Princess Mononoke Review (Blu Ray)
You'd be hard pressed to name a bad film from Studio Ghibli. Sure, some are better than others but I'd not dare say that they've ever made a bad film. So needless to say, the review ahead is all but guaranteed to be a positive one.
Films like My Neighbour Totoro and Ponyo are family favourites, light-hearted, beautiful and whimsical. They're the sort of films that most people think of when you mention Ghibli. Then there's Princess Mononoke. This film is incredibly emotive, powerful and proof that animation isn't just for kids. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the age recommendation for this film, M15+ is probably about right considering some of the scenes and themes in this incredible piece of cinema. During a press junket in 1999 in Toronto, Miyazaki himself admitted that the film is not intended for young children due to its depiction of violence before professing, however, that children are surrounded by it stating, "violence is innate in humans".
First of all, we need to appreciate the fact that this film is 17 years old. This film was released in 1997 and since then, not too many films have achieved the same level of beauty in terms of aesthetics nor morality. Yet another Hayao Miyazaki film showcasing a strong female lead, Princess Mononoke is a tale of man versus wild. While this is a theme touched upon in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke really explores what happens when nature decides to fight back against mans complete disregard for the wonders and sanctity of nature. Sure, Pomo Poko was about a very similar theme but there are no cute tanuki with huge... intentions in this film.
The animation quality is fantastic and has barely aged at all. Even the 3D rendered imagery used to create the cursed right arm of Ashitaka has aged incredibly well. Even when displayed under the enhanced clarity of Blu Ray, Princess Mononoke looks fabulous. The environmental setting is luscious and yet naturally muted while scenes showcasing the mighty Forest Spirit are as vivid and mind-bending as a Satoshi Kon work. Whether it's a frantic scene of warriors on horseback or a serene shot of mountain-esque regions, this Blu Ray master is sharp, vibrant and completely devoid of any compression artefacts.
As always, the choice to watch the film subbed or dubbed rests with you but Studio Ghibli's English dub is as great as ever. While some voices seem to have been casted on celebrity as opposed to their ability to deliver a performance through voice alone *cough* Billy Bob Thornton *cough*, others are well realised and surprisingly emotive. In only a few short lines, both Gillian Anderson and Keith David shine while both Billy Cruddup and Claire Danes are equally heroic as the self-appointed protectors of the humans and forrest respectively. The Japanese cast too is fantastic and bring a subtlety to the film, particularly to the roles of Lady Eboshi (Yuko Tanaka) and Jiko-bo (Kaoru Kobayashi).
Longtime Ghibli collaborator, Joe Hisaishi returns to compose another beautiful and awe-inspiring score which is at times grandiose and at others delicate, particularly towards the end of the film which is juxtaposed against the weight of the material on screen. The whole score builds from whimsy to high-drama and finally, nothing. Like sitting in the eye of a storm, the score builds to a crescendo then delivers a deafening post-war silence before slowly building again. The final punctuation mark in this gorgeous score is the Princess Mononoke Theme Song sung by Yoshikazu Mela in the Japanese version and Sasha Lazard in the English version, followed by the extraordinarily stirring The Legend of Ashitaka.
Princess Mononoke is one of Studio Ghibli's finest. Beautifully animated and backed by a gorgeous score, it delves into the potential damage dealt by mans wants versus needs before highlighting the fact that amends can be made if atonement is what you truly seek. Or if all else fails, you could always just enjoy people getting their arms shot off by a guy with demon Popeye arms and a bow and arrow.
Don't forget to check out the special features which includes a look at the films release in America which even shows a very fresh-faced Neil Gaiman!
© 1997 Nibariki - GND