the same way as does the animal. The human being might ask the animal [das Thier]: “Why do you just look at me like that instead of telling me about your happiness?” The animal wanted to answer, “Because I always immediately forget what I wanted to say”—but it had already forgotten this answer and hence said nothing, so that the human being was left to wonder. (87/248)

The animalized “‘need for small narratives’ at the level of simulacra” is formalized in/as the maintenance of “a virtual emptied-out humanity” in “‘the desire for a grand nonnarrative’ at the level of database” (Azuma Otaku 95, also 86). The virtuality of database, the need for small narratives translate in one very limited sense as the post-historical animal snob. Does this then obtain a possible perspective to read and see, to look at and after Miyazaki and Princess Mononoke? Does this obtain a possible right to inspect Miyazaki? And his animals? His spirits? Does it obtain a possible way to avoid the King Kong syndrome and the Frankenstein syndrome, as described by Sharalyn Orbaugh (174):

I have proposed this notion [of the “Frankenstein syndrome”] as a parallel to what the film theorist Rey Chow has called the “King Kong syndrome.” Drawing inspiration from the 1933 film, she identifies a tendency on the part of Western countries to read the non-West as the “site of the ‘raw’ material that is ‘monstrosity,’ [which] is produced for the surplus value of spectacle, entertainment, and spiritual enrichment for the ‘First World.’” My inflection of the parallel notion, the Frankenstein syndrome—inspired by Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel rather than any of the films—refers to the tendency of developing countries, those defined as “monstrous” and “raw” by the already developed nations, to see themselves in those same terms.

Azuma argues that the relations of Japan and the US (through the naivety of Kojève’s reading of Japan and the United States, for instance, as outsiders) are already across those syndromes that refuse any simple yes or no. In the current process of animalization toward the database animal, there is first the reading of Kojève:

Kojève is known for ascertaining two different types of possible social formation in the postmodern era: the animalization of society as seen in the U.S. model and the spread of snobbery as illustrated in the Japanese model. In this regard, Kojève is oddly sympathetic toward Japan, and he predicts that the Japanization (or snobbery) of Westerners will prevail over Americanization (or animalization). (Azuma, Otaku 18)

Azuma summarizes his argument (possible parallel to mukokuseki, being without a state identity, “stateless,” which, as pointed out by Susan Napier 24, has been applied to anime):

According to Kojève, after the loss of the grand narrative [of the modern] only two choices remain—animality and snobbery. Thus far, this book has argued that the role of snobbery as a zeitgeist ended in 1989 for the world (and for Japan in 1995) and that now a different zeitgeist is evolving, moving toward database consumption. Based on Kojève’s rhetoric, I think it fitting to place the name animalization on that transition. (86)

We are now at database animal: the formless form of database and the animal without animal—the virtual now.

Opening Charge

Figure 5

In Princess Mononoke, relations of animal, of demon god, of seeing, of perspective open the charge. The demon-animal mixed here at the opening is eventually destroyed by a technology laid bare in the clouding of vision, of the eye that lets out the rage of the boar-spirit Nago. This occlusion is opposed to Ashitaka’s call to look at his fate, and yet his departure may not be looked upon (according to the law) by the oracle and the elders. Ashitaka is to go to the west, to meet his fate, to die, perhaps to remove his curse, within the longer history of the relation of the village to the emperor of some 500 years ago who drove them to this place in the east. The heir to leadership must leave, and his leaving may not be looked at directly. The elders must avert their eyes as he leaves, his hair cut off indicating his death to that community (“you are dead to us forever” [1:91]), a castration and a decapitation, the end of the honorifics in his demon-possession. Miyazaki states that it indicates that Ashitaka is no longer human: “Actually, at the moment he cut his topknot off, he was no longer human. Cutting one’s topknot in a village has that meaning” (“Interview: Miyazaki Hayao on Mononoke-hime“). This scene of symbolic beheading and castration recurs in the decapitation of the samurai and of the Shishigami. But the task of unclouded eyes is no longer, in one sense, a human one. The task of a ghost, a god, a demon, a specter, perhaps, but not a living human. The boundary between the community of exiles or ghosts and Ashitaka is the scene of replication of crossed boundaries of possession throughout Princess Mononoke and cannot be limited to what is one boundary among many, here the human.

Figure 6

Ashitaka announces to Lady Eboshi that his task is to “see with eyes unclouded,” after showing the iron ball and the curse of rage and hatred in his arm. All this is met with her laughter. This laughter brings her to reveal her secret (in one sense, the origin of the curse), and she has Ashitaka follow her to the sanctum of her garden, where the lepers work to produce the weapons that the women can use to defend Tartara Ba, weapons that “will kill forest monsters and pierce the thickest samurai armor” (2:115). Lady Eboshi, who “looks like a Shirabyoushi (prostitutes who danced in men’s attire)” (“Interview: Miyazaki Hayao on Mononoke-hime), has the name, her name, her name as hat, the man’s hat called eboshi (Toyama Ryoko). Derisive and uncomprehending of Ashitaka’s perspective, she says, “I’m getting a little bored with this curse of yours, Ashitaka” (3:48), as he interferes in her battle with San. Shortly thereafter he stuns unconscious both of them, both of whom he stated possess demons: “There is a demon inside of you. It’s inside both of you” (3:47). Lady Eboshi is the one who shot Lord Nago, the only one (the lepers say) to recognize them as human (2:123), and the one who shoots the wolf-god Moro, mother of San. Unafraid of gods, she enters into an agreement with the monk Jikobo to decapitate Shishigami, the forest spirit. In the final scenes following Lord Okkoto to his death and the decapitation of Shishigami, she says to Ashitaka, as he advises her to return to defend Irontown (Tartara Ba): “First it’s don’t kill the forest gods. Now you want us to kill samurai instead” (5:31).

Perspective: Up against Flat

Figure 7

Azuma, in his discussion of Super Flat, provides a long introduction on Holbein’s Ambassadors in Lacan. Lacan sees its anamorphosis as the relation of image and symbol, which Azuma argues indicates that now the surveiling eye of castration, of the cutting line of sight, of the single perspective, is displaced into the superflat without perspective, the superflat that honors no single perspective. The Ambassadors overturns perspective.

Figure 8

Azuma argues that his perspective as amateur in other fields sends him back to philosophy, to understand something up against the background of what he doesn’t know. He reads Derrida’s ghost/specter and the postal as the bases for this change of the postmodern (he says at one moment that he is reading “against Derrida”). No single line of sight governs the rest; linear perspective was just such an agreement to posit and accept such singularity of sight, which The Ambassadors displaces:

we have only a growing proliferation of eerie signs for “eye,” and we are unsure whether they are living or dead, watching or being watched. That Murakami’s planar surfaces resonate so deeply with this trend is what motivated me to read his work with the eye motif against the philosophy of Derrida. The dysfunction of the gaze in the postmodern world means that space and the eye no longer serve a powerful role. Space has turned Super Flat and the eye is but a spectral, anime sign. (151)

Translating Space

Figure 9

To begin, then, we are in a translation space (“And if the translator is tempted to think there must be a bottom or basis to be found that would happily ground this dispersion of terms, the text itself is there to suggest that just that is part of bêtise itself, ‘Comme s’il y avait encore quelque bêtise à croire à la profondeur.’ The translator, we might say, is always something of an ass.”—Bennington). The citation in Bennington’s remarks is taken from the fifth session (30 January 2002) of Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign (137-38/191). The citation comes from a section that begins: La chose, c’est qui ou quoi?, a sentence omitted from the body of the English translation but included in the footnote: “At the end of the handwritten page (on the back) is this sentence, which indicates how Derrida planned to proceed: ‘The thing—is it who or what?’ A slight variant of the same sentence is also written on the photocopy [of the citation from Bourdieu’s Rules of Art]: ‘Link. Things—are they who or what?’” (137 n 2/190 n 1): “The thing—is it who or what?” The question is referring back to the end of the citation from Pierre Bourdieu, a citation that Derrida says “deals with literature, knowledge, beasts, and monsters, as well as with the law, with their legitimation” (136/189). Derrida continues after his citation:

What, at bottom? Who, at bottom? At bottom what and at bottom who?

The beast and the sovereign, what is it at bottom? And who? What is there at the bottom of the question, and first of all the question “What is it?” or “Who is it?” at the bottom of the question of being, on the subject of the beast and the sovereign? (137/190)

This, of course, does not seem to be the same space as the space of Princess Possession. More applicable would seem to be Pascal’s between spirit (angel) and beast resides the human, three not two, at certain moments. But even Pascal perhaps has to be read as still a question between two, of who and what, of what is possession by or of, whether that possession is of a demon, by a demon, the spirit, of life or death, human or nonhuman (what or what that may be), of animal by demon, demon by animal, human by animal, technology or not, and so on, up to and including Kodama. In sketching the lines of such differences, we may see the play of forces at battle in possession at a moment of Japanese history or fable, in possession at a moment of the human (a sovereign bestiality of reason), in possession at a moment of animal, in possession at a moment in “nature.” And then the figure of the monster, Princess Monster, is the figure (of the) possessed that fights against the what and the who, who as what refuses the distinction that will be legitmated in a letter, in a letter from the sovereign, the emperor, who in advance forgives the deed, the sought-after, decreed, hence legitimated decapitation, in order to make it possible. Jikobo has in his possession from the Emperor a “letter of pardon forgiving us for cutting off the head of the great forest spirit” (3:113), so that the emperor always lives on, would survive, unlike Ashitaka, without death, without becoming a ghost.

Possession: Of and By

Figure 10

I am possessed only of and by translation. I am dependent on translations, translators, translating idioms. And of perspectives. But not as a limit, but as the (im)possibility of reading, of seeing. Up against reading and seeing, I am touched by translation, which is possession as something “hospitable”:

a hospitality more ancient than the inhabitant himself. As though the inhabitant himself were always staying in the inhabitant’s home, the one who invites and receives truly begins by receiving hospitality from the guest to whom he thinks he is giving hospitality. It is as if in truth he were received by the one he thinks he is receiving. Would the consequences of this be infinite? (Derrida, Aporias, 10)

What is it to be possessed? What is to be possessed of one’s head? Of another’s? Of a god’s? The imperial court (the sovereign) seeks the head of Shishigami, the possession of which is thought to grant immortality. The Forest Spirit, the God of the Forest, the Deer God, the Nightstalker, will search for its decapitated head, the head decapitated by Lady Eboshi (Lady Cap is perhaps another rendering) as part of the deal with the monk Jikobo representing the always absent sovereign for the benefit of Iron Town (Tartara Ba), the city of the other and technology (of ex-prostitutes and lepers, of ironworks and weapons). The wolf-god Moro, she loses her head, only to take off the arm of Lady Eboshi, who had earlier warned: “Cut off a wolf’s head and it still has the power to bite” (3:14).


Figure 11

Who/What possesses whom/what? Who/What possesses whom/what in the battle of the detachable, of the dispatchable, of hair, caps, arms, heads: Ashitaka cuts off his topknot, Shishigami loses his head transforming into Didarabocchi, Moro’s detached head bites off the arm of Eboshi, and Lord Okkoto entangles San in his curse. In a curse, who/what possesses whom/what? Does Lord Nago possess the iron ball, or does it possess him (as is explicitly stated, the cause of his curse, of his transformation into a demon possessed, possessed of a curse,

Figure 12

          cursed, a Tatari-gami)? Is the curse from the possession of or the possession by this technology? The ambiguity of this question contains the battles of Princess Mononoke. Lord Okkoto, blind, in the process of becoming demon, cursed, tries to possess San. “We’re after a god, not just a beast,” Jikobo says (4:21). In proposing to Ashitaka to join her in killing Shishigami, Lady Eboshi says: “Without that ancient god, the animals here would be nothing but dumb beasts. . . . And Princess Mononoke will become human” (2:129), as her soul was stolen by the wolves (2:130).

Who or what do the Kodama possess?

In this story of heads, titles, caps, and decapitations, of dispatches and detachments, is decapitation a possession? That is, by means of decapitation, who/what does one possess? Is one possessed of or by? Who or what is dispossessed?

Possessed of or by the past.

(1) Princess Mononoke takes place in medieval Japan, imagined as the time of the great forest. Possessed of or by another history, even the fabulous history against another fabulous history of the homogeneity of Japan’s culture, classes, and ethnicities. Napier, for example, writes: “Princess Mononoke subverts the traditional history, aesthetics, and gender relationships of Japanese society” (246). In an interview, Miyazaki writes on the forest and the Muromachi era (“Interview: Miyazaki Hayao on Mononoke-hime“):

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.

(2) If up against the great narratives, there now obtains the database animal, then possession is without possession? Narratives obtain without possession, without possession of or by kami (untranslatable at least as spirit, ghoul, ghost, essence). And without possession of or by Miyazaki’s first experience of anime (see his Starting Point, 1979-1996 19). Without Saitō Tamaki’s sadness at Miyazaki’s trauma:

In my own view, the “big bang” of otaku history is the anime director Miyazaki Hayao’s experience watching Hakujaden (Panda and the Magic Serpent). Released in 1958, this was Japan’s first color theatrical animation and in 1961 became the first Japanese animated film to be shown in the United States. Miyazaki saw it as a teenager and fell in love with its heroine, then went on to become Japan’s master of the animated image. But from one perspective, his work has a quality of Freudian “repetition compulsion” that is sad. Possessed as a boy by an anime beauty, Miyazaki is fated to produce one charming heroine of his own after another, and through them to support otaku culture. This compulsion that revolves around beautiful young girls . . . repeats the initial trauma of Miyazaki’s early experience. (239)

Possessed of or by a perspective on the flat.

There obtains no depth. Only a hospitality of the flat. What is the relation of possession (its enrichment or poverty) to this translative space? Princess Mononoke does not fly or take flight, even as she runs, leaps, and jumps. Princess Mononoke is the rare Miyazaki film without flight. Is the flat a recognition that to see the eye is not to see? Or is that simply the definition of perspective itself or its rules? Perspective is through or thorough seeing, through the eye, but not the eye—the rules of seeing, possessed of or by the eyes of the other, never one’s own. As Azuma argues, the “loss” of perspective is the multiplication of “ambiguous eyes” (“Super Flat Speculation” 149): to see the eye of the other, through the other’s eye, in hospitality, teleopoiesis produces anime“‘spectral’” eyes. According to Saitō Tamaki reading superflat, it is “an utterly imagined space with no correspondent in the everyday world, a space of perfect fictionality. . . . So in a superflat space separate from the everyday, imagination is directly connected to creation, ‘being’ is the same as ‘being possessed,’ and destruction introduces new forms of regulation” (245). For Azuma, fictionality now gives way to the “Animal Age” (Otaku 89).

To be possessed of or by technology.

Figure 13

What is the relation of technology to possession? Of course here, Lord Okkoto, blind, does not see, so the boar skins provide for an inverse of the Ashitaka first arrow through the eye of the masks of smell, the boar skins. This technology, the apes say, is “neither human or animal” (4:162). In this possession, there obtain two fears: the fear that we possess technology in the sense that it is always something to possess as other than us, not us, inhospitable perhaps, and the fear that we are possessed—hence cursed—by technology that is inside and transforming us, like the iron bullet. Both fears at once are used to ground the charge we have become the monsters of our own relation to technology, monsters of our own technology and making. Anime is “always” about the relation to mecha, to robots, to cyborgs, to the lines disrupting a simple distinction between human and machine.

Possessed of or by as cursed.

Such possession perhaps runs along the lines of division between recognizing/arguing/stating/knowing Shishigami as at once alive now dead, as the giver of life and death, or as life itself. The monk Jikobo, echoing without impatience Lady Eboishi’s impatience, says to Ashitaka of the curse: “so you say you’re under a curse? Well, so what? So’s the whole damned world. . . . Everybody dies . . . from brothel girl to emperor” (1:136-37). And Osa the leper says the world itself is cursed (2:124), that, in another translation, he curses the world (Wilkes

Possessed of or by “eyes ‘unclouded.’”

Is this the same kind of possession as the iron ball, the bullet, in Nago or Moro, the iron that “turned him into a demon” (1:86), but not her? Is it the same kind of possession as the blowgun through the eyes of the boar skins? Is it like the possession of the power to defile, like the power a man attributes to the ex-prostitutes working the bellows in Iron Town: “Women like that, it’s a disgrace. They defile the iron” (2:85). When Ashitaka takes to the bellows with them, of what will the iron be possessed?

Figure 14

Possessed of or by a title.

Figure 15

Mononoke-hime. We have not gotten beyond the title. Prepossessing, the title is possessed on several levels. Lady Eboshi says that San is “Princess of the spirits / of ghouls, / beasts and / ancient gods” (2:130). And in the exchange with Ashitaka in Iron Town, at the wall overlooking the hills, she says: “without the ancient gods, the wild ones [mononoke-tachi] are mere beasts. . . . That girl will be human. . . . Mononoke, the wild girl whose soul the wolves stole” (literal subtitles, DVD). The wolf-god Moro says that San “is neither human nor wolf” (4:41). Princess Mononoke: Princess of the Possessed, Princess Possessed.

Absolute (Dis)Possession

Figure 16

In an interview on Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki argues against absolute possession, against the possibility of absolute possession of and by. We are possessed without the sovereign right to our own heads, we are right up against the database animal, without return. The head of Shishigami is returned by human hands to Didarabocchi, of Deer God to Nightstalker, like a cap, to complete the interrupted transformation. His head, but not his head. Miyazaki says:

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. (“Interview: Miyazaki Hayao on Mononoke-hime“)

Princess Mononoke could be said to decline such civilization, could be said to be possessed of a different mind, like Didarabocchi, about which/whom San and Ashitaka cannot agree that he is alive or that he lives in that there is life. A figure of possession ends the film, a single solitary kodama. A figure in displaced possession, neither of nor by, the kodama is always at risk. We might even argue that Princess Mononoke was never able to come to terms with such possession, her/its possession, of and by the kodama. The least possessive in terms of the possessed, the kodama is the site of all risk, of all that is at risk. Miyazaki concretizes this risk in his interview as follows:

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. (“Interview: Miyazaki Hayao on Mononoke-hime“)

Figure 17


Azuma, Hiroki, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals Trans. Jonathan E Abel and Shion Kono. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2009. Print.

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