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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/21/00

Princess Mononoke
1997 (2000) - Tokuma Shoten/Nippon Television Network/Dentsu/Studio Ghibli (Miramax)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Princess Mononoke Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A+/B-

Specs and Features

134 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 1:12:51, in chapter 16), "making-of" featurette, theatrical trailer, seamless branching (to include English or Japanese titles & credits depending on your audio selection), film-themed menu screens, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English, French and Japanese (DD 5.1), subtitles: English (literal translation) and English (captions for the hearing impaired), Closed Captioned

"You cannot change your fate. You can, though, rise to meet it."

In a time of gods and demons, 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, but their numbers dwindle. It is in this time of strife that a young prince named Ashitaka does battle with a demon made of pure, unabashed hatred. 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 "won", Ashitaka is now 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, and find out what happened to cause the infection of Nago in the first place. It is there, and only there, that Ashitaka may find a cure for his ailment. Or he might find his death.

Taking his faithful steed, Yakul (a badass red elk - one of the best steeds since Trigger), he runs to meet his fate head on. And on his journey, he discovers the truth behind a war raging in the West, on the border of the Deer God's forest. Entrepreneur (and potential warlord) Lady Eboshi is building an iron mill and weapons foundry. To be successful, 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? Her people are good people, reformed warriors and freed brothel workers, who work 4 straight days a week building a small empire for Eboshi. Eboshi, too, isn't so much evil as she is headstrong and stubborn. She wants what she wants and she'll fight to take it (and fight harder to keep it). But standing against her are the spirits of the forest, lead by three giant Wolf Gods and a young girl named San. They will stop at nothing to kill Eboshi, because she's now destroying their forest home looking for more iron sand for her mill.

When Ashitaka arrives at the iron town, he finds himself in the middle of an epic battle and, not wanting to choose sides (because he can understand both), he seeks to get man and nature together somehow. But 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 sway on his journey towards the truth. He carries with him a mark of hatred to show them that fighting isn't the answer. He 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, an animation legend in Japan (and here in the States). Anything he touches becomes beautiful, and this film is no exception. I really, honest and truly, love this film a lot. It's action packed, philosophically and emotionally deep and is just one of the greatest films put out in the last decade. Miyazaki is a god, and I want to meet him someday (and get him to draw me a Totoro!). I swear, 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 (and you'll know what Kodamas once you've seen it).

I'm especially proud of this disc. The DVD community made a big difference a few months ago, when this disc was first scheduled for release. Disney was planning to release this DVD without the original Japanese soundtrack... and no Japanese anime should EVER be released without it's original track. That's just a given. When they heard this, DVD and anime fans spoke out, voicing our dissatisfaction with this turn of events. And, thankfully, Disney listened. Good for them, better for us. It took a few extra months, but the wait was well worth it. We should all show Disney a little love for listening to their fans by supporting this film on DVD.

So what should you expect if you check this disc out? Well... happily you'll find one of Disney's best film transfers - ever. This anamorphic widescreen video is incredibly beautiful. There's no print or digital garbage to be found anywhere on this disc. It's artifact free, the source is surprisingly flawless and there's not a lick of edge enhancement anywhere. It's utterly amazing. The audio track, in both English and Japanese (as well as French) Dolby Digital 5.1, is equally dynamic. Explosive booms blow right off the screen, wind bellows through your home theater room and the bass rumbles your bones. It's a pretty expansive sound field and it's quite playful, especially for a dubbed animated film. And I'd like to take a moment at this time to discuss the English dub. I have heard some complaints that the actors were wrong for the roles they played, but honestly, I think they do the trick nicely. Billy Bob, as Jiko, is surprisingly good and has a voice that naturally works for anime dubs (which get a bum rap in most cases - at least the actors do - because the English translations often admittedly suck). Claire Danes is a bit flat, but she's earnest. Billy Crudup is inspired as Ashitaka, as is Minnie Driver's Eboshi. I even liked Gillian Anderson as Moro. I think the English dub pales in comparison to the Japanese, but if you don't like reading your movies, you'll have a good time with this track. On the subject of the English adaptation, comic writer and novelist Neil Gaiman does the duty here, and his adaptation is as lyrical (and in some ways more illustrative) as the original Japanese screenplay. Any way you watch it, this is a great film and you'll have a good time with it.

The extras, on the other hand, are pretty non-existent and disappointing. That's a shame, because this really could have been a three-disc box set (and I hope to God that Disney comes back to this film in a couple of years). There's a smallish "making-of" featurette, with interviews and footage from the trailer. That's nice, if a bit on the fluffy side. There's also the American theatrical trailer, which isn't very stirring. The extras are enough to make it cool movie-only disc, but as a nutzoid fan of the film, I can't help but want more. There is one nifty thing (although it isn't really an extra) - the disc uses seamless branching to allow either English or Japanese titles and credits to appear on the film, depending on your audio track selection. Very cool.

Princess Mononoke is finally out there on DVD here in the States and, my friends, it's begging for you to pick it up. Buy it for your favorite DVD fiend as a surprise gift and watch it together over the holiday. The film is violent, and it's got its sad parts, but man - it'll rock your world when the film's message of hope filters down at the end. This DVD is high on my list of the year's best releases, and I can't recommend it more. Enjoy!

Todd Doogan
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