Princess Mononoke (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, February 09, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, December 19, 2000
What They Say
Claire Danes (The Mod Squad), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) and Billy Bob Thornton (Armageddon, Sling Blade) head a cast of hot Hollywood stars who lend their talents to this exquisitely animated, overwhelmingly acclaimed adventure epic! Inflicted with a deadly curse, a young warrior named Ashitaka (Billy Crudup – Without Limits) sets out to the forests of the west in search of the cure that will save his life. Once there, he becomes inextricably entangled in a bitter battle that matches Lady Eboshi (Driver) and a proud clan of humans against the forest’s animal gods...who are led by the brave Princess Mononoke (Danes), a young woman raised by wolves! Also starring Gillian Anderson (The X Files) and Jada Pinkett Smith (Scream 2), this monumental struggle between man and nature will have you transfixed with amazement as stunning artistry blends with epic storytelling to create a uniquely entertaining motion picture!
While getting certain anime on DVD in the US before Japan isn't entirely uncommon, getting something from Studio Ghibli in DVD before the Japanese do is not what I thought would happen. Yet it has, and it's provided one shining example of just how gorgeous anime can look and sound on our favorite format.
While an English 5.1 track was certainly expected to be created during the recording of the dub for Mononoke, a lot of people weren't sure if they'd be able to secure the Japanese 5.1 track. Both are indeed present, along with a French 2.0 track. Having listened to the dub in theaters twice and never the Japanese version, we watched that for our primary review and enjoyed the hell out of it. This was definitely one of those experiences where the home theater sound outshined what was heard in the art house theaters we saw this play in a few times. These are very enveloping mixes that aren't the in your face kind, but subtle throughout and strong when required.
To be honest, I never expected the Japanese track to be included. My faith in the bigger companies of the years with foreign language films has never been strong, but I'm supremely grateful that this disc has both languages. Great stuff.
I swear, I actually hugged my TV after watching this. This is a beautiful transfer that is so clean and near flawless, that comparing it to other Hollywood animated films, it's almost like a revelation. The closest I've seen that looks as good as this is the Iron Giant which is benefited by some of its CG blending. While scanning a few of the other reviews that mainstream DVD sites have posted, the one that really brought a smile to my face was the one by Todd Doogan at the Digital Bits when he said "So what should you expect if you check this disc out? Well... happily you'll find one of Disney's best film transfers - ever. This anamorphic widescreen video is incredibly beautiful."
And it is. Watching this on our HDTV without any downconversion, it was just jaw droppingly gorgeous. A lot of this of course has to do with the beautifully styled animation of Miyazaki, but the combination of that, a stunning print and the authoring... this provided us with one our best viewing experiences on this TV since we got it. Colors are vividly breathtaking, such as when we come across Lady Eboshi on the mountain trail in the storm. The colors of the umbrella's and the coverings on the guns are so vibrant that I'm just at a loss for words as to how it comes across.
Suffice to say, very few people will be disappointed by how this came out.
I'm not as big of a fan as the packaging though, and haven't been since I first saw the artwork earlier this year. While it wasn't bad, and I don't mind the quotes on it if it helps to get more people to see it, but why did they use the flashy foil for the swords? It just reminds me of the style over substance days of the comic book market in the US in the early 90's with all the foil covers making things worth money while the stories no longer mattered. The rest of the packaging is pretty much the usual style. The insert provides a quote-free version of the cover on one side and the chapter list on the other. The insert is now the cover of my package.
The menus are pretty basic, but reminded me a heck of a lot of the ones for Saving Private Ryan. Things are simple, but the artwork itself is given the primary focus and looks great here.
Only two extras included here, a US theatrical trailer and a 5 minute or so featurette talking with various Hollywood voice actors and their feelings on the show. I did find these interesting, especially Gillian Andersons comments since she's been known to be a Ghibli fan for some time. I honestly and truly hope that this disc gets revisited some day and the 3 hour making of that is available on VHS in Japan gets brought over. Something like their Ultimate Toy Box maybe? Ah, I can dream.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Mononoke in its heart is a very simple story of man and natures co-existence. What makes this a more complex story is the characters who inhabit this world, almost all of whom really can't be called the villains of the story, just people with different agendas on how to make things right and better for their people.
Ashitaka, a young man destined to lead his people one day, fends off a raging giant boar that closes in to his village. During this fast paced and stunningly animated sequence, the boar appears to be near insane and controlled by something evil inside of him. Ashitaka manages to take him down, but not without paying the price of being infected by the evil.
The council unfortunately sends him into exile, though hope for him discovering the source of the evil is given in the form of a piece of iron that was found inside the boars body. Ashitaka heads off to the west to see what he can find. Along the way he makes an acquaintance in the form of a traveling monk who offers up a few nuggets of information about how the world is changing.
Change is indeed the focal point of things here, and how varying races will adapt to them by either destroying several of them or cooperating. Ashitaka eventually ends up finding the Ironworks town where the iron that killed the boar came from, as well as the Forest of the Deer God, where he meets the ancient gods who are trying to keep the status quo and live somewhat peacefully with humanity.
Of the forest gods, the wolves are the more interesting as they still have some amount of life and spirit in them. The mother/father, Moro, is a cynical yet tough wolf who has taken an abandoned human baby under her paw to raise. The baby, eventually known as San or Princess Mononoke, was actually thrown at Moro by her own parents while running away from the wolf god. She was raised alongside two other wolves, which provide some spectacular chase sequences throughout the movie.
Though not as interesting as the wolf gods, the boars are ones I wish had more time spent on them. They seem to have more of a fierce reaction to the encroachment of humanity, and while greater in number, more of a loss as their leader tells of how the race is being dumbed down, and will eventually be nothing but prey to humans for food.
The resultant clash among all the factions, as well as unseen human forces, brings about a spectacular if at times gruesome battle for the course of the land. Each one is simply doing what it believes is right, and in each of them they are actually right. It's multilayered films like this that tend to last among viewers, and Mononoke is no exception.
When Mononoke was released theatrically, we saw two separate showings at different theaters with different prints. While it was indeed a grand experience, as seeing anime on the big screen is simply a must especially when it comes to Ghibli and other bigger than life pictures, the viewing at home has left me with a great impression of it than before. While the voice actors will always be something that people will argue about, both did excellent jobs overall and the English dub introduced many new fans to the Ghibli films.
The most jarring difference from the theater to home experience is still the video. This is simply a beautiful disc and a wonderful experience. Something that everyone should see.
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,French 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Featurette,Trailer
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A+
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: F
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Running time: 134
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Princess Mononoke