Critic's Log - Earthdate: December 2, 2012. Review #24: Princess Mononoke
Throughout the months and days that I have been reviewing animes, I have been reviewing anime shows and OVA's, and I just previously reviewed one movie which would be Resident Evil: Degeneration. I will say that I was not originally planning on reviewing this movie this time around. I was actually hoping to do a series of reviews of Studio Ghibli films someday. This review was actually requested by a good friend of mine who goes by "BlackAngelReinae". Today just so happens to be her birthday. She did not request the Resident Evil: Degeneration review, I threw that review in as a little "Tribute" review since she just started getting into the Resident Evil series and encouraging me to cosplay as Albert Wesker at Aki-con which is an anime convention in Bellevue, Washington which isn't too far from where I live. She did not suggest the Wesker cosplay, it was one of her friends. My trip in that convention was 20% badass. Yeah, I just used the 20% Cooler meme from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic except I twisted it around, and yes...I'm a Brony, deal with it. Just so you know, I am not one of those super-obsessed fans of the show but I actually enjoy the show because of its humor. I consider myself a "Brony" because I will admit that I am a fan of the show, I'm what you could call a "Normal Brony". I think enough has been said for the intro, my friend wanted me to review this movie on her birthday and I shall begin the review of Hayao Miyazaki's epic masterpiece...Princess Mononoke!
Somewhere in Japan, a rampaging boar-god is heading towards a villiage and the confident young warrior and prince Ashitaka defends and protects his village. In the process, he is hit with a deadly curse and is told to leave his village. To save his life, he has to journey to the forests in the west. Once he arrives there, he gets involved in a fierce conflict that humans are waging on the forest. The ambitious Lady Eboshi and her loyal group use their guns against the gods of the forest and a brave young woman, Princess Mononoke who was raised by a wolf-god. Ashitaka sees the good in both sides and attempts to stem the flood of blood. This ends up with both sides showing animosity towards Ashitaka as he supports both sides. An epic battle that the humans will never forget ensues and the fate of the world rests on the courage of one warrior.
To be technical, this is a Studio Ghibli production and stating the obvious could not be avoided here. This film shares quite a history that I will love to dive deep into. Princess Mononoke is a film that was 4 years in the making, it was also the most expensive Japanese animated film at the time which was more expensive than the 1988 landmark anime film Akira. This was also the final Studio Ghibli film to have hand-painted animation cels. It was also the highest grossing film in Japan before being surpassed by Titanic. It also won Best Picture in Japan while being the first animated film to ever win Best Picture in Japan. Princess Mononoke was declared by Miyazaki-san that it would be his final film before he went into retireme...Oh wait, he never retired yet. I guess Miyazaki-san changed his mind at the time. Princess Mononoke has been highly regarded as Miyazaki-san's masterpiece and magnum opus and I can obviously see why. This is the pinnacle of Miyazaki-san's career and by far the most environmental film that he has ever made. His other films have some environmental themes thrown in but not as heavy as Princess Mononoke. This is the film that we can assume that he always wanted to create and the film that is closer to his heart. This is the only Miyazaki movie that is not really meant for a younger audience. Sure, there's violence in the movie as well as some blood and gore. Not only that, there is also some mature themes that are thrown into the movie as well. Even if parents are okay with the idea of having their children watch Princess Mononoke, there are a lot of things in this movie that kids wouldn't respond or understand too well. It has a complex story that has mature concepts that are mixed in a blender with a big weight on subtext and has great depth in writing that is made by the same man that gave us the cutesy magically charmed animated beloved classics such as My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service. This is a man who happens to be an environmentalist, a pacifist, and a feminist. I think us otakus know full well that this is present in all of his films. Princess Mononoke is obviously an environmental film that might as well be called an environmental epic. The reason I consider it to be an environmental epic is because the atmosphere in Princess Mononoke (in a metaphorical sense) brings a lot of wonder and mysticism as well as having a vast landscape with vivid imagery that I think all people that watch movies can appreciate the extremely detailed animation in all its beauty. I think we can all agree that all the Studio Ghibli films are gorgeous. Princess Mononoke is so well detailed with a sense of realism in the ancient fantasy world that is shown in this film. The production value somehow bolsters and supports the writing (strangely enough). Even though the setting is in an ancient fantasy world, the realistic aspect is that it has a conflict in a world that could reflect on our own. With all the background info on the animation said, Here's what I think of the animation. It is beyond gorgeous, It is the most majestic and breathtaking film that Hayao Miyazaki has ever produced. Every scene from beginning to end is a visual tour de force and a Thanksgiving Dinner to the eye. It is so well-detailed which it comes to no surprise as to why this is considered Miyazaki-san's masterpiece and magnum opus. This is a real treat to animation lovers and otakus alike.
The music by Joe Hisaishi compliments every scene in Princess Mononoke and is a great listen without the movie. If Miyazaki-san is compared to Walt Disney, I guess it could be fair to say that Joe Hisaishi could be compared to John Williams. Walt Disney was a wonderful animator in the U.S. and Hayao Miyazaki is still a wonderful animator in Japan. Joe Hisaishi and John Williams are also wonderful music composers as well in their respective countries. The music is beautiful and always makes the worlds that Miyazaki-san creates feel magical and wonderful. Joe Hisaishi is a very talented composer and is easily one of my favorite composers in anime alongside Yoko Kanno, Shiro Sagisu, and Taku Iwasaki. Princess Mononoke is one of his more recognized film scores but the music Princess Mononoke has adds up to the "majestic" quality that this film has.
The Japanese cast performs quite well in this movie and I should point out that you'll get a better understanding in cultural settings as well as Japanese mythology (possibly religion too) if you watch this film in subtitled form. The Japanese cast is well casted in this film. Yoji Matsuda is terrific as Prince Ashitaka, Yuriko Ishida has a believable voice as San, Yuko Tanaka is great as Lady Eboshi. I think I know what you're thinking. You are probably wondering what I think of the English Dub of Princess Mononoke. Before I tell you that, I will share some background info on the dub which is somewhat relevant to what I think of it. Back at the time that this movie was picked up in the U.S. Disney had a thing where all the Studio Ghibli films would be licensed and distributed stateside by Disney. Disney decided not to pick this movie up because of its content and everyone knows that Disney is known for its family-friendly flicks and most of the crappy TV shows they have on their channel. Instead, we have Miramax Films which is a subsidiary to The Walt Disney Company that picked up Princess Mononoke and the English Dub is often the most debated in all the dubbed Ghibli films. While Princess Mononoke was picked up, Harvey Weinstein who was the chairman for Miramax at the time (or still is) gave the ADR voice directing role to Neil Gaiman, for those who are literary buffs out there, it's that Neil Gaiman. I've never read any of his books but he has written some fantasy books in the past and even wrote with Terry Pratchett on the book Good Omens, If you don't know who Terry Pratchett is, he is a fantasy writer best known for the Discworld books. Anyway, Since Neil Gaiman wrote some fantasy stories, it's probably safe to say that he knew what he was doing while writing the adaptive English script of Princess Mononoke. The end result leads to Princess Mononoke being one of the best dubs for a Studio Ghibli film and probably the best of the Ghibli dubs. Before you go all angry on me, let me me explain. First of all, the dialogue in the English script is spoken well because Neil Gaiman really appreciates the beauty of the English language. Secondly, the dub is performed extremely well. I know that Princess Mononoke has the most debated dub in the Ghibli films so let me explain right here and now. I think most people agree that Billy Crudup is an excellent Ashitaka and you can tell because he sounds like he's extremely invested in the role too. Claire Danes as San is one of those performances that people debate over and I understand that but her performance was great. What I think people don't like is how her voice sounds, I think what people tend to see towards San is that she is some kind of brave leader and she didn't sound like that at all. Claire Danes' portrayal of San is angry, immature, and upset and that's San's character. I honestly can say that I got used to Claire Danes' performance in the dub. Minnie Driver is terrific as Lady Eboshi because she has that confident sounding voice which she pulled off quite nicely. She sounds like someone you could trust. Another debatable role would be Moro which is voiced by Gillian Anderson in the dub while Akihiro Miwa voices her in the subtitled version. The reason this role is debated sometimes is because the voices sound different from one to the other. That is because Moro's seiyu is male and Moro has a male voice. The reasoning for this is because according to Japanese Mythology or Spirituality, Wolves are considered one of the most divine animals and would always speak in a male voice typically. This is why Moro has a male voice in the Japanese version. This is not the case for the dub because it might have not made any sense to us Americans but Gillian Anderson is also terrific as Moro. No one has said a bad thing about Keith David as Okkoto and I guess that's somewhat good because Keith David was also great as Okkoto. The last debatable dub role that I haven't mentioned yet is Billy Bob Thornton which he really is a great actor, but I completely understand where people are getting at with Billy Bob Thornton as Jigo (Jiko-bo in the Japanese version). I will admit that he was great as Jigo but he sounds a bit different than Jigo's seiyu. Some say that Billy Bob Thornton does not fit the Japanese intent of Jigo's character. Jigo is a well-written character that even though he is a bit of a corrupt monk but some other characters trust him and Billy Bob Thornton has that kind of voice that sounds like you could trust him, that is until later in the movie. There are some nice extras in both versions. So here's what I think of the dub, even though it's the most debated dub of the Ghibli films, I think it is performed extremely well even if some characters sound a bit off. I really like the dub to Princess Mononoke, I also like the Subtitled version as well so this is a movie that I like both versions to.
As far as characters go, there are quite some interesting ones. Prince Ashitaka is a young confident warrior that is trying to save his own life while trying to simmer down the hatred between the humans and the beings of the forest (which includes San). San is portrayed nicely because even though she's human, she is raised by wolves and she is obviously trying to defend the forest because it is technically her home. She does have a hatred towards humans even though she's human herself and that made her quite a fascinating character. Lady Eboshi on the other hand is kind of a villain-ish character but she is not completely evil, she's actually compassionate towards people who are defenseless, which is ironic to say that least since because she brings ruin to parts of the forest. Jigo is a well-written character and there's really not much I have to say about him except for that I thought he was nice until he ended up being a bit of a corrupt monk unless I've spoken wrong about the whole "corrupt monk" thing. Moro is interesting to watch since she's one of the spirits of the forest (Wolf-God, Wolf-Goddess, whatever she is.) Okkoto was another character I thought was interesting because he's sort of a key character later in the movie. If Toki was the comic relief character in the movie, her character was good enough for that.
When it comes to the story, this has to be the hardest thing for me to discuss because there is so much to talk about when it comes up to the story of Princess Mononoke, it is such a complex tale. I've said earlier that this movie is a visual tour de force and a Thanksgiving Dinner to the eye, that does not mean that you need to turn your brain off at the same time, OH, no, no, no, no, NO! You need to pay attention while watching this film because it is a bit complex and for good reasons. There is a lot going on. What is portrayed well is nature itself. Not only is environmental nature portrayed well, human nature is also portrayed quite well. What really is quite effective is that there are no villians in this movie, Lady Eboshi is not a villian in Princess Mononoke. She is doing a little bad just so she can help her own people. This is the kind of movie you can really sympathize with the characters for whatever society or some people think is "Bad" because this movie really wants you to think that they deserve to exist as we do. That is probably the strongest element in the movie and it is enough to get the message of the movie across because nature isn't pure good and we are not pure evil and not taking over the defenselessness of nature and we are not being at fault for doing the wrong thing by nature either because nature isn't completely defenseless but neither is in a position of moral superiority. It just exists, like all of us. If there are any flaws that some people address that I really don't see a flaw to would be Prince Ashitaka from beginning to end. I've read some comments somewhere that Prince Ashitaka sort of comes out of nowhere and has no character traits except for the fact that he falls in love with San while being the bridge that will bring the two worlds together since San is from the world of the Forest Spirits (in a metaphorical sense) while Ashitaka is in the human world. To be honest, there is a bridge between the two. Ashitaka is not necessarily from the human world either. He's not a force of pure good at all and there is not force of pure good or pure evil in this movie at all. Everything Ashitaka does is just so he can survive. He is the last of his people and he is also the hero because he has to be the one to save his own life. If this still hasn't convinced you yet, let me make it clear then. If he didn't have that curse in his arm, he would've been a boring chararacter. He has valid motivations, he has desires to kill, he can get angry, he does fall in love. He is a believable character if you pay attention. He also brings an interesting weight to the story thematically. There are these two polar forces that are going at eachother which we already know is Lady Eboshi's group and the beings of the Forest. Both are not sides of pure good or pure evil and you have these bridges that are between them. Ashitaka is that bridge, so is San. It is sort of brilliant in a thematic way. San is the brave warrior of the Forest Gods but she's not really one of them, that is why she's the bridge. Ashitaka is a warrior for the human side but sort of isn't one of them either. The Japanese people portrayed in this story aren't really his people because he's the last of the Emishi people and he is trying to survive on his own by associating with these people that drove his tribe out and they eventually went extinct (what I'm saying is a part of Japanese history) Ashitaka does not have a direct reason to help the human side although he sort of does, the same goes for San as well, she's human, so she shouldn't really be trying to kill one of her own kind, but it's not hers. When it comes to both sides, they are the last of their kind or maybe even the only of their kind and they are trying to survive and exist. There is an extension of a pure force on either force that cannot link together and cannot reconcile as well as a force that can't achieve balance. The key to balance in both of them is an impartial member from both sides that come together to solve the issue. All out of the need to survive from the individual, to the group, and to the force at large which really can be the essence of balance which is kind of the need to push forward and continue to exist. Ashitaka was a fascinating character to me. Now that may be a complex subject to swallow but this does all add up to a fascinating story that can make you root for both sides which is one hell of an accomplishment. It also touches on the human condition in such a unique way. As a humanist myself, I think it's safe to say that human nature has some part in all that which Princess Mononoke does portray. There's so much more to this movie than meets the eye and that's the one thing I truly admire in this movie. I tip my hat to Miyazaki-san for being blessed with such talent and showcasing his masterpiece which is this film.
Princess Mononoke is available from Miramax Films
With all that said, Princess Mononoke is a film that has a fascinating story with well-written characters, spellbinding music, and majestic animation. This is undeniably one of Hayao Miyazaki's best films since it has been critically acclaimed that even films critics such as Roger Ebert gave praise towards Princess Mononoke. I consider myself an unofficial critic and I've already gave enough praise towards this film. This is a movie that I can watch over and over again and not really get tired of it. There's always something new that I learn with repeated viewing. This is a movie that I really don't see anything at fault. It's for environmentalists, animation buffs, and otakus alike. I have almost seen all of Hayao Miyazaki's films and out of all of them, Princess Mononoke is my favorite Miyazaki film. If you haven't seen this movie, you must see it. Some will tell you that it is incredible, some will say it's gorgeous. What I can tell you is that it is an unforgettable experience
I give Princess Mononoke a 10 out of 10, it is a MASTERPIECE!
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