Princess Mononoke Movie Review
Based upon Japanese folklore, Princess Mononoke is the animated story of the war between the encroachment of civilization and the beast gods of the forest. While the forests are being devastated by the Tatara clan, producers of iron, the Great God of the Forest gives power to the other forest gods to protect their domain against the humans in the form of giant animals. Sound confusing? That's just the beginning.
The movie begins with our protagonist, Ashitaka (Billy Crudup--dubbing over the original Japanese voice), the last warrior of the Emishi clan, who is forced to kill a possessed boar in order to protect his village. In doing so he brings upon himself a curse of death from the evil that was passed onto his body from the animal's possessed spirit. The sign of the curse is a scar that appears as a twisted burn mark on his right forearm and hand. Ashitaka travels to Tatara where he hopes to remedy the curse before he is overcome by evil and dies. There he meets Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver), the leader of the Tatara people, and becomes involved in a dispute between two warring clans of humans and a race of forest-gods caught in the middle. In the midst of battle, Ashitaka encounters San, the Princess Mononoke (Claire Danes), a young human raised by wolves, who is willing to die to destroy the humans. Ashitaka, trapped in the conflict between man and nature, attempts to convince the two sides that war is not the answer. He hopes to end the killing and have man and forest creature alike live together in peace and harmony. Got that?
As perplexing and time consuming as it may be, the plot is actually a strength of this film. It's the filmmakers adaptation and production that seems to be at fault. Case in point: The film has some excellent animation, including several background shots that often appear real, but the characters' faces seem far too homogeneous. I could hardly discern between Samurai and peasant. Will someone tell me why our hero Ashitaka looks like he just stepped out of an episode of Speed Racer?
Supposedly this film grossed over 150 million dollars in the Japanese box office. The only two other films that have come close are Jurassic Park and Titanic, so one would figure that this film would fare as well with the American audience right? Wrong again. We're so used to basic plots and lots of action in our animated flicks that many Americans will be sleeping in the aisles.
Director Hayao Miyazaki is one of Japan's leading animators. Unfortunately, his rep will not proliferate here in the U.S. without a few changes and some serious editing. The movie does have potential, but in its present state it's a disappointment that few will enjoy immensely.
Aka Mononoke Hime.