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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: N/A
  • Menus Rating: B-
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: Optimum Asia
  • MSRP: 19.99
  • Running time: 128
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke

By Dani Moure     April 11, 2006
Release Date: March 27, 2006


Princess Mononoke
© Optimum Asia


What They Say
A warrior travels to the Far East to seek help from the Great Forest Spirit for a cure to a deadly curse he is under. Upon arriving, he gets caught up in a battle, fighting for the cause of the animal spirits defending their home from an exploitative iron-mining town. The prince befriends the forest creatures' leader, Princess Mononoke, a human girl raised by wolves...

The Review!
One of my favourite movies of all time hits UK DVD once again, this time as part of Optimum's Studio Ghibli Collection, and the new release proves that his film still has the same magic several years on.

Audio:
For my review I watched the film in its original Japanese stereo track for the first time. I noticed no dropouts, distortions or other technical problems with the track, and really enjoyed the slightly different slant it brought to the story having only seen the film dubbed previously.

The English dub from Disney features an all-star cast for an anime movie, including the likes of Clare Danes (San), Minnie Driver (Eboshi), Gillian Anderson (Moro), Billy Crudup (Ashitaka) and Billie Bob Thornton (Jigo). Though a couple of the voices are a little stilted at times, in general I think the cast do a very good job and I was really pleased with the dub overall. I spot-checked the English track on this disc and didn't notice any problems with it.

Video:
Unfortunately this is the only area of the disc which is a bit of a let-down when compared with the original UK release from Disney. Much like the other Ghibli films, the print is in excellent condition with little in the way of nicks or scratches, but the problem arises with the compression artefacts and blocking during some of the busier, high motion scenes. This is a problem on a few of the Ghibli discs and I'm a little disappointed with the quality of Madman's encoding on these films.

The subtitles on this disc are in a clear, yellow font and we get both hard of hearing subtitles and a literal translation to accompany the Japanese track, which is an improvement on the Disney release since that only had a hard of hearing subtitle track.

Packaging:
No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

Menu:
The menu system is pretty bland. The main menu has the logo at the top with the selections running across the centre, over a still image of the forest with a piece of music eventually playing. All the sub-menus are static images with no music playing. Access times are naturally quite fast, but once again it does feel like Madman haven't put a great deal of effort into the menus, which isn't exactly a deal breaker but it'd be nice to have something more imaginative.

Extras:
The extras selection is decent, but not great. As is standard on the Optimum/Madman Ghibli releases, we get an alternate angle for the whole film featuring the storyboards, which is an extra I do appreciate. In addition to this we get the Japanese trailers for Mononoke (albeit with terrible encoding) and the regular Studio Ghibli trailer reel. Compared to the Disney disc, we're missing the short dubbing featurette and the US trailer.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I first bought Princess Mononoke on a whim, on US import as one of three such DVDs I decided to get to try out my brand new DVD player that I purchased in March 2001. I can't even remember exactly what it was that drew me to it. I hadn't watched any anime in a few years, though I'd watched it quite a lot during the UK anime boom when it was all over TV in the mid to late 90s. For whatever reason though, I picked up Mononoke, and the rest is history. I've been hooked on buying anime DVDs for the past five years now, and you could say it's all because of Miyazaki's masterpiece, which reinvigorated my interest in anime.

Princess Mononoke is a sprawling epic, telling a tale of man versus nature and depicting the effects of what we do on the environment. Yet while most Ghibli titles tend to be more family oriented, Mononoke is perhaps the most adult in tone, with some rather violent images at times that even left Disney pondering how to release it in the US when they'd signed a multi-film agreement with Ghibli before seeing the end result. Despite this, the film retains the same charm and strong characters that adorn most Miyazaki movies, and it's just a joy to behold.

The story opens with a demonised boar running rampant through a village, devouring everything in its path. The prince of the village, Ashitaka, kills the boar while riding atop his elk called Yakul, but his right arm is cursed by the boar's hatred and pain. Ashitaka goes to speak with the villagers and the elder, who tells him that he is doomed to die from the scar as it stands, and that the boar's condition was caused by a lump of iron that the she shows him. She suggests that calamity has befallen the west, but Ashitaka should go there and "see with eyes unclouded" to find a cure for his curse.

As Ashitaka journeys west, he finds a group of samurai slaughtering a village, and interjects. The curse on his arm allows him to fire arrows with great power, so much so that one arrow slices off both a samurai's arms in one swoop, while another is decapitated by one. He then runs into a monk called Jigo, and tells him what happened with the demonised boar and shows him the lump of iron. Jigo suggests that he may find the answer in Irontown, but on his way he spots Moro, the wolf god, being tended to by a girl who rides with the wolves. The wolves had just sprung an attack on a group from Irontown led by Lady Eboshi, the woman who leads the ironworks. Ashitaka also saves two of the villagers injured in the attack and takes them home, allowing him to find out more about Irontown, Eboshi and the weapons Eboshi has developed.

But Ashitaka's stay in Irontown is short-lived, as Lady Eboshi comes under attack from San, the girl who lives with the wolves (and the Princess Mononoke of the title). He manages to stop her and returns her to the wolves, but falls unconscious and though she can't understand him, San appreciates his compassion and leaves him for the Deer God to tend to his wound. Thus the tale continues, as Ashitaka tries to stop the war between the forest dwellers and the humans from Irontown, Eboshi in particular, who seek the Deer God's head and don't care how much of the forest they have to destroy to get it.

Right from the stunning opening scene of the boar, plagued by the demonised tendrils, running through Ashitaka's village, I was completely mesmerised and in awe of the film I was watching. It's rare that a movie has so much impact that it literally leaves my jaw dropping, but Mononoke managed that particular feat on several occasions. The story is backed by some of the most amazing animation you'll see for a long time, with the creative styles of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli brought to life in superb fashion.

Like most Miyazaki films, the story of Mononoke has one central theme, and here it is man versus nature. The story parallels what man has really done to the world we live in today, destroying much of nature to further our quest for more resources and things that we deem important to our survival, at times (certainly in history) without regard to the effect it will have on the inhabitants of the forests and things we are destroying. And while some say this message is perhaps a little too heavy-handed, I always find admiration for how Miyazaki manages to portray the characters in Mononoke in such a way that even those who could easily be called villains, like Eboshi, have understandable and often admirable reasons for doing what they do and the story is not portrayed in blacks and whites, though the overall message of the harm being done to the environment is plain to see.

Eboshi may be out for the Deer God's head, but she has also done wonders for her local community by giving people jobs who were looked down on as scum by everyone else, employing all the women and taking care of the village. She needs to deliver the Deer God's head for the good of her village so that's what she's doing. It's the same with the other characters " they're all fighting for what they believe in. The wolves back up the boars in the fight with the humans, and both groups of animals just want to save their territory, and protect the Deer God. San is on the side of the wolves and fights with them because she has seen the effects of the humans' actions on the animals and the forest, while Ashitaka is trying to see what is the right side and fights for what he believes in, seeing the good in all sides, making him the perfect focal point for the viewer.

In Summary:
It's when you combine the wonderfully crafted story that weaves all the different parties together with the beautiful animation, the deep characters and the epic nature of things that you realise just how good this film is. It has a universal appeal; you could show it to almost anyone and they'd be able to immediately identify with the characters and themes that Miyazaki brings to the table. Princess Mononoke is a truly incredible film that will forever hold a place in my heart, along with so many other anime fans and critics alike, and although this new DVD doesn't offer a great deal over the original Disney release (outside of matching covers with the rest of Optimum's Ghibli releases), that earlier release is now out of print so if you don't own this movie already, you owe it to yourself to buy this masterpiece.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),English Subtitles,Alternate Angle Storyboards for the Entire Film,Original Trailers,Studio Ghibli Trailer Reel

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Philips DVP5100 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.

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