In reexamining my previous post on the interpretation of mythology through Asian films, I decided to look at how my prior experience shaped my understanding of the films I initially investigated. Being a fan of mythology, I feel as though my closest reference point is my own experience with western based mythology film and prior learning. Rather than only relying on my prior experience and personal interpretations, I also conducted further research in order to understand the meaning of certain terms, references and the significance of unexplained cultural facets.
Overview: Mononoke is produced by Toei Animation. It is a spin-off of Ayakashi Bakeneko story arc set in feudal Japan. Mononoke follows a wandering, nameless character known to us only as the “Medicine Seller”. The series is made up of individual chapters, where the medicine seller encounters, combats and subsequently extinguishes Mononoke.
Unlike most other films I have watched with supernatural themes, little is explained in Mononoke. the term Mononoke was found to be loosely translated as a ‘spirit’, and Zashika-warashi a sub category of spirits referring to house spirits, who were ‘guardians of the home’, depicted as a child deity with red hair and a topknot (I found the idea of subcategory spirits quite interesting).
In my first post I had interpreted the child spirit as ‘evil’ (mostly because it was creepy as hell, lets be honest, also past experiences -such as every supernatural episode ever, dictated that child spirits where never a good sign), although discovered that they are said to bring fortune to the family living in the house they dwell in. This in my opinion was questionable, as they may have been shown protecting the mother but only after haunting her first, also the fact they were created through ‘wicked’ means leads me to believe that they would be vengeful (still don’t really understand on the entire ‘spirit categories’ – all with good time though haha). Like most films focused on mythology or paranormal themes Mononoke was very much inconclusive. The ending itself left a lot of questions unanswered and was morally ambiguous – and as far as mythology goes I feel this suits it best.
The ‘medicine seller’ was another representation of ambiguity. We know nothing of his name or origins other than he sells medicine and is a exorcist? The style of exorcism, the sammitsu (3 secrets) was a form of Mikkyo Buddhism and was shown in a rather grandiose presentation. Although the idea of flying parchment repelling evil while you perform some form of yoga is an interesting thought, I believe it is closer to the truth to assume you simply place it on the wall and hope for the best after making a few chants.
Hoozuki no Reitetsu
Overview: Hoozuki no Reitetsu (“Cool-headed Hoozuki”), produced by Wit Studios, is full of references to Japanese folklore and mythology. It is a dry satirical comedy set it the Japanese Hell. Hell is a bureaucracy, and is run very much as a business would. Hoozuki, the main character is chief deputy to Lord Enma, the King of Hell.
Initially I knew little about any religion that the Japanese followed, and assumed that those who for some reason where unworthy of being reborn as a human would just come back as a worm or something? Clearly I was wrong.
What I had gathered from watching this anime was that there were multiple afterlives one could end up in, Japanese Hell or ‘Jigoku’ being one of them. Within Jigoku there are again multiple versions of Hell (including animal hell where those who harmed animals would be tortured by animals – Chinese Buddhism calls this the chamber of ox). The anime was surprisingly accurate in their portrayal of torture and cruelty used in these hells although tended to mix it up a bit with their goldfish plant competitions and the invasion of the western devil ‘satan’. Speaking of which I was happy to find how accurate some of the mythological characters were portrayed in this anime, especially Lord Enma.
Each of the films I examined used various elements and techniques to illustrate mythology in film, in order to demonstration themes, underlining message, historical and the cultural importance. Both Mononoke and Hoozuki no Reitetsu’s art style draws from traditional Japanese art. At first I though that the art was just that, an appealing representation of Japanese art used to set the scene and timeline, although after further examination of my experience, was interested to find the art represented far more than that.
The art in Mononoke is symbolic and often foreshadows forthcoming events and uses fast passed scene cuts, abnormal (verging disturbing) character representations and seemingly unrelated entities to express and evoke the stress and turmoil and confusion the audience should experience in watching the film.
As a whole I was pleased with the films that I had chosen to begin with as they bring something unique in regards to their central themes and their cultural significance. The more I explore my experiences and how I understand particular elements, my understanding not only of their representation but also of autoethnographic research continues to grow.