Release Date(s)1997 (November 18, 2014)
Studio(s)Tokuma Shoten/Nippon TV/Dentsu/Studio Ghibli (Disney/Buena Vista)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: D
- Extras Grade: B+
“You cannot change your fate. You can, though, rise to meet it.”
Princess Mononoke is set in a time of gods and demons, where Man is finding it harder and harder to exist in harmony with the spirits of Nature. As Mankind’s hunger for “more and more” grows, Nature’s ability to hold onto itself is growing weaker and weaker. The gods of nature fight back, but their numbers are dwindling as more and is consumed by Man. In this time of strife, a young prince named Ashitaka finds himself going to battle with a demon made of pure, unabashed hatred. This demon is living off the body of a once great Boar God named Nago. The demon, consisting of thousands of black worm-like tendrils, scars the right arm of Ashitaka before he is defeated in a furious battle. Although he “wins,” Ashitaka has now become tainted and cursed. He must now live with the evil inside him, and it’s his new-found fate to head into the land of the West, where the gods are strongest, to find out what happened to cause the infection of Nago in the first place. It is in the West where Ashitaka might also find a cure for his ailment. Or he might just find his death.
Joining Ashitaka as he runs to meet fate head-on is his faithful steed, Yakul (a badass red elk – one of the best steeds since Trigger), together they discover what’s behind the growing evil: a war is raging on the border of the Deer God’s forest. It is there that entrepreneur (and potential warlord) Lady Eboshi is building an iron mill and weapons foundry. To successfully grow her new technology, she has to take from Nature. And the more she takes, the more she needs. (It’s always greed that destroys paradise, isn’t it?) She and her people, Ashitaka find, are good people; reformed warriors and freed brothel workers, who work four straight days a week building a small empire for Eboshi. Eboshi, herself isn’t so much an evil force as she is headstrong and stubborn. Eboshi wants what she wants and she’ll fight to take it (and fight harder to keep it). But a war has two sides, and standing against her are the great spirits of the forest, led by three giant Wolf Gods and a young girl named San. They will stop at nothing to kill Eboshi, because she’s destroying their forest home, looking for more iron sand for her mill.
Meeting both sides of this epic battle, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle, and not wanting to choose sides (because he can understand both), he seeks to get Man and Nature together somehow. He has a lot of people to sway. There’s Jiko, a mysterious monk working for the Emperor (who is seeking a way to live forever and thinks he’s found it in the blood of the Deer God), Moro the lead Wolf God (and San’s “mother”) and Okkotonushi the leader of the boars. These are just a few of the characters Ashitaka has to convince on his journey towards the truth. With his scar from his battle with Nago, he carries with him a mark of hatred to show them that fighting isn’t the answer. Ashitaka wants man and beast to work together; but in the end, man and beast alike will die. Lives will be changed forever and a warrior and a princess will find love within the chaos and carnage.
Princess Mononoke is a thrill ride – animated film or not. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, everything he touches becomes beautiful, and this film is no exception. Having seen this film in theaters in 1998, again on a really top-notch DVD presentation in 2000, and now on Blu-ray, I really, honest and truly, can say that I love this film a lot. It’s become one of my all-time favorite films. It’s action packed, philosophically and emotionally deep and, to me, is just one of the greatest films ever made. If you’ve ever read one of my reviews and said to yourself, “Hey... maybe I should check that out,” and then discovered that you liked the film as much as I did... trust me again. You’ll love this movie. If you don’t love the Kodamas, something’s wrong with you (and you’ll know what Kodamas once you’ve seen it).
There is some good news and some bad news with this new Region 1 release from Disney. The good news is – it’s beautiful. The original 2000 Miramax/Disney release, was one of Disney’s best transfers ever up to that point. I hold that the 2000 DVD actually stands the test of time, and as a DVD transfer it still looks great. This Blu-ray upgrade is that much better; I find that it looks even better than the Japanese Blu-ray (bold, I know – but I will stand my ground). Video is presented 1080p with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Audio, too, is rather nice, including both the original Japanese and English audio mixes in DTS-HD MA 5.1, plus French 5.1 Dolby Digital. The English adaptation was written by graphic and prose novelist Neil Gaiman and features the voice talents of Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Minnie Drive, Billy Bob Thorton and Gillian Anderson. Some of these performances are quite good, but some of it comes off rather flat. I’d stick to the Japanese, but… well that’s where the bad news comes in I’m afraid.
Back when the original DVD was announced, a good many of us “purists” cried to high heaven and begged Disney to step up and fix an error. They planned a straight English release with no Japanese track. No Japanese anime should ever be released without its original track – that’s just a given. Disney rethought their decision and delayed the original release and added the track and included a nice English subtitle track based on the original Japanese dialogue (done by Stephen Albert and Haruyo Moriyoshi). Unfortunately, that track is not on board this set. All the praise and accolades I can heap upon this new Blu-ray’s video and audio elements are completely undone simply because these English subtitles are a disaster. Disney could have easily included the original English subs, or even gone so far as to use the translations on the Studio Ghibli Japanese Blu-ray release (which were different from the 2000 DVD, but just as proper a translation of the original Japanese dialogue, credited to a company called Aura with dialogue adaptation by Jim Hubbert). In both or either case, these translations are mindful of Japanese cultural context and apply an attention to additional detail such that (for example) the names of Japanese voice actors and key production staff members in the end credits are translated correctly. Astonishingly, Disney’s new Blu-ray release utilizes neither of these fine translations, but instead are simply a word for word transcript of the adapted English language dubbing script. It’s a major screw up, and if I sound steaming mad about this – I am. I cannot recommend you purchase this Blu-ray. And if you think maybe the ‘bonus DVD’ in this package may be a straight port of the original DVD – no such luck. It also uses the English dub script. So Disney screwed up not only the new Blu-ray but the new DVD too. If you have the original DVD – keep it.
[Editor’s Note: We’ve chosen to reflect the subtitle problem in the Audio grade above. On its own, the quality of the audio presentation here rates a B+. With the deficient English subtitles, however, it’s marked down to a D. Hopefully, Disney will correct this error.]
Extras feature nothing new, and are a mix of ports from the original DVD and stuff from the Japanese SE. The Japanese extras may be new to some and include an original Japanese storyboard version of the film (containing Miyazaki’s hand drawn art), a documentary called Princess Mononoke in the USA showcasing Miyazaki’s American tour promoting the film in 1999, and a huge chunk of trailers in English and Japanese. All of the extras from the 2000 DVD are include the making of featurette mostly covering the English dub cast and an American trailer. Finally, as mentioned above, there is also a DVD copy of the film.
Princess Mononoke is a landmark film and, in my humble opinion, one of cinemas greatest. It’s a star in any film library. I just wish Disney had paid better attention to its QC on this and included the proper subtitles. It’s honestly enough that I’m withdrawing any endorsement of the film in this version. Maybe Disney will step up and fix the error. I don’t have much hope. Hopefully we’ll get the ear of someone at Disney and get word on this either way. Until then, hold onto your original DVD or, if it’s an option for you, get the Japanese Blu-ray (which is Region A and includes the properly translated English subs).
- Todd Doogan