Reviewed March 11th, 2001 by Todd Terwilliger
Princess Mononoke (Mononoke) is one of those rare films that demands the reappraisal of a genre. The genre, in this instance, is anime. Though anime has had a cult following for some time, it is only recently gaining mainstream attention. If you thought that all anime consisted of large heads and big eyes, this is the film to show you otherwise.
Inflicted with a fatal disease from a dying forest god, Prince Ashitaka must leave his sheltered village and travel west in search of the cure. Along the way, Ashitaka is confronted with the dilemma of man encroaching upon nature.
This conflict is centered around Iron Town, a mining village on the edge of the primeval forest. Lady Eboshi, mistress of Iron Town, encroaches daily upon the forest, in direct dispute with the forest gods. Ashitaka finds himself thrust in the middle of the bitter battle, torn between man and nature.
Buena Vista presents both the original Japanese language track and an English dubbed track. Stars including Billy Crudup (Ashitaka), Minnie Driver (Eboshi) and Gillian Anderson (Moro) lend their voices to the English track and deliver outstanding performances. While different from the Japanese script, the English conveys the meanings well with little loss in translation. This is an A-1 job and sets the benchmark for future anime translations.
The soundtrack is delivered in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and is well done. Dialog is locked in the center channel and delivered cleanly. There is some nice movement through the sound field. Arrows wiz convincingly through the air and the cannons erupt with deep throated bass. In addition to the English and Japanese language tracks, a French language track is also present.
The video really shines. Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, the lush palette of colors is reproduced vividly. There is good separation between colors and the skin tones are not over-saturated. There is no dirt or scratches to speak of and I was hard pressed to find any sort of pixelation, even in the darker tones. This is as good a transfer as a cartoon can get.
The extra features are limited but not without merit. There is an interesting featurette on the production of the film, including interviews with the Hollywood talent that lent their voices to the movie. A theatrical trailer wraps up the spare extras section.
Princess Mononoke is a great film that happens to be animated. The animation won't blow your socks off but it is very effective for the storytelling. The real magic is in the story itself and its strong characters. Each of the major players is motivated by real needs and desires. Like many similar films (both animated and not) the tale of Mononoke is the tale of man on the edge of the industrial age, in the time of waning magic and growing mercantilism. It's questions are timeless, as is it's appeal.
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