7th Grade World Cultures (Ancient Civilizations)
The fantasy Anime movie Princess Mononoke begins with the story of a young warrior, named Ashitaka, who finds himself stricken with a deadly curse. While his intensions to protect his village were noble, Ashitaka is told by his elders that he will die and is instructed to leave his family and village forever. Without hesitation and keeping a strong sense of duty Ashitaka leaves his home and sets out on an adventure to find his destiny and hopefully a cure to his curse. To save his life he must set out to find the source of the curse which is located in a forest west of his village. As he reaches his destination Ashitaka is confronted by a village of iron miners and the spirit gods of the forest. It is here that he discovers the root of his curse and the will to fulfill his destiny of finding a way to stop the hatred between the forest gods and the humans.
This movie is filled with various types of conflict that could spark a multitude of conversations about culture. The most obvious conflict is man v. nature as the forest and miners conflict over destruction and power. However what I found to be more poignant is the conflict between the members of the groups themselves as they became more violent. Movies with conflicts about nature tend to side with the environmentalist, but the line is not so clearly drawn here. For example Ashitaka plays both sides, not maliciously, but rather in a humanitarian sense. He is pro peace and anti violence. Many of the main characters struggle within themselves as neither are what you call a true villain. The antagonist and leader of the iron mine, Lady Eboshi, wants the “forest spirit” dead and to profit from her mine, but takes in prostitutes and people with leprosy to give them a better life. Princess Mononoke hates all humans, but still saves the life of Ashitaka. So there is plenty of conflict for several dimensions of class discussions.
I wasn’t sure about this movie in the beginning but loved it by the end. It’s themes of life, struggle, and renewal gave me a lot to think about. I think this is something that I will be able to use with my middle school students, possibly a separate lesson on Anime and conflict themes. Overall I recommend it for classroom use.