Review for Princess Mononoke
After being attacked by demon-possessed boar, Ashitaka must travel far to find a cure for the curse that has afflicted him. On his quest he finds himself in the middle of a struggle between the forest gods and Lady Eboshi mining colony of Tatara. He also encounters San, a human raised by wolves who is the Mononoke Hime. What follows is a war between the two in which it is impossible to even say who are right and who are wrong, but it will be a bloody and epic battle.
Princess Mononoke is not a Disney cartoon. I should just get that out of the way. This is not one of those films where a character is 'killed' by falling off a cliff. No, this is a film where people are decapitated, shot through the stomach, have arms chopped off and attacked by wolves amongst other things. This is a film that pushes its PG rating and in some cases you would think this should have been at least a 12 or even a 15.
That being said, this is a beautiful looking film. Anyone who has seen anything from Studio Ghibli will recognise the distinctive style. The characters are beautifully designed, the backgrounds look amazing and the effects and touches throughout are perfect. It is not surprising that this film is on IMDb's Top 250 (at 73 at time of writing) and that noted film critic Roger Ebert gave it a perfect 4 out of 4 stars. I was a little sceptical of the film, but even I have to admit that this film is just a sight to behold.
The Studio Ghibli style is so distinctive that it is difficult to compare it to anyone, it has the aesthetic of Disney paired with the storytelling and creativity of Kurosawa. If there had been an Academy Award for Best Animation at the time it would no doubt have won that award, something which Miyazaki achieved later with his wonderful Spirited Away.
Voicework is provided by Billy Crudup as Ashitaka, Minnie Driver as Eboshi, Claire Danes as San and Gillian Anderson as Moro. Other famous voices you may recognise are Billy Bob Thornton, Jada Pinkett Smith and John DiMaggio. Unlike a lot of Anime there is at least an attempt to make the English dialogue match the lip movements of the characters and the new dialogue adapted by Neil Gaiman follows the original story well. Many previous films just adapted it without taking this into consideration, but thankfully that is not the case with this one and though many purists will say you should just watch it with the Japanese dialogue and read the subtitles, I don't really think it makes that much of a difference.
Considering how important this film is, it is sad to say it really is let down by its special features. I expected some sort of retrospective, a look back at the making of the film and how it not only made Studio Ghibli infamous in Japan, but across the entire world. Instead what we are given is very little. There are a number of trailers for the different markets, which is fine, a promotional video which is more or less a longer trailer and then a collection of trailers for other Studio Ghibili films.
A short documentary 'Princess Mononoke in the US' which was filmed while Director Miyazaki was promoting the film at a number of festivals in 1999 is included. This is nice and in absence of a Commentary, Interview, or anything else, it serves its purpose, though not exactly the easiest thing to watch.
There is an option to watch the whole film with a Storyboard alongside it. For budding animators, this may be a fascinating way to see how the film was constructed. If you are a fan of the film you may also enjoy this, but for the average viewer I can understand showing a few key scenes like this, but after a while the novelty wears off.
Princess Mononoke is possibly the film that brought Anime into the mainstream. It is true, there had been other films such as Akira, but this was the first film that did not rely on science fiction genre and really could have easily been a live action film. If you think that Japanese animation is just action, robots and badly dubbed voice work, then you need to watch this film which is one of the best examples of the genre out there.