When I learned that POST was hosting a screening of one of my all time favorite movies, I was elated. If you’ve never seen Princess Mononoke on the big screen, you’re in for a breathtaking treat. Released in 1997, this epic animated film transports viewers to a majestic setting: a fantastical reimagining of 14th Century Japan. The need to preserve and protect the environment is at the heart of the story. Another resonant theme is the challenge of living in harmony with the ecosystems that sustain us.
Films, books and podcasts about the natural world can be transformative. When a hike isn’t a readily available option, stories offer an alternative way for people to connect with the vastness of nature. As a kid in the suburbs of greater LA, years before I knew I would pursue a career in the conservation field, Princess Mononoke spoke to me. I hope it will speak to you too!
Growing up, I would walk home from high school everyday, passing the rows of apartment complexes to the squat beige one where I lived with my mom and sister. Every few weeks mom would come home in the evening from a trip to the local Mitsuwa Marketplace and announce that it was “shabu-shabu night!” My sister and I would help plate the chrysanthemum greens, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and thinly sliced beef. Meanwhile, my mom would start heating the kombu broth in the well-loved electric hot-pot.
We plopped ourselves down on cushions, and the question wasn’t “What do we want to watch?” but “Which Studio Ghibli movie do we want to watch?” Often, the answer was Princess Mononoke. As the simmering hot pot released clouds of steam, our IKEA furnishings would disappear and I would be transported into the film’s fantastical old growth forests. These landscapes were filled with tree spirits, giant wild boar, a deer god and a woman who thought she was a wolf.
As a teenager, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the titular character Princess Mononoke. Raised by wolves and often spotted sitting astride one of her wolf siblings, she has no qualms about putting herself in danger to defend her forest home from encroaching industrialists.
I think back to the feelings of helplessness and frustration I had when I first learned about climate change in my early teens. The feral and angry Princess Mononoke may have been a way for my younger self to see my feelings reflected in a fictional character who looked like me.
When senior year came around, I took an environmental science class. This was the first of many steps that brought me to my 8+ year education and career in conservation. Though there were many nudges that put me on this path, one big push was Princess Mononoke. Even in a small apartment in the middle of a human engineered landscape, Hayao Miyazaki’s excellent storytelling captured my young heart. It showed me that wilderness was something worth fighting for.
Now, as an adult, the film continues to be a source of inspiration. However, my perspective has evolved. While I still admire Princess Mononoke who rails against human destruction, it’s hard to see her anger as leading to any long-term solutions. I now look more towards Ashitaka, the young man who is determined to find a way for people and the wilderness to thrive by working together.
Some of my other favorite stories about nature tend to diminish the sides into the “bad humans” and the “good nature.” By contrast, in Princess Mononoke the director and creator, Hayao Miyazaki, leans into the complexity of why humans and nature come into conflict in the first place. He seems interested in exploring why we haven’t answered this question yet and what possible solutions might look like.
One solution he puts forth is central to POST’s mission: the power of people working collectively to build a harmonious relationship with nature. There is no one person or group that can defend the forest against destruction. In our efforts to protect open space for the benefit of all, we work with many community partners. Building coalitions of people with broad backgrounds and identities, who share in the benefits of flourishing natural spaces, is the only sustainable path.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 86,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more