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I have just finished watching Princess Mononoke once again. The end of the movie seems very confusing to me.

The spirit of the forest, while still in night walker form, obtains its severed head but at the same time, before it can convert back to a deer, the sun comes out (which according to Jiko-bo kills it). To me that should mean he died and San thinks so too when she says this new forest does not belong to the spirit of the forest (Who does it belong to? Humans?). Then Ashitaka says the spirit of the forest (for some unexplained reason) is alive and I see everything going back to green and a Kodama moving its creepy little head. Does this mean Ashitaka is right?

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  • It looks like there's something missing from your question. You've written, "Then Ashitaka says the spirit of the forest (...) and I see everything..." What does Ashitaka say? You ask if Ashitaka is right; right about what?
    – Juhasz
    Apr 22 '20 at 21:49
  • Oh. I fixed it. Right about the spirit not being dead
    – VMMF
    Apr 23 '20 at 1:18
  • Fascinating indeed
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Apr 23 '20 at 19:13
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    I hesitate to post a proper answer without re-watching the film myself, as it has been a while and this is a fairly core concept in an already complex film, but I think the ending was left ambiguous on this point on purpose. The war between nature and civilization never really ends, it just lulls and swells. (So the forest spirit is dead for now, but will likely return some day.)
    – Steve-O
    Apr 24 '20 at 13:40
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Yes, the forest spirit dies. But before he does, he probably undoes all the destruction he committed in his wrath. When Ashitaka says he cannot be died, he is referring to the legacy of a renewed and unharmed forest that has been restored. It's like how they say in other movies when someone dies but then a character says he isn't dead, he is alive in our hearts.

I believe this is also a form of a second chance that the forest spirit gives to the humans, despite their destruction. All the characters see first hand the wrath of nature itself and I believe, despite the death of the forest spirit, they won't repeat their mistakes again. So in a way, the forest spirit, metaphorically, lives inside them now. This is what Ashitaka says when San asks:

San: Even if all the trees grow back, it won't be his forest anymore. The Forest Spirit is dead.

Ashitaka: Never. He is life itself. He isn't dead, San. He is here with us now, telling us, it's time for both of us to live.

"He is with us now"

And thankfully Lady Eboshi realizes this too in her last dialog in the film where she clearly says she'll build a better town that won't disrupt the forest. So technically, the forest spirit is dead. And figuratively he lives on in the lessons that he taught the humans.

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  • I agree with you 99%. The only thing that I would like you to clarify in your answer is why is there still a Kodama alive in the end. If the spirit of the forest is dead then shouldn't all magic disappear and animals just stop taking and their heads moving without body and Kodamas disappear?
    – VMMF
    Apr 25 '20 at 17:46
  • @VMMF There might be an argument that man and nature really aren't separate and therefor the Spirit was showing nature's wrath as a reflection of their own destruction to make them aware of themselves. If that's the case, then it's not just metaphorical, but also metaphysical. The spirit never really dies, because it is inside every living thing (including man) and only manifested into the entity it does, to make humanity aware. Therefor the magic never dies either. Apr 25 '20 at 23:19
  • @Darth Locke. Your analysis is not clear to me. You are saying that the spirit of the forest only manifested itself as a deer to make humanity aware of the wrath of nature? This is not how I see it. To me it existed way before and independently of humanity. The magic is on the deer form to heal the forest and give and take life. If after the deer body is gone some form of remaining spirit magic that lives in every living creature keeps the Kodama alive... well its "acceptable"
    – VMMF
    Apr 25 '20 at 23:48
  • I'm saying that *maybe humanity is still apart of nature, and like nature, humanity can be "destructive", but it was at a point where nature (through the Forest spirit) had to show humanity JUST how destructive it was being by being destructive in return for humanity. That's why even if the Forest spirit dies, the magic is not really gone, because humanity is still apart of nature, but now it's healing and becoming a more stable symbiotic relationship. Apr 26 '20 at 0:26

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