Princess Mononoke

In today's marketplace, an animated movie will not generate business unless the name "Disney" is attached to it. In cases like The Quest For Camelot, it is a good thing. However, when worthwhile movies like Anastasia or Iron Giant come out, it is very disappointing to see them quickly disappear. Things are vastly different in Japan, where anime reigns supreme. Anime (Japanimation) is the style prevalent in Japanese cartoons. Unlike Disney movies, anime movies may not necessarily be targeted towards kids. There is much violence, and sometimes, nudity and sex. There is no stigma about cartoons being for children only, which allows for complex stories and well thought out characterizations. The large eyes, which many people dislike, are used to better convey emotion. And no one does anime better than Hayao Miyazaki, the revered Japanese animator responsible for Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro. Miyazaki has an imagination that knows no bounds, as is evident in Princess Mononoke. This film was so popular in Japan that the only film to outgross it thus far is been Titanic. Now, American audiences get the chance to see this wondrous film, with the voices of Gillian Anderson, Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Jada Pinkett Smith, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, and others.

Princess Mononoke takes place in fourteenth century Japan, a time of unrest. Ashitaka (Crudup, Without Limits, The Hi Lo Country) is a young prince who becomes cursed after killing a mad forest god. The curse leads him to backtrack the god's movements to try to discover why the god went mad. He comes across an industrializing town known as Iron Town. Lady Eboshi (Driver, An Ideal Husband, The Governess) is the leader of Iron Town. She is slowly destroying the forest to expand her town. The iron her town produces is extremely profitable, and the surrounding newly deforested lands also experience an escalation in value. Eboshi has no place for the forest gods; to her, they are obsolete figures. Man is who will reign supreme. Her goal is to kill the Great Forest Spirit with her iron shooting rifles, the god responsible for all life and death in the forest. Opposing Eboshi is San (Danes, The Mod Squad, Brokedown Palace), also known as Princess Mononoke. San was raised by wolves, and considers herself a wolf. She hates the humans than their blatant disregard for the nature around them. Ashitaka's main goal is to seek the Great Forest Spirit and ask him to take his curse away. He stumbles into the conflict between Eboshi and Mononoke, and becomes caught in the middle. He wants to side with San, because he also believes that the forest should be preserved. But then he feels sorry for the people of Iron Town, who are mostly lepers and women saved from brothels. Eboshi saved them and now is the only one who treats them as humans.

This is definitely not a cartoon for little kids. Miyazaki weaves in ideas about environmental conversation with intense battle scenes, and thematically serious subjects. Miramax film selected a great film to introduce sophisticated moviegoers to the world of anime, and apparently they are also actually trying to advertise towards an older demographic. Here is an animated picture that can be enjoyed as a serious work, not as a silly song filled adventure (though nothing is wrong with that). The line between good and bad is blurred here, the obvious bad guys do not seem quite as bad after looking at the big picture. Ashitaka must struggle to do what he thinks is right in light of everything happening around him. Mirimax tapped Neil Gaiman, writer of Stardust and DC's Sandman comics to pen the translation. Gaiman, the first comic book writer to win a literary award, is well renowned for his own ability to inject magic and mysticism into a story. Gaiman took the script and faithfully translated it into English while changing Japanese references that would make no sense in America. The only thing that could have made this wonderful film better is if it was released in its true glory. Dubbing just takes something away from the film. You have this nagging feeling that something is missing.

But that should not prevent you from going to see this movie. It is truly a wondrous spectacle, full of beautiful imagery possible only by someone with limitless imagination. Everything from the little Komoda, the spirits of the forest, to the majestic transformation of the Night Walker. The world that Miyazaki created is an amazing place, caught between the opposing worlds of magic and science. The forest gods are not cute talking animals, they are large and fierce, while retaining a sense of nobility. Princess Mononoke is definitely something unique, and is well worth a screening.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 15 minutes, Rated PG-13 for images of violence and gore.

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