Plot: What’s it about?
First and foremost, Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time, and has definitely had the most influential impact on me. I’ve been a fan of his for many years as well as all that has come out of Studio Ghibli, his animation studio with Isao Takahata (the man behind the wonderful film Grave Of The Fireflies). Miyazaki creates some wonderful and beautiful imagery, with well developed and interesting characters, all wrapped in breathtaking stories with deep themes about life. What I love about his films is that while some of them are aimed for children (“Mononoke” is more for adult audiences), they are still so entertaining for adults as well. Miyazaki knows the human spirit and is a master storyteller.
This lengthy epic takes place hundred of years ago in Japan, where animal Gods and humans live side by side, struggling to survive. The film opens with Ashitaka, a brave warrior from a near extinct clan of… well, warriors as he fights off a boar demon. In this process however, Ashitaka is cursed and finds a piece of iron inside the boar. Ashitaka sets off to stop the curse from consuming him. Along the way, he meets the cold Lady Eboshi, a strong leader who runs the industrious Iron Town. Eboshi is set on expanding and having the town move foward, but in doing so, she has wiped out a lot of the forest, which the animal Gods aren’t so happy about. With this going on, Ashitaka meets with San, the Princess Mononoke, and gets caught in the middle of the battle of man versus nature. San is with the wolf clan, where she was raised by wolves and thinks of a wolf herself. Ashitaka must come to terms with what he is experiencing, and find out if there is a way if the two sides can co-exist.
Of course, the man behind the film is Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki has created an incredibly bold and wonderful film, with a lot of heart and a lot of depth. I guess I’ll start off with the animation. Yes, it is Japanese animated, but it’s so gorgeous. A lot of the animation has blew me away, and I feel some animated sequences can only be done in animation and can’t be created for a live action film by any cost due to the scope and detail. The colors, the setting, it looks so lovely and captures the true tone of the film. The tone that there is so much beauty to behold, but with the beauty, there is some darkness with it.
Miyazaki’s script and Neil Gaiman’s adaption of it are each really solid. Miyazaki is responsible for the story, where he creates some really deep characters that are three dimensional and have things to wonder about. While I feel the story does drag on a little bit at points, it never gets boring because there is so much to capture and so much going on, it keeps you really entertained and making you wonder what will happen next. The story arc is nicely developed too, but as I mentioned before, this movie gets you thinking, way after you have finished watching. Yes, man needs to proceed with civilization and sacrifices must be made, but nature has its life to carry on as well. Present day industrial struggles are a perfect comparison with this film. What should be done? Also, Miyazaki’s direction creates a wonderful, magical but believable world. Miyazaki is a genius.
I mentioned above that Neil Gaiman’s adaption is really solid, as he keeps true to Miyazaki’s original script but touching it up himself for American audiences. It is truly an excellent adaption, and Gaiman, a well known comic writer for such works as “Sandman” does not dumb it down. It’s intelligent and I feel a great adaption.
The dub itself is also very good. The voice actors are splendid in their roles. Billy Crudup is perfect as Ashitaka, while Minnie Driver brings elegance but a tough edge to Lady Eboshi. Gillian Anderson fits well as Moro, the Wolf God, while most of the supporting players are good. However, if there are two voices that don’t exactly fit well it is Claire Danes and Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton is Jiko-Bo, a priest. But while he does capture the suavness and greediness to him, I just felt the southern accent didn’t fit. As for Danes, her performance is good, but I just felt her voice didn’t fit the character of San so well. It was kind of annoying. It’s hard to describe… it was what you may think San sounds like but not quiet. As far as lips matching the voices, the job is very well done, and no one should be complaining about that.
Even if you are not into anime or any kind of animation I higly encourage you to check this film out. Why? Because this movie is so well done and is truly one of the best films of the 1990s (this also ranks as one of my top ten films of all time). I waited on line opening weekend to see this film when the dub came out, and I think if you are a little open minded, you are sure to love and marvel at Princess Mononoke. I was really disappointed when Disney did no marketing on the film whatsoever and did not bother to give it a push it highly deserved. This is truly a film which can reach many audiences (though not for the young kids due to the violence). Now, when will Disney be releasing “Laputa: Castle In The Sky”?
Video: How does it look?
Princess Mononoke has been given the royal treatment by Disney and that’s not a bad thing. I mentioned this movie has some tremendous visual beauty, and it’s presented here in perfection, right down to the very last pixel. The transfer, presented in 1.85:1 AVC HD image, is incredibly sharp, where colors are presented with much accuracy, and there’s no over saturation at all. On a more impressive note, I didn’t notice any edge enhancment whatsoever. Still, there is something people may want to take note of. The transfer has remained faithful to the original, colors are still a bit bland, but it’s in a good way if that makes sense. Still, it’s a top notch presentation. This transfer is simply dazzling, and will truly please everyone. I’m very thankful that Disney didn’t mess this one up.
Audio: How does it sound?
Both the Japanese and English tracks sport a DTS HD Master Audio mix and each of these sound pretty similar (though the English dub did sound as loud as the Japanese track), and are great mixes. The sounds of nature here are presented in an incredibly crisp fashion. The Kodamas (forest spirits) rattling, gunshots going off and the sounds of the animals use some great surrounds and make you feel like you’re in the middle of this epic saga and watching it unfold before your eyes. The battle sequences (like during the first hour when San and Lady Eboshi fight) are well mixed and recorded. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear. Best of all, Joe Hisaishi’s catchy, wonderful and memorable score uses all the channels efficently, it sounds perfect. The tracks perfectly capture the heart and spirit of the movie.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The film has legions of fans and Disney has done a bang up job on this Blu-ray release. Below is what’s included in the supplemental department.
- Original Japanese Storyboards – The film can be watched with the original storyboards (presented in HD) with 2.0 audio.
- Princess Mononoke in the USA – Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki are followed in a “documentary” type fashion as they attend shows and are interviewed by a variety of folks.
- Featurette– Neil Gaiman, who acts as a translator, and the main members of the cast collaborate for a pretty standard EPK.
- Theatrical Trailer and Television Spots
- DVD Copy