|2005 Spring - Intro - Kumano - Ise Jingu - Meiji Jingu - Miyazaki's Anime - Sacred Forests
The primeval woods of Miyazaki's anime are "forbidden forests"
The riches of nature right in the heart of Tokyo
photography by Hakushi Maeda (Q Photo International) / text by Hiroshi Aoi
By now most of the world's movie-goers have heard of director Hayao Miyazaki's animations. It is well known that forests play an important role in several of his works. These forests are not mere parks. They are forests of awe, abundant with meaning.
In the opening scene of Miyazaki's 1997 Princess Mononoke, set in medieval Japan, range after range of mountains appears. Below them are the following words: "In ancient times the land lay covered in forests where form ages long past dwelt the spirits of the gods."
In the sacred woods that are threatened by encroaching development in Miyazaki's film, there dwells not only the many-horned Shishigami (deer-god), but also the spirits of trees, and animals that understand human speech. The feeling of this mysterious forest is expressed simply in the words of 20th-century writer Georges Bataille, describing France's prehistoric cave paintings: "The animals of Lascaux are at the level of gods or kings." Indeed, in the forest of the Shishigami, animals discover their divinity.
In Miyazaki's 1988 My Neighbor Totoro the hills, where the young girl Mei and the forest spirit Totoro meet, are called Tumulus Woods. The kanji for tumulus can mean an ancient tomb or grave, so the name suggests a quiet, sacred place. It's not difficult for our imaginations to leap from this name to the idea of forbidden woods.
Even today throughout Japan there are shrines with forbidden woods within their grounds. The woods came first, followed by the building of a shrine. That is, our sense of awe came first, and afterwards we developed techniques and trappings of religion to appease the gods. We put up a torii gate and hang sacred ropes in the forbidden forest, but in the end this is nothing but the cleverness of adults. In proof of this, the young heroine Mei, ignorant of the meaning of an entrance path, manages to find her way through a brambly maze to discover the inner mystery of the forest, namely Totoro.
In Princess Mononoke the forests are similarly forbidden territory. The deep woods are a maze that keeps people away. The feeling that something lurks in the deep, dark recesses of the forest stops people from wanting to walk inside. Places that were once divine or sacred are uncomfortable for adult human beings, and only shamans or those who have not learned fear, like children, dare enter. Thus only the young hero Ashitaka, descendant of the Jomon people "with unclouded eyes," or the wolf-girl San are able to see the Shishigami.
Articles from the 2005 SPRING issue:
Kateigaho International Edition Issues:
2005 SUMMER - 2005 SPRING - 2005 WINTER
2004 AUTUMN - 2004 SUMMER - 2004 SPRING - 2004 WINTER
2003 AUTUMN - INAUGURAL ISSUE