Studio Ghibli Auteur Sheds Light on 1997 Film Rumor
They say a magician never reveals his secrets. Recently, though, filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki shed some light on a long-buried mystery hidden within his 1997 film, PRINCESS MONONOKE.
MONONOKE, a fantasy epic following a warrior’s adventures through Muromachi Japan, helped propel Studio Ghibli’s American recognition when it hit U.S. shores nearly two decades ago. In one scene, MONONOKE’s protagonist, the prince Ashitaka, encounters factory workers covered in bandages, mysteriously wounded.
This week, at the International Symposium on Leprosy/Hansen’s Disease History as Heritage of Humanity in Tokyo, Hayao Miyazaki, revealed a particular, haunting influence for these characters. Per The Asahi Shimbun, the auteur revealed during a speech that “he depicted leprosy patients in [MONONOKE] based on his “shocking” visit to a sanitarium near his home in western Tokyo.”
During the speech, Miyazaki described the National Hansen’s Disease Sanatorium Tama Zenshoen, in Japan, “as ‘a place where deep suffering has accumulated'” when he visited, per Shimbun. The Mary Sue details,
“In Japan… leprosy patients were forcibly hospitalized in faraway sanatoria and discrimination would even extend to the patient’s family members. Some cultural notions of leprosy go as far as to blame the victims themselves, citing the disease as a form of divine punishment.”
The MONONOKE-leprosy allusion has been long-suspected by devoted Ghibli fans. For years, it has been one of many subtextual theories derived by close viewers from the studio’s popular works.
On the eve of January 31st’s National Leprosy Day, Hayao Miyazake put the PRINCESS MONONOKE rumors to rest. His revelation once again affirms the depth of complex meaning and perspective hidden within his fantasy tales, a prime quality of the Studio Ghibli lineage.