In one scene from Princess Mononoke, the protagonist Ashitaka meets a group of workers at the Tatara factory in Irontown who used to work in the brothels. They’re covered in bandages, and they’re fiercely loyal to Lady Eboshi, the leader of Irontown.
According to an old Studio Ghibli urban legend site and Urban Legend Magazine, these workers in bandages have leprosy, which is also known as Hansen’s Disease. Although the original Japanese version of Princess Mononoke doesn’t use the word “leprosy” in the movie, it’s referred to as “gyobyo,” which means “suffering the consequences.”
The workers alluded to the discrimination, or consequences, of their ailment within their town, telling Ashitaka that “Eboshi was the only one who saved us and let us stay here when we didn’t have anywhere else to go.”
Ahead of World Leprosy Day on Jan. 31, Miyazaki spoke at a conference and revealed that while making Princess Mononoke he visited the Tama Zenshōen Sanatorium in Tokyo, which treats patients with Hansen’s Disease. He called it “a place where deep suffering has accumulated.”
“While making Princess Mononoke, I thought I had to depict people who are ill with what’s clearly called an incurable disease, but who are living as best they can,” Miyazaki said according to translations.