Hey folks Harry here, with FreeRide's look at Princess Mononoke. I don't really have to give much of an intro to this film, many of you are well familiar with the project and have been looking forward to seeing it on American Screens for over a year now. So... I'll just hand ya over to FreeRide...
PRINCESS MONONOKE: Dueling Hatred
A FreeRide (firstname.lastname@example.org)review
ANIMEFANTASTIQUE magazine posed the question, "Is this (PRINCESS MONONOKE) the greatest animated film ever made?" We can argue until the end of time over which movie is "the greatest." In the end, does it really matter? I can name three films that I consider to be classic animated films: PINNOCHIO, IRON GIANT, and I'll throw in Ralph Bakshi's WIZARDS. All three of those films are classic for a wide spectrum of reasons.
What dictates a classic film? It has to be timeless (doesn't show any signs of age), it has to be flawless in form, and it has to be understandable to all age groups. You can tell from first viewing whether a movie is destined to be a classic, or one that will be forgotten by this time next month. Miyazaki has created a film that is about ten years ahead of its time(in American standards). It deals with issues that we as Americans are not yet able to understand. Yes, PRINCESS MONONOKE will be remembered. The question is; is America ready for PRINCESS MONONOKE?
Riding atop his gazelle, Ashitaka (Billy Crudup) makes his heroic entrance. He is a warrior prince: patient, compassionate, and strong. "Something's coming," He shouts. From high atop an observation deck, we see a creature emerges from the forest. A creature covered in plasma (nasty like maggots) with arms reaching out; killing all that is living.
We are quickly thrust into another battle only someone like Akira Kurosawa would have choreographed. Ashitaka runs across a band of Samurai barbarians who are attacking a farming village. From the looks of things, it's a massacre. Miyazaki, like Kurosawa, has an intense eye for detail. The designs used for costumes and weapons are authentic, and add to the realism of the film. I can understand why Disney was interested in Miyazaki's work. He is capable of designing films that are rich with texture, and a story filled with pathos.
Metamorphosis has always been a strong theme in Japanese Animation. Here, it is used to show demonic control. Tapping into epic themes of fantasy, Ashitaka deals a deadly blow to the demon like Bard of Dale extinguishing the Dragon Smaug. Ashitaka was not left unharmed. He was touched by the demon - condemned by the spirits to be consumed until death. Forced to cut his own hair, Ashitaka is banished from his home. He must search for a cure, or die trying. The only clue is in the form of a single iron pellet found in the belly of the demon's physical form (a giant wild boar). His travels takes him west where he is introduced to San, the Princess Mononoke, and Lady Eboshi, the founder of Iron Town.
Understanding the character's relationships is important to understanding the film. Both San (Claire Danes), and Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver) are driven by their hatred for each other. Lady Eboshi is a mystery. We know she's compassionate for the damned, and former prostitutes. It is argued that she was once a prostitute herself, but had bought her own freedom. She has her reasons for acting the way she does. She chose to keep her secrets hidden. Does that make her a bad person? No, it just makes her more complex. An example of a good "villain." Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. Know what I mean?
San is the polar opposite to Lady Eboshi. San can be compared to Princess Yukihime of Kurosawa's HIDDEN FORTRESS fame. Unlike Princess Yukihime, San is willing to fight for what she thinks is right. She doesn't see herself as a human, but rather a wolf; raised by wolves. She knows Lady Eboshi is the enemy, and that's her focus for revenge.
PRINCESS MONONOKE is what Tarzan could have been. With PRINCESS MONONOKE, you aren't forced to sit though songs made to sell children sing- along CD's, or theme park rides, or other lousy marketing gimmicks. PRINCESS MONONOKE is pure storytelling, simply told, and epic in form.
Claire Danes does a fine job voicing San. She was cast to fit the persona of a princess: young, passionate, and headstrong. Minnie Driver is perfect for the role of Lady Eboshi: cold, calculating, and European (fitting for a Westerner). There needs to be special mention given to Billy Crudup for doing the voice of Ashitaka. He's the prime example of perfect voice casting. Otoki needed to be a strong voice, and Jada Pinkett fits the bill. She is well cast. Jig Boh (Billy Bob Thornton) is tolerable at best. Thornton's voice does fit with the character, but there are times when the voice contradicts the actions of Jig Boh. Gillian Anderson does a fine job doing the haunted voice of the San's mother Moro.
Is America ready for PRINCESS MONONOKE? The next few months are crucial for PRINCESS MONONOKE's success. Proper marketing in magazines, and a good trailer is all you need. Miramax has done everything right so far. We (the Internet) need to start passing the word around. PRINCESS MONONOKE made $200,000,000 (theater and rental) so far. Are we, as an audience, willing to see an animated film rich with Japanese culture? It's in our best interest to be interested. Educate the audience, and they will be willing to accept that which is foreign (generally speaking).
PRINCESS MONONOKE is NOT a kid's movie. There is graphic violence. Yet, it does have strong moral message. Parents should see the movie before, or with their kids in-order to explain what the images mean. A big request, but one that needed to be said. It's a good film, and left in the theaters to gain it's own audience, the film will make a profit. A movie like PRINCESS MONONOKE is a long-term investment.
The following links are made possible by the untouchable greatness of Nausicaa.Net (http://www.Nausicaa.net/miyazaki/mh/) (everything you need to know about PRINCESS MONONOKE). The trailers are for the Japanese release of MONONOKE HIME, and will give you a good idea of what the movie looks, and feels like.