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Anime on DVD: Princess Mononoke
Princess MononokeUntil "Titanic" arrived, Princess Mononoke was the highest grossingfilm in Japan. This fact may startle US readers, considering that the highestgrossing animated film in the US, "The Lion King", only did half thebusiness that "Titanic" did. Perhaps the Japanese know something wedon't: Hayao Miyazaki is a master at his craft.
Ourstory begins in Northeast Japan. Ashitaka, the future leader of his village, isforced to defend it against an attacking "Curse God". In the ensuingbattle, he is injured and infected with the God's curse, which will eventuallyprove fatal. In the remains of the God, a lead ball, the source of its madness,is found. Ashitaka is charged to find the source of the lead ball, which maylead him to the cure he needs.Heading west, Ashitaka comes across a fortress on the edge of the wilderness,ruled by the Lady Eboshi. The fortress's main industry is the ironworks. Fortheir defense, they manufacture Ishibiya, an ancestor to the modern firearm.The fortress is at odds with the forest gods, upon whose territory the humanshave intruded. Leading the forces against the humans is a human girl, calledSan, who was raised by the wolf goddess Moro. Ashitaka is thrown into the warbetween these two forces - a war that will not stop until one or the other isdead.This is a story about man vs. nature, a theme previously explored by Miyazakiin "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind". This time, though, the storyisn't about "good" vs. "evil". The human characters have asmuch right to live as the forest creatures. Both sides behave kindly, justly andhonorably on many occasions. Both are also capable of cruelty and foolishness,and the foolishness of both threatens the lives of all. It is a tribute toMiyazaki's brilliance that the movie is both complicated and powerful withoutbecoming heavy handed or preachy.
Whenthe film was brought to the United States by Miramax, it was given excellenttreatment by some of the most talented artists in the filmmaking craft. NeilGaiman was hired to work on the English translation, to make it work smoothlywith the animation. Then, an excellent Hollywood cast was brought together toperform the dub. Billy Crudup, Clare Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver,Gillian Anderson, and Jada Pinkett-Smith all do a great job producing one of thebest dubs I have heard on an anime title.Unfortunately, the US theater release was disappointing, for fans of the filmand for Miramax. Princess Mononoke was put into a very limited release -Minneapolis/St.Paul served as a test market for a wider release. Sadly, the filmwasn't successful, only grossing $2.2 million in the US.
Thegood news is that Miramax saw it fit to give this movie the care it deserves onDVD. It has an anamorphic transfer that looks wonderful, Dolby 5.1 audio inEnglish and Japanese and a 2.0 track in French, the American trailer and a smallfeaturette. It even shows the correct opening and ending for each languageselection. It is one of the best treatments that anime will ever get on DVD inthis country. For this reason among many others, his is definitely a film thatbelongs in the Essential Collection.Another reason is simply that this is a Miyazaki film. I consider all of hisfilms to be essential. His films are in a class by themselves - unique for theirintricate, beautiful artwork, their emotional and intellectual force, and theirideological depth and complexity. Hopefully, this DVD release will lead to moreof his films reaching this side of the Pacific.- Written by Jason Birzer and Catherine Langrehr