The Forest Spirit and Me, or Why my First Tattoo is Mononoke Inspired

Princess Mononoke is an amazing film from Studio Ghibli. It is about the environment and pollution. and it has significant meaning to Cass the writer of this wonderful piece.

Cass Arellano

Trigger Warning: This article contains a discussion about depression, suicide, and self-harm. 

Spoilers for Princess Mononoke 

“Life is suffering. It is hard. The world is cursed. But still, reasons to keep living”- Princess Mononoke, written by Hayao Miyazaki 

Right around the time, I found out that Gate Crashers was doing Anime August, I had just decided on the design for my first tattoo, which was funny since the design is inspired by my favorite Studio Ghibli’s film (and one of my favorite movies of all time): Princess Mononoke. Now this wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m a terrible decision-maker, so choosing a tattoo design was an almost impossible task, but while I was having that crisis I decided to give Princess Mononoke a rewatch. After the movie ended I had finally decided, my first tattoo was going to be San’s mask. 

Moro and San from Princess Mononoke

But why? Why Princess Mononoke? Why not… well… anything else? Well, I’m of the idea that tattoos don’t have to have a meaning, but for my first one, I wanted something that represented the journey I’ve been going through for five years. 

But before we get into that let’s talk about the movie itself. The film is about Ashitaka, the prince of a hidden village that is cursed by a hatred demon, he sets on a journey to find a cure for the curse and meets San (the titular Princess Mononoke), a girl that has been raised by wolves and I fighting a human town that is threatening the livelihood of the forest and its inhabitants. 

Now, there are a thousand reasons for loving this movie. The animation is extremely beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful. The story and its characters are interesting and complex, never falling into cliches or absolutes like good and evil. The score by Joe Hisaishi is also amazing, melting into the film while still being memorable. The script is one of my favorites and delivers some of the most thought-provoking lines ever put into a film. And honestly… have I mentioned how beautiful the animation is?

The reason I love this film the most is the themes and outlook of life the movie displays. Not only because they are extremely well integrated into the plot, and because it never feels like the movie is trying to give you a lesson, but because this movie gave me the right message at the right time. 

The leads, Ashitaka and San, from Princess Mononoke

I don’t exactly remember when was the first time I watched Princess Mononoke, but it must have been around March 2020, because that was the time Netflix released it in Latinoamerica. I can’t say this move saved my life because by that moment my mental health was somewhat stable (the pandemic hadn’t hit just yet), but I was still recovering from the past two years. 

By the end of 2017 I was diagnosed with severe depression (or at least that was what the psychiatrist called it), by that point I was already in a pretty bad spot, but things just got worse from there. In February of the next year I was already cutting myself, and a month after that I almost took my own life. When my parents and my psychiatrist found out there was a discussion about if I should be admitted into a psychiatric hospital. In the end, it was decided that I would stay at home but with a ton of restrictions. I couldn’t be alone, I couldn’t possess any sharp objects, I had limited showering time, etc. To say I was feeling like life was hell is an understatement. 

Once you unsuccessfully try to kill yourself the worst part is that you have to live with the fact you even try. To be honest you have to learn to live with a lot of things. Things like the fact that you are unable to love yourself, unable to feel any emotion, even the fact that you are alive is a burden. After all that happened, life became a responsibility that I didn’t want, a complex and hard road that I didn’t understand. A giant mess built on hate and emptiness. In a few words, it was suffering, like a curse. 

I got better. All of 2019 was a year of recovery. With the help of medication, my psychiatrist, my family, and my friends I began to understand I wasn’t alone, that there were people who loved me, that I could love myself. So by March 2020, I was in a better place, but still struggling with my past and with life itself, and then I watched Princess Mononoke. 

This movie discusses a lot of themes, the importance of a healthy relationship with nature, the destructive nature of humans, the pros and cons of industrialization, and most important for this article, it talks about the power of hate and the importance of life. Like I said before, this is a complex film, none of its characters are either good or evil, everyone is just trying to keep going forward and protect what they love.  It’s not only until hate starts to poison their hearts that things start going sideways. Like Ashitaka says, hate is something that eats you alive, something that can kill you, and in my experience, there is no more poisonous hate than self-hate. 

San, like Ashitaka, is also cursed with hate, even if not literally. Even though she was raised by wolves, she is still human, and she hates that about her, because she hates humans and what they have done to the forest. By the end of the film, she still hasn’t forgiven humans, but she is at peace with herself, even the aspects she doesn’t like. She has ridden herself of hate, just in time to live her life. 

The Forest Spirit From Princess Mononoke

This all happens after the Forest Spirit, a powerful creature and a central figure in the movie’s conflict, loses his physical form. San worries that the forest will never be the same now that the spirit is dead, but Ashitaka comforts her, telling her that “He isn’t dead, San. He is here with us now, telling us, it’s time for both of us to live”. It’s after the Spirit gives up his physical body that Ashitaka and San’s curse is lifted as if life itself has finally taken part of their lives as more than just a burden. And just as their curse was removed, so was mine. 

This movie gave me a completely new outlook of life just when I needed it, it made me excited to feel alive. It made me realize that even if life is hard and complicated, even if sometimes it seems to be full of hate and suffering, life is worth living. We will always find reasons to keep going, we will always find ways to get over the hate. 

So yeah, that’s why I chose San’s mask as my first tattoo, which in retrospect might seem like a weird choice, seeing how the mask gets destroyed halfway through the movie and seems to symbolize San’s unwillingness to accept herself. But what is a mask if not a new pair of eyes with which you can see the world in new ways? 

As much as I’m bad at making decisions I’m happy with this first tattoo because I know every time I see it I will remember that it’s always time for me to live, and honestly that’s the only reminder I need. 

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