Princess Mononoke Review
Released in the US by Miramax, and expected in the UK before the year is out, Princess Mononoke is a thought provoking film of epic proportions. It's not a children’s film - far from it in fact with some pretty violent imagery at times - but rather a film that will appeal to all age ranges.
When Miramax announced they were to release the DVD without the Japanese soundtrack, fans were furious. The resulting outcry resulted in the company their release plans while they readied the original soundtrack for a DVD release. Was the delay worth it? Read on and you'll find out...
Japanese animation is very distinctive. Forgoing the hi-tech appearance of recent US films, the style of animation on show here is far more traditional and distinctive. The first thing that strikes you is the attention to detail and some of the background designs are quite literally stunning.
Princess Mononoke tells the story of Prince Ashitaka, a young man who is forced to leave his home after defeating a demon - a fight which left him infected with a nasty disease which will one day take his life. He sets out to find the evil that caused a god to turn into a demon - and what he discovers is pretty disturbing.
The film is set at a time when humans and gods (in the form of animals) live side by side. However, this existence isn't a peaceful one and the human's encroachment and destruction of the forest home of the gods results in much bitterness. On his journey, Ashitaka stumbles upon an town based around an iron works ruled over by the gentle, but ambitious, Lady Eboshi. Not content with the land she has, Eboshi takes it upon herself to defeat the gods of the forest and claim them as her own.
Eboshi's plans make her the target of the Moro - the wolf god, and her human daughter San, Princess Mononoke. After a failed assassination attempt by San, Ashitaka succeeds in saving the princesses life and despite being mortally wounded by one of the townspeople he manages to get back to the safety of the forest where in a show of gratitude he is revived by the forest spirit (or deer god).
Hostilities between the humans and forest gods increase and eventually lead to an all-out conflict with Ashitaka torn between his human ancestry and his responsibility to protect the forest and more specifically, Princess Mononoke. With Eboshi and her people on one side and Mononoke and the forest life on the other Ashitaka must decide where his allegiances lie.
The epic scope of the film doesn't quite come across in a review. Miyazaki's film, while set in a world slightly askew from our own, is as much a social commentary on the modern struggle between man and nature as it is a thought-provoking and often thrilling story. The world Miyazaki creates is highly believable and he manages to give every character more than just superficial traits - the forest gods aren't exactly the nicest creatures you'll ever meet. Lady Eboshi's care for her people is her overriding motive and makes her quest seem almost worthy. This is more than just a story of good versus evil, but yet manages to work on that level as well.
I could rave for hours, but seeing as this is as much a review of the DVD as it is the film it's probably about time I moved on...
Princess Mononoke is a single disc release presented in a standard Amaray case. This Region 1 disc was first released in 2000 - a European Region 2 release is expected towards the end of 2001 (Portugal already has the film, minus the original Japanese soundtrack) through Buena Vista and a Japanese NTSC Region 2 release is due some time in 2002.
I dread to think what VHS would do to the stunning animation on display throughout this film. The bright sharp colours would almost certainly turn into a dull fuzzy mess so it's good to see that the DVD is everything I would expect and most probably more.
While there is a little print damage, it's only really noticeable in a few places when presented with static scenes. Most of the time you'll be so involved in the film and action that you wouldn't see it. Other than this, the picture is near enough perfect - the lines are perfectly defined, the colours (of which there are many) are vivid and bright. There isn't a sign of digital artefacting, anywhere - this is demo-quality stuff! It certainly looks superb on my widescreen telly.
Animation almost always looks good on DVD, but not always this good.
We have three soundtracks on offer - the original Japanese, an English dub and a French dub. All are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and all make excellent use of the surrounds. I'll look at the Japanese and English soundtracks in a little more detail...
The Japanese track is probably the best. Not just because it's the original language track (these sorts of things make little difference as far as animation is concerned anyway), but it also seems to have a little more depth and dynamic range. Surround action appears a little more noticeable with this soundtrack too.
The English dub is very good indeed. The cast here would put a Hollywood blockbuster to shame with some big names voicing the main characters. Much was made of this soundtrack - Neil Gaiman rewrote the screenplay so it's not your usual direct Japanese translation. This soundtrack does lack the depth of the Japanese one but it's still surprisingly good.
I don't think you'll have any major complaints with either soundtrack - if you don't fancy the subtitles then the English soundtrack is more than adequate, and even so I recommend you listen to both just to see how good a job has been done bringing the film across to a western audience.
The theatrical trailer certainly manages to put across that this is a film of epic scale. After watching it I was quite excited about watching the film for the first time! Of course as is always the case with trailers, after watching it once there isn't really that much of an incentive to return..
The featurette isn't particularly noteworthy (as is almost always the case) and consists mainly of interview snippets with the American voice actors. Worth a quick watch, but that's about all - it runs to about five minutes so it's not a huge investment of time.
To be frank, the selection of extras here is poor. I'm not quite sure what I'd have liked to see, but I expect the Japanese release to be much more tempting prospect as far as bonus material is concerned. Price wise however the Japanese release will most likely be a bit on the high side.
Princess Mononoke is a film that literally left me speechless. It may not appeal to everyone, but I think you should give it a try even if it's not likely to be your cup of tea. The DVD is technically spot-on, although the lack of extras is disappointing - if you're after the ultimate release of the film this almost certainly isn't it. On the plus side, it's available to buy now and I don't think you'll be too disappointed.