Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review No. 100

So, yeah back around in 2003-04, when I was first watching the first few episodes of Evangelion from the local Blockbuster (remember those?) I had come across another anime that was in the same section. This section being ‘Foreign Language’ because they didn’t have a separate section for anime itself but that’s besides the point. Anyway, near where the Evangelion VHSs were, there was a movie that looking back, caught my initial attention I got from Eva and seized upon that for me in cementing my love for anime. That movie is…
Princess Mononoke (1997 film)
Studio: Ghibli
Director and Script: Hayao Miyazaki

Prince Ashitaka is the noble hero of a small village of the remnants of an ancient tribe. When trying to save his village from a cursed boar, he ends up with a curse infecting one of his arms and has to leave his village because tradition is a bitch sometimes. But he takes it all in stride and undergoes a grueling and harrowing journey through Medieval Japan but with giant creatures and mythical mysteries.In the process meeting up with a cunning monk, Lady Eboshi and her Iron Town and a mysterious girl who lives with giants foxes, and get embroiled in a battle between mankind and the natural world.

Now this is my favorite Ghibli movie, probably the best of that entire studio’s catalog and I have seen about most of them, exceptions being Pom Poko and most of their movies post-Howl’s Moving Castle. The Ghibli catalog is essential viewing for any enthusiast (yours truly included) of Japanese animation, even if you only seen one or a couple thats fine. But here’s why I consider Princess Mononoke to be one of if not the best out of the whole catalog.

For one thing, this is a grand fantasy epic in the traditional Joseph Campbell core and a lot of my favorite anime are in this vein (Magic Knight Rayearth, El Hazard, FMA, etc). If you read my review on Campione, I expound upon that in detail. Though here is perhaps the most straightforward iteration of it in an anime that I have seen. Granted, it is much more than that.

Princess Mononoke couches within this familiar framework a man vs. nature conflict. Although it is a bit nuanced here in that there’s not a clear good vs evil and the morality spectrum waivers around more than well any politician but it fits in with the movie’s core message: There is never a right answer to your problems much less a solution that will satisfy everyone without some shortcomings or compromise. I have to say that it is a very powerful message to have. Of course it is applied to a strong environmental stance that Miyazaki has built upon in previous works (Nausicaa and Laputa for instance).

Princess Mononoke-pivotal moment

Princess Mononoke is also surprisingly more dark and violent even more so than some of their films. Explosions, heads rolling and lots of blood abound so young ones should watch this with a parent. It is so also quite mature and by that I mean in the way I reference in my Madoka review, mature as in it treats the audience as adults and allows us to make our own minds/opinions about what we are watching. That alone makes watching this movie a very visceral but moving experience.

This is complemented by an amazing production, as expected from Studio Ghibli for the most part. Miyazaki shows with this and all his other films, that this is the work of a true master. It is beautifully shot hand-drawn animation (with some few instances of integrated CG work). This has some of the best direction and cinematography in an animated feature I have ever seen, even if on only a budget of roughly 23$ million.

The music is done by Joe Hisashi the main composer for Studio Ghibli. It’s a great OST with lots of great music and the theme tune for the movie easily one of the most recognizable and great tunes in anime music ever.

Princess Mononoke Main Theme

Now for the English dub, it is easily one of the better for Ghibli movies, if not one of the best dub efforts for anime out there. Now while this was picked up by Disney, it was released by one of their affiliates Miramax. They decided to tap ADR Director:Jack Fletcher who worked on Animaze (90s LA dubbing company) dubs back in the day along with an adapted screenplay by Neil Gaiman (yes that one). What that ends up with is a great dub filled a cast of very good and solid character actors. Billy Crudup and Claire Danes are a bit rough in bits but they hold well enough. The standouts for me has to be Minnie Driver playing the ambitious Lady Eboshi to a tee and Billy Bob Thornton as the cunning monk is a hoot given the slight comedic bent for that character. Well-known VO actors John DiMaggio and Keith David are also in this and some Animaze actors can be heard in additional voices if you hear close enough.

Overall Princess Mononoke is a very great movie and a masterpiece of anime cinema in my book at least. It is essential viewing because of how great it is, in terms of story, setting, production, music and a great english dub for the ages. I wholeheartedly recommend this movie.

So that’s my 100th review. I do appreciate that have come this far with me or join in my writings along the way. Here's to another 100 reviews, perhaps. I will be posting a special announcement this coming week that its a very important move for me.

Til next time dear readers…..

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