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Princess Mononoke

review by Zach B.

 

Rated PG-13

Studio: Disney

Running Time: 134 minutes

With the voices of (English dub): Gillian Anderson, Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, John DiMaggio, Minnie Driver, David Keith, Billy Bob Thornton

Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
English Adaption by Neil Gaiman
English Direction by Jack Fletcher

Retail Price: $32.99

Features: Theatrical Trailer, Featurette

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digitial 5.1, English Captions For Dub, Literal English Subtitles, Chapter Search (25 Chapters)

If you have been following this site all the way from the start, then you know how much I've been going on about this DVD. This, for nearly the past year, has been my most anticipated DVD. Way past all these special editions from the studios, this for me has been the Holy Grail of DVD. Finally, Japanese animation fans and film lovers can rejoice... after several delays and countless rumors, the animated masterpiece "Princess Mononoke" has hit DVD.

First and foremost, Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time, and has definently had the most influential impact on me. I've been a fan of his for many years as well as all that has come out of Studio Ghibli, his animation studio with Isao Takahata (the man behind the wonderful film Grave Of The Fireflies). Miyazaki creates some wonderful and beautiful imagery, with well developed and interesting characters, all wrapped in breathtaking stories with deep themes about life. What I love about his films is that while some of them are aimed for children ("Mononoke" is more for adult audiences), they are still so entertaining for adults as well. Miyazaki knows the human spirit and is a master storyteller.

Now, on to the (in)famous history of this DVD. Things began to fly in February 2000, when a DVD release seemed to be on the horizon. A lot of sites reported it was due out on May 9th of that year, and then June 13th. Both of these dates were never confirmed by Disney, but were pure speculation. Of course, there was so much around the June 13th date, many sites and publications picked it up actually confirming it, when of course, a few weeks before, it was debunked with no date set. Quite a few people were a bit upset, until the end of June 2000 Disney made an announcment reguarding the DVD, and that it was due out on August 29, 2000. Fans became happy again, however, many were upset that the original Japanese track would not be included, due to piracy worries with other regions. This began an excellent outcry, as an internet petition was launched via nausicaa.net, and was picked up by many DVD and anime websites. In a matter of hours, a ton of e-signatures were recieved and sent to Disney, and Disney agreed to add the language track. Of course, this would mean another delay, where the date was set in stone for December 19th, 2000. I think fans all over should feel proud of the fact that they helped in someway to get the Japanese on there, so my kudos to nausicaa.net, the various sites supporting the petition and the fans (I signed the petition myself).

Now that we have all that out of the way, I think I should get to the film itself. This lengthy epic takes place hundred of years ago in Japan, where animal Gods and humans live side by side, struggling to survive. The film opens with Ashitaka, a brave warrior from a near extinct clan of... well, warriors as he fights off a boar demon. In this process however, Ashitaka is cursed and finds a piece of iron inside the boar. Ashitaka sets off to stop the curse from consuming him. Along the way, he meets the cold Lady Eboshi, a strong leader who runs the industrious Iron Town. Eboshi is set on expanding and having the town move foward, but in doing so, she has wiped out a lot of the forest, which the animal Gods aren't so happy about. With this going on, Ashitaka meets with San, the Princess Mononoke, and gets caught in the middle of the battle of man versus nature. San is with the wolf clan, where she was raised by wolves and thinks of a wolf herself. Ashitaka must come to terms with what he is experiencing, and find out if there is a way if the two sides can co-exist.

Let me start off by saying this is not your average, run of the mill animated film. This is a deep, wonderful story which really gets you thinking, and I feel it can be compared to present day. Also, this film is not for children either (don't let the "Princess" part fool you). I'm not sure if many six year olds will understand it to its fullest point, but there are several bloody, violent parts which rival big budget action films and is sure to gross a few people out.

Of course, the man behind the film is Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki has created an incredibly bold and wonderful film, with a lot of heart and a lot of depth. I guess I'll start off with the animation. Yes, it is Japanese animated, but it's so gorgeous. A lot of the animation has blew me away, and I feel some animated sequences can only be done in animation and can't be created for a live action film by any cost due to the scope and detail. The colors, the setting, it looks so lovely and captures the true tone of the film. The tone that there is so much beauty to behold, but with the beauty, there is some darkness with it.

Miyazaki's script and Neil Gaiman's adaption of it are each really solid. Miyazaki is responsible for the story, where he creates some really deep characters that are three dimensional and have things to wonder about. While I feel the story does drag on a little bit at points, it never gets boring because there is so much to capture and so much going on, it keeps you really entertained and making you wonder what will happen next. The story arc is nicely developed too, but as I mentioned before, this movie gets you thinking, way after you have finished watching. Yes, man needs to proceed with civilization and sacrifices must be made, but nature has its life to carry on as well. Present day industrial struggles are a perfect comparison with this film. What should be done? Also, Miyazaki's direction creates a wonderful, magical but believable world. Miyazaki is a genius.

I suppose I'll focus more on the English dub now. I mentioned above that Neil Gaiman's adaption is really solid, as he keeps true to Miyazaki's original script but touching it up himself for American audiences. It is truly an excellent adaption, and Gaiman, a well known comic writer for such works as "Sandman" does not dumb it down. It's intelligent and I feel a great adaption.

The dub itself is also very good. The voice actors are splendid in their roles. Billy Crudup is perfect as Ashitaka, while Minnie Driver brings elegance but a tough edge to Lady Eboshi. Gillian Anderson fits well as Moro, the Wolf God, while most of the supporting players are good. However, if there are two voices that don't exactly fit well it is Claire Danes and Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton is Jigo, a priest. But while he does capture the suavness and greediness to him, I just felt the southern accent didn't fit. As for Danes, her performance is good, but I just felt her voice didn't fit the character of San so well. It was kind of annoying. It's hard to describe... it was what you may think San sounds like but not quiet. As far as lips matching the voices, the job is very well done, and no one should be complaining about that.

Even if you are not into animé or any kind of animation I higly encourage you to check this film out. Why? Because this movie is so well done and is truly one of the best films of the 1990s (this also ranks as one of my top ten films of all time). I waited on line opening weekend to see this film when the dub came out, and I think if you are a little open minded, you are sure to love and marvel at "Princess Mononoke". I was really disappointed when Disney did no marketing on the film whatsoever and did not bother to give it a push it highly deserved. This is truly a film which can reach many audiences (though not for the young kids due to the violence). Now, when will Disney be releasing "Laputa: Castle In The Sky"? (I saw the English dub at that one too at a special screening, it's a great dub by the way).

 

It seemed once Disney made a commitment to anamorphic transfers, their presentations got better and better. Still, you never know with Disney, but thankfully, "Princess Mononoke" is outstanding for the most part. I mentioned this movie has some tremendous visual beauty, and it's presented here in perfection, right down to the very last pixel. The transfer, presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, is incredibly sharp, where colors are presented with much accuracy, and there's no oversaturation at all. On a more impressive note, I didn't notice any edge enhancment whatsoever. Still, there is something people may want to take note of. Disney uses branching for this release, for the appropriate opening titles and ending credits. Since the branching is different between the languages, the English and French versions look perfect at the start. However, with the Japanese, there are some grain and blemishes. Speaking of that, sadly, there is a good amount of grain during the presentation, as well as some dirt and blemishes. I found it to be pretty distracting, and I was a bit disappointed to see it (those little annoyances always tend to bug me). Still, it's a top notch presentation. This transfer is simply dazzling, and will truly please everyone. I'm very thankful that Disney didn't mess this one up.

This is the most talked about and most anticipated part of this disc. Everyone ranted how much they wanted the Japanese language track, and here it is, in pure 5.1 Dolby Digital. Also included is a French 5.1 Dolby Digital track. Each of these sound pretty similar (though the English dub did sound as loud as the Japanese track), and are great mixes. The sounds of nature here are presented in an incredibly crisp fashion. The Kodamas (forest spirits) rattling, gunshots going off and the sounds of the animals use some great surrounds and make you feel like you're in the middle of this epic saga and watching it unfold before your eyes. The battle sequences (like during the first hour when San and Lady Eboshi fight) are well mixed and recorded. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear. Best of all, Joe Hisaishi's catchy, wonderful and memorable score uses all the channels efficently, it sounds perfect. The tracks perfectly capture the heart and spirit of the movie. Also included is English "dubtitles" and the exact translation of the Japanese in English.

This part is a bit disappointing. While I would have liked some storyboards or production notes concerning the release of the film (a Miyazaki interview would have been excellent), what's here is fine. First off, you got the Dub Trailer in full frame and two channel sound. The trailer has a few bits of grain and blemishes, but looks solid. And for you die-hard Miyazaki fans such as myself, you'll notice this is the "first" trailer. There were two trailers released, both the same, except the announcer mispronounced "Miyazaki" and "Mononoke". So, here they are spoken incorrectly. I hope there isn't so much rallying on that... there's also a short but pretty good Featurette. I usually hate the featurettes Disney puts out, because half of them are the trailer itself. However, the featurette on Mononoke has more of an emphasis on interviews than clips, in which some of the past featurettes I've seen from Disney, there's more time devoted to the cuts from the film. The interviewees are from the dub version, as Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Jada Pinkett Smith, English voice director Jack Fletcher and a snippet from English adaptor Neil Gaiman are included. While it's nothing incredibly insightful, it's still a nice short watch and I found it interesting.

However, the heart of the disc is the Japanese track and the literal translation of the English subtitles. I feel Disney did a great thing with this disc, giving the fans what they truly desired. I always feel when you see a film it should be the way the filmmakers originally intended, and a lot of people do like seeing it in the original language. Not only do you get subtitles for the literal translation, but for the dub as well. I watched some of the dub with the translation titles on, and I found it really interesting how Neil Gaiman adapted Miyazaki's original lines. Some are exactly the same, others are a bit spruced up and fit for American audiences. I know this really isn't a supplement, but I feel after so much controversy with this disc and Disney delivering what the fans wanted, I am making an exception and counting it as a supplement (if you don't like it, go ahead and sue me).

I feel that Disney went out of their way with this release. True, more supplements would have been nice, but the presentation is top notch, and that is saying a lot about Disney. As I said earlier, even if you don't like animation, I highly reccomend this film to you, because I think after you're done watching it, you'll like it to a good degree. And you want to know something? I feel that the delays so many fans had to bear just makes this release more special and a lot better. This is a DVD for your collection.

(5/5, NOT included in final score)

(4/5)

(4.5/5)

(2/5)

(3.5/5, NOT an average)

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