Thursday, August 27, 2009

#488: Princess Mononoke (1997)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast (English version): Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver

Note: Viewed a few days ago, to help explain the closeness between this post and the previous.

Miyazaki’s first film to become widely recognized in America is the story of Prince Ashitaka and Princess Mononoke. Ashitaka comes from a village in the east where nature is worshipped and technology unheard of. When Ashitaka defends the town from an attacking giant boar who is possessed by a demon, his arm becomes possessed as well before he kills the boar and finds inside it a piece of metal inside the body. To heal the cursed arm, he travels west to find the Spirit of the Forest. In doing so, he discovers Iron Town, a city whose main source of income is their forge. Attacking the city are both the apes who want to replant the trees the humans ripped down, as well as the wolves and their human ‘daughter’, Princess Mononoke. Throughout the film, Ashitaka urges both the animals and humans to stop the violence, or else the hatred which possesses his arm will consume them all.

Miyazaki’s greatest talents are texture and landscape. Each location drawn has a feel to it, and through both the animation and the sound effects, you can almost feel the gravel under your feet or the moss on your hands. The music by Joe Hisaishi is also an accomplishment, using almost exclusively western music standards but with melodies of Japanese flavor.

I have two criticisms for the film. First, I’ve always found it just too long. There were loads of opportunities to cut down the time, and Disney/Miramax agrees with me; they tried to convince Studio Ghibli to give permission to slim down the length, but Ghibli refused. My second criticism is the voice acting. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always found Claire Danes’ voice to be very piercing, and Billy Crudup always seems to be either yelling or whispering, rarely finding a middle ground.

The film is certainly a spectacle, but this Princess Mononoke will never compare to Spirited Away.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • Mononoke-hime (1997) replaced E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) as the biggest grossing film of all time in Japan until Titanic (1997).
  • Hayao Miyazaki had intended to this be be his final film before retiring. Its great success led him to do another, Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (2001).
  • Mononoke means angry or vengeful spirit. Hime is the Japanese honorific/word meaning Princess which is placed after a persons name rather than before it, as in the western system. When the films title was translated into English, it was decided that Mononoke would be left as a name rather than translated literally.

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