7 January 2006 | morphion2
Enthralling and Artistic
Studio Ghibli has been Japan's leading anime Production Company since the 1980's, when legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki released his first feature film "Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind" (1984). From the very beginning, it was clear that the Japanese director had a fantastic flair for animated film, and the uncanny ability to engross his audiences beyond the normal movie-experience that makes him the King of Escapism. Over ten years later, it seems that Miyazaki is still just as good, if not better, as he invites the world into his latest visionary fantasy, the cult classic "Princess Mononoke".
The film is set in Japan, during the Muromachi Era, and begins in the quiet peaceful township of the Emishi tribe, when young Prince Ashitaka (Yôji Matsuda), the last of the Emishi royalty, is wounded slaying a demon in an unexpected attack. When the tribe's wise-woman tells Ashitaka that the wound is a curse of hatred that will eventually kill him, he sets out on a journey to the west to discover the origins of the demon. What he finds is a war being waged between the villagers of Iron town, an industrious Iron-works fort led by the ruthless Lady Eboshi (Yûko Tanaka), and the beasts of the forest, represented by the beautiful Princess Mononoke (Yuriko Ishida), a human girl raised by wolves, with whom the cursed prince falls in love. Soon Ashitaka's efforts to make peace are put to the test by each side's bid for allegiance.
"Princess Mononoke" is a fantastic work of art on many fronts, and arguably Miyazaki's best film to date. While some of his other projects have had the same enchantment and excitement, "Mononoke" has an intriguingly dark and infinitely more mature feel, established by the bloody battle-scenes and sensitive color treatment, and solidified by a complex plot and rich, interesting characters. The most obvious illustrative trait of the film is the ambiguity of the characters' nature; the lack of distinction between good and bad. The ruthless lady Eboshi, while caring nothing for the forest or its inhabitants, is very compassionate towards the underdogs of her own community, such as the brothel girls and the lepers. And the wild wolf-princess, while desperate to defend her fellow forest-dwellers and protect the forest spirit, has a deep-seated mistrust of humans that even steeps into self-loathing at times. These interesting character traits make the film a lot more rewarding than many of Ghibli's other works, which were aimed mostly at children.
Of course, all these intriguing themes and characters are only a part of the film's wonder, because Miyazaki's true gift lies in imagery. The detailed animation of "Princess Mononoke" is astounding, drawing its audience into its environments, from lush forest to open fields to crowded marketplace and more; the team of animators that poured their hearts and souls into this film should take utmost pride in their accomplishments. Using minimal and tasteful CGI, the movie stays very warm and inviting even when the subject matter and mood is less-than-friendly. This is also owed to the audio aspects of the picture; the voice talents involved are highly engaging and enjoyable, even in the English dubbed version, which features such big western names as Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Billy Crudup, Clare Danes and Gillian Anderson. Joe Hisaishi's music is also a rather splendid complement to the film.
Overwhelming success of the anime production in Japan alone stands as a testament to its fine quality. Breaking a 15 year record held by Spielberg's "E.T.", "Princess Mononoke" became Japan's No. 1 movie of all time in the year of its release, as well as taking the title of best-selling video/DVD of all time. It is also the most expensive animated Japanese feature in history, reaching a budget of 2.4 billion. Outside of its home-country, however, the film continues to inspire and engage audiences from all corners of the globe, taking a well-deserved place in the list of cult-favorites for film-lovers everywhere.