© 1997 Tokuma Shoten Publishing
When Princess Mononoke was first announced to be hitting North American theaters, fans everywhere were heralding a new age for anime (well, those that weren't decrying Disney as being the greatest evil in the world, but that's something else entirely). Princess Mononoke was supposed to usher in a new age when anime would finally go mainstream; when fans everywhere could show the non-believers that anime was more than just Sailor Moon or Pokemon. Anime was finally supposed to gain mainstream acceptance.
It didn't go quite as planned, mainly due to severe under-promoting of Princess Mononoke on the part of Miramax. This doesn't mean, however, that fans got to miss out on what many consider to be the greatest anime film ever.
Princess Mononoke begins with a young man named Ashitaka encountering a hideous boar covered in writhing worms. The boar is on a rampage and threatens several members of his village including his younger sister. Ashitaka bravely battles the boar and successfully kills it, even though he is wounded in the process. The wound is no simple one, for the boar had become a demon and Ashitaka now bears its curse. He is forced to leave his village to look for a way to free himself from the curse and hopefully discover why the boar had become a demon.
Ashitaka's journey eventually leads him to a fortress-like town named "Irontown". The people of Irontown, under the rule of Lady Eboshi, have been mining iron from within a nearby mountain. It is with this iron that they are able to manufacture early forms of rifles, crude by today's standards, but very devastating nonetheless. The mining, however, has resulted in the destruction of the forest which once covered the mountainside. The creatures of the forest are none to pleased with being driven from their homes, none more than Moro, a giant wolf god, and her adopted human daughter, San. San has been repeatedly attacking the humans of Irontown in an attempt to drive them away. Ashitaka, though, believes that the humans and animals can get along peacefully and this lands him squarely in the middle of the conflict.
While the story seems like a simple tale of humankind versus nature, there are many layers which complicate things. For starters, there are no outright evil people in this tale. Even Lady Eboshi, the ruler of Irontown and person most responsible for the destruction of the forest, is quite compassionate when it comes to other humans. She takes in lepers and women from brothels and gives them a place a work and live. There's also Jigo, who, while being quite self-centered, still exhibits very human traits and even helps out Ashitaka in the early goings. And, of course, I mustn't forget San, whose relentless drive to protect the forest leads her into deadly conflict with the humans. Yet, while she is an enemy of the humans, her intent is merely to save her own homeland.
Studio Ghibli has truly created a wondrous work in Princess Mononoke. Multiple conflicts abound with humans against humans, humans against nature, and even nature against itself. The conflicts are such that they are woven into an incredibly deep and satisfying plot. It's very refreshing to see a movie that is capable of such story-telling without resulting to simple cliches and tired rehashings of the same old story lines.
The mythical world in Princess Mononoke is ripe with lush forests, sweeping landscapes, and incredible vistas. The sheer beauty of the locales is one of the best reasons to watch this film. The creatures which inhabit it are truly fantastic and could only come from a very creative mind. From the frightening, twisted boar in the beginning to the diminutive, yet bizarre kodama, every creature has a magical nature to it and melds seamlessly into a rich mosaic of the strange and wonderful.
The visual and aural qualities of this movie make it a true feast for the senses. The artwork is simply some of the most beautiful work I've seen in an animated movie, and the animation quality is excellent. Everything is rendered in painstaking detail, the highlights being the teeming forests in which the movie takes place. Everything is so vivid and detailed that I often sat in silent wonder simply absorbing the stunning visual imagery.
And as if this wasn't enough incentive to watch this masterpiece, the DVD release most certainly is. It not only includes 5.1 Dolby Digital audio tracks for English and French, but the original Japanese audio as well. Hooked up to a surround sound system it sounds very nice indeed. The original opening and ending credits are also included, along with two separate subtitle selections, close captions of the dub and a literal translation of the original. The DVD visuals are quite gorgeous, bright and crystal clear. The only real area the DVD lacks is in the extra features department, but that's only a minor quibble. The Princess Mononoke DVD is something every fan should have in their collection.
The Verdict: * * * * * (excellent)
|last modified: 05-26-03||The Anime Critic and associated content © 1999-2003 Pete Harcoff. All rights reserved.|