Movie Magazine International

The Princess Mononoke

Japan - 1997

Movie Review By Alex Lau

Majestic. Complex. Contemplative. Subtle. These are not the usual adjectives one would use to describe an animated film, but "Princess Mononoke" is not your usual animated film.

Writer-director Hayao Miyazaki, who previously did "Kiki's Delivery Service," creates a beautiful and fantastic world, based on 14th century Japan, where humans and animistic gods are in direct conflict over the use the of virgin forest land.

Ashitaka is a young prince who gets swept into this conflict after he gets infected by a demon that was once a boar god. To find a way to lift his curse, he needs to travel to the origin of the boar god's suffering. There he finds a place called Iron Town, where lepers, brothel girls, and other outcasts are cutting down the forests to make a living.

He also finds a girl named San, known as the Princess Mononoke, or the legendary human guardian of the forest spirits. San, raised by the wolf god Moro, hates the Iron Town people for their systematic destruction of the forest. She particularly hates Iron Town's leader, Lady Eboshi.

This is not "Ferngully", where one side is good and the other side is evil. Miyazaki refuses to let it be that simple. Rather, everyone has their own reasons for their actions, and every action has its consequences. There are at least two more factions with agendas in this film, adding to the complexity.

The artwork is lush and gorgeous, almost all of it painstakingly done by hand. Still, both the action and the quiet scenes display a smooth power that often made me forget that I was watching animation.

The voice cast, headed by Claire Danes as San, Billy Crudup as Ashitaka, Minnie Driver as Lady Eboshi, and Gillian Anderson as Moro the wolf god, is adequate at worst and utterly convincing at best. Driver's Eboshi easily wields her power and influence as leader of Iron Town, but never loses sight of her compassion for her fellow humans.

When it came out two years ago in Japan, "Princess Mononoke" became the most popular domestic Japanese movie in history; only "Titanic" has done better. The running time is long at 133 minutes, but like any great epic, it doesn't feel long. It's rated PG-13 for some scenes of violence, so you might want to leave the small kids at home, but see "Princess Mononoke" on the big screen while you can.

© 1999 - Alex Lau - Air Date: 11/03/99

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