Unless you’ve seen me naked sometime in the past three years, you probably don’t know about the giant homage to Princess Mononoke that adorns my stomach. I’m a relatively inconspicuous young man, my most notable other features being a thick, scraggly beard and a pair of extremely plump red lips, so most seem to be a little surprised when I take off my shirt and they are faced with a piece of art that takes up approximately 50% of my torso.
Now, I had exactly two reasons for getting this particular tattoo. The first was insignificant and inconsequential, purely coincidence really, but for most it seems to be perfectly reasonable and the conversation usually doesn’t continue past that point. Princess Mononoke was (and still is) my Favorite Movie Of All Time. So, when people hear this, they naturally assume I got a giant tattoo of Princess Mononoke (better known as San in the film), the Nightwalker, Moro the wolf god, and other aspects from the film because I simply wanted to show my love for the movie.
It’s a false assumption, but one that I do not generally take pains to correct. The tattoo is a personal statement to myself. If someone wants to know, I’ll gladly tell them, but my primary concern isn’t to make sure the masses know every last detail about my life. Whether they like the tattoo or the reason behind the tattoo or neither or both isn’t of much concern to me. In my opinion, I’m the only one who needs to like the tattoo or know the actual reason behind it.
(The real motivation is kind of drippy and romantic and would take up too much time now to discuss, so just assume I said something really dramatic and heartfelt here. [And in any case we’ll get to it later on.])
It’s always interesting to me how a particular thing – a song, a videogame, a smell, a movie, a taste, an image, whatever – can remain forever entangled with a memory. That person who introduced you to your teen self’s favorite band will never again be uncoupled from the music. You’ll move on, you’ll grow up, you’ll have new favorite bands and listen to new types of music, but every time you hear one of those familiar songs from the past, that old friend’s face pops back into your mind. “Where is he now?” you ask. “What happened after all this time?”
Since Princess Mononoke was (and still is) my favorite film, it has the fortune (or misfortune depending on your perspective) of remaining a connecting factor through my life. For a long time, I couldn’t think of the movie without remembering my college buddies; they introduced the film (and therefore Hayao Miyazaki) to me during our senior year of college.
We lived together in a beautiful dump of a college house, hanging out in the basement with the blacked out windows and the moldy cushions; the damp smell that soaked into our flesh was never seen as an impediment to watching movies and playing videogames all day. Ah, those glorious days of the barest responsibility.
Later, we finished school and moved out of the house. Hazy, smoke-filled days bled into the background as we looked for “real” jobs and tried to forget we were now college graduates and still living with our parents.
At some point, I began working at a non-profit, and at some point after that I knew I would stop working at the non-profit. Fed up with my allotment, looking for adventure, and my non-profit job set to end, I made plans to head to Asia, ostensibly to teach English, but actually just because it seemed like the best place to get lost. (Though I didn’t anticipate getting lost for two years…)
Prior to departure, I decided to get a big, permanent declaration to romanticism on my stomach. I searched for a kindred spirit tattoo artist, one who knew about Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke, and crappy kung-fu movies, and found him in a parlor near my office. We exchanged obscure Asian B-movie trivia and cracked jokes as his needle vomited color across the most sensitive areas of my body.
Three four-hour sessions later, the connection was complete. I wouldn’t be able to look down at my body or think about Miyazaki without remembering him and those days in the tattoo chair. Unfortunately, there’s now also a connection between Princess Mononoke and How I Met Your Mother; someone at the tattoo parlor really loved the show so it was playing nonstop nearly every moment the store was open.
College friends and a tattoo artist seem like enough memorial connections for one movie, but they both became secondary references as a result of a destructive relationship that occupied my attention prior to my return to America.
We’ll call her “Mya” for no better reason than because I always liked that name. We had been “dating,” living together, and rapidly disintegrating since practically the first moment we laid eyes on each other. It wasn’t a good relationship, and the blame can be placed squarely upon the heads of us both.
One shining moment in our disastrous love affair occurred when we tried to watch Princess Mononoke. I needed to wake up early for work the next morning, and I wanted her to wait a day so we could watch my Favorite Movie Of All Time together. She refused and insisted on watching the film that night, regardless of how I felt. I called her stubborn, she called me stubborn, and eventually she began watching the film anyway. I stayed awake because I was annoyed and kept up a running commentary during the film, effectively ruining the entire experience for both of us.
We bickered through the first hour, both miserable and childish in our stubborn attempts to get what we wanted (or at least keep the other from getting what he or she wanted), and eventually turned off the film halfway through. We remained together for a few more chaotic months, but it was only much later that I looked back at that evening and saw us both with the clear-eyes of 20/20 hindsight.
We didn’t care about each other. We weren’t interested in compromise or forgiveness. We just wanted everything our own way. We were selfish and childish and unwilling to bend for our partner.
I put a drawing of Princess Mononoke/San on my stomach because I fell in love with the character and the values she displays in the film: the honesty, the courage, the independent spirit, the intelligence, the fight, the love of nature, the passion, the weirdness, the strength, etc. I idealized the Princess, but it was more than that. The tattoo was (and still is) something of a reminder to myself. It’s a message from my future saying, “Don’t settle. Keep fighting. Keep looking.”
How interesting that my personal titan of romanticism, my idealized version of love and a partner, splayed beneath my left nipple, stood as a mockery of that which I held most dear. For all of my efforts at searching for “love,” or at least deep, meaningful connections, the experience was a simple revelation: I need to grow up before I tackle a new relationship. Even if Mya had actually been the idealized version of San (and, therefore, my idealized version of love) that I longed for, I still would not have been ready.
So, we’ll put that night down in the chapter marked “Mistakes or Miscalculations” from my life’s book, and we’ll move forward with the knowledge that only comes from falling onto your ass from time to time.
And let’s just hope I’ll be ready for when it needs to count.