(Japan); 1999; Rated PG-13; 150 Minutes
Cast (English Dub Version)
Billy Crudup: Ashitaka
Claire Danes: San
Minnie Driver: Lady Eboshi
Billy Bob Thornton: Jigo
John DeMita: Kohroko
Produced by Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma; Directed
and screenwritten by Hayao Miyazaki (english screenplay
by Neil Gaiman)
by DAVID KEYES
universe bound by parallels and gravity could not have begun
to comprehend the possibilities of animation when it was
established as a new art form in the mid-1920s. The idea
of thousands of drawings creating the image of a moving
picture seemed, for the most part, like a false hope; yet
the mind of Walt Disney, who essentially discovered the
cartoon, proved differently. Suddenly, the world as we knew
it was left behind--characters and their residing dimensions
sprawled freely from the limits of reality, circumscribed
exclusively by the constraints of the creators' imagination.
Only massive budgets stood in the way of their innovation;
this was a time, after all, when special effects and computer
imagery could not help with the process, and individually
hand-drawing and coloring the cells was rather expensive.
like the live-action technique of moving pictures, animation
was in its experimental stages for the good part of a decade.
Once artists had finally learned to take shortcuts and improvise
on limited time quantities, they were able to provide the
moviegoer with more free-flowing, limitless products (as
time went on). The standard was arguably set by the first
ever feature-length animated film in 1938, "Snow White And
The Seven Dwarfs."
years since then have been very kind to the cartoon; Disney's
never-ending voyage of feature animated films has now become
an annual event, and several other studios have lent their
hands in expanding upon the stature of the animated motion
picture. Such a positive growth could not have been possible,
however, with the improvement of technology. The development
of many recognized animation processes (multi-layered backgrounds,
Xerox animation, computer effects, digitally painted cells
and deep canvas backgrounds, just to name a few) did more
than just push the envelope for the possibilities of cartoon
pictures; it enhanced our faith and appreciation for a dimension
that cannot possibly survive in the real world.
of the newest approaches of animation, perhaps rightfully
one of the most intriguing, is Japanese anime. Oh, certainly
it has nothing new to add to the spectrum technologically
speaking, but as far as fresh and innovative stories are
concerned, one is sure to find something much different
from the routine feature cartoon of North American studios.
In fact, anime has become so popular in pockets of the world
that by the time Hayao Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke" made
a debut in its home turf, massive turnout pushed up ticket
sales to a record number. To this day, only "Titanic" beats
its record (pretty impressive, nonetheless).
course, few countries outside of Asia's mainland have caught
on to the possibilities with this art form. Perhaps many
are weary because the visual treatment, be it unique, does
not contain the massive depth that so many modern American
cartoons do. Certainly the stylistic approach that the general
pictures take is not always perfect (even Film Critic Scott
Renshaw's notion that Japanese anime contains "a strange
lack of fluidity to the acrobatic movements" seems justifiable
at times). But what attracts native audiences to anime in
the first place, I think, is not the choppy motions, but
the utter magnificence of the narratives. The recent years
for the Disney cartoons have been watered down by a repetitive
underlying theme in the storytelling; films like "Akira"
and "Princess Mononoke" ignore the underbelly of cartoon
formulas, and approach the stories with a sense of refreshed
name Hayao Miyazaki is synonymous with the words "legend"
and "genius," especially for those who have come to recognize
his extraordinary work in the anime field. His "Princess
Mononoke" is a bold new step in the effort to break from
the restraints of a non-mainstream status; it was recently
released in American theaters after its tremendous success
overseas. The film is really made for adults (massive decapitation
is implemented in the imagery), but some might be scared
off because, for obvious reasons, animation is perceived
as a kiddy genre. One should not feel embarrassed for any
reason if they happen to walk into the theater without taking
their children along for the ride.
traditional cartoons (even those that are adult-oriented,
like "South Park"), "Princess Mononoke" is part quest movie,
part epic, and all adventurous; based somewhat on famous
Japanese mythology, the movie opens at the "dawn of the
Age of Iron," in which man and nature could not depend on
each other in order to flourish. The warrior Ashitaka (Billy
Crudup) mounts his horse and sets off to pursue the much-feared
Curse God, who is wreaking immense havoc as he travels through
Northern Japan. The touch of this beast inflicts a curse
of death, and although the warrior is able to bring down
this massive creature, he is at first exposed by the contact
of it. His only hope of survival: to find the Forest Spirit
far in the West.
journey through the God-infested forests takes him to a
remote establishment of the Tatara clan, where he is welcomed
in by the people after he saves the lives of two men during
a nearby battle. The attack is instigated by the forest's
Wolf God Moro, a powerful being that has raised a human
as her daughter. The girl, San (AKA Princes Mononoke), is
practically a walking war machine, eager to destroy the
very human beings that threaten the lush forest she lives
film features the implement of English dubbing, brought
to life by many recognizable Hollywood stars. It has been
said that changing the language of a film after it has been
made for another tends to distract a viewer, since the mouths
move in completely different ways then what the words infer.
That notion may be true for most endeavors, but in animation
the mouths are drawn to move in their own ways; the dubbing
is not really noticeable.
course, "Princess Mononoke" is not simply a movie with a
fresh story and unique style; here is a film that reaches
for unforeseen heights, and surpasses them. It's amazing
how 14th-century mythology could inspire such a visually
and narratively ambitious animated feature--for 150 minutes,
there is never a slow or dull moment. The story is so well
organized that the accompanying images gain a sense of beauty
and depth off of it, providing some impressive effects for
those of us who adore the animated genre in general. I'm
not particularly a fan of the visual style of most anime
efforts, but the freedom of most of the action segments,
and the careful craftsmanship of the colorful backgrounds,
earns the movie a right to be compared to many recent Disney
features (including "Tarzan").
Mononoke" deserves to be remembered. But will the picture
stand the test of time? In Japan, it's very likely; in America,
probably not. Audiences in selected corners of the world
have embraced anime for its style, mood and, perhaps most
importantly, the innovative ways of approaching the plot;
unfortunately, this ol' land has yet to grasp the strength
in the execution of Japanese storytelling. Nonetheless,
someone has faith in the discovery of this animation, as
the film has become the first of Japanese origin to get
a wide theatrical release here in the United States. At
least the sparse population of American fans is able to
experience this brilliant material on a large theater screen.
David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
Please e-mail the author here
if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.