Full Disclosure, Princess Mononoke is one of, if not my favorite, film of all time. This is in no small part due to the dynamic and amazing woman, Lady Eboshi.
When I first saw Princess Mononoke, I would have been about 10 years old. In my opinion it was just a few years too young for the film, but since it was animated my parents let me grab it from blockbuster anyway. While I did not know exactly why at the time, I knew I had watched something special, and it wouldn’t be until many repeated viewings that I would finally begin to understand why I felt that way.
We are introduced to Lady Eboshi early on in the film, and from the start she catches your eye. She is seen standing among a small battalion of troops that she commands. She and her troops are ensuring the safe travel of a group of traders from her town through a mountain pass. This woman, especially for a female in the feudal period, is shown to have a great deal of power as well as compassion. Her complexity is what makes her stick out as such a great character. She is shown as a main hero in the film, but also as a main antagonist for the other principal characters.
As we get to know her through the eyes of another of the film’s heroes, we see quickly what Lady Eboshi is meant to represent the idea of progress. Not just the clear industrial progress as the leader of Iron Town, a mountain town and iron mining facility in the movie, but a leader of social progress that is still extremely relevant almost 20 years later. As the leader of Iron town, she makes it her duty to house people from all walks of life. This includes former sex workers, whose contracts she buys out with her own money so that they can come live as equals in Iron Town. She even houses a group of lepers in the town. She shows an incredible understanding for the diseased and the disabled, another thing we struggle with even today.
Leper: My Lady, Gosa has something to say.
Gosa: Forgive me, my Lady, but you must not make light of the boy’s strength. Young man, like you I know what rage feels like, and grief and helplessness. But you must not take your revenge on Lady Eboshi. She’s the only one who saw us as human beings. We are lepers. The world hates and fears us, but she, she took us in, and washed our rotting flesh and bandaged us. [coughing]
Gosa: Life is suffering. It is hard. The world is cursed but still you find reasons to keep living. [coughing] I’m sorry… I’m making no sense.
Lady Eboshi created an environment in Iron Town where both men and women are on their way to hold equal respect and power in the workforce. Lady Eboshi goes so far as to arm the women of the town and teach them to defend themselves (again, unheard of in this time period). She then leaves the women in defense of the town while she goes off to fight in a war among gods. Eboshi is a strong military leader, one the Emperor himself will approach for help. Under her leadership the women of Iron Town successfully fight off armies.
If Lady Eboshi were to have one flaw it would be her stance on the environment and her work against some of the film’s other main protagonists. However, in the end, Lady Eboshi is able to change her views, making a vow to start over in Iron Town, and her redemption aligns with the film’s major environmental views.
The amount of impact Lady Eboshi had on me when I was 10 and in the years following is astounding. It amazed me that a main antagonist in a film could have so many redeeming qualities. I had been accustomed to stories being so black and white with their good and evil characters, seeing someone that could not be easily defined by simple concepts made me question everything I knew about defining a character. As the years went by, her actions made me question my own views on how I looked at the disabled, how I treated women, and what my place was in this world.
Despite how much I’ve grown since I first saw the film, even more recent viewings have left me with the feeling that I still have things I can learn from the Lady Eboshi today.