Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime) – Review

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Dubbed in English and featuring the voice talents of: Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Claire Danes, John DiMaggio, John DeMita, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gillian Anderson, Keith David
Written for the screen and Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Metacritic Score: 76
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
IMDb Score: 8.4 (#68 in IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All Time list)

Rated PG-13 for images of violence and gore.

One of my big to-do lists when it comes to watching certain films is: watching as much of the Criterion Collection as I can get my hands on, push out my “watch list” into further countries aside from France, Japan and U.S.; and watching every single Ghibli/Miyazaki film that has been created.

Ever since falling in deep love with Spirited Away, Miyazaki has become a must see director for any of his films, which includes directors like Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Michael Haneke.

So, yes, Princess Mononoke is a scratch-off that list and honestly, I’m nowhere near halfway done. So, what do I think of what is a beloved anime classic from Miyazaki?

Prince Ashitaka (Crudup) becomes cursed after protecting his village from a demon boar. Cast out of the Emishi village, he ends up in the middle of a war between humans, Gods and animals while searching for the cure for his curse.

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NOTE: It’s worth pointing out that I am reviewing the dubbed version of the film from 1999

As always with a Miyazaki film, the movie is downright gorgeous to watch. With vibrant greens, reds and other hues, the world of which Mononoke is based on is its own fully fleshed world thanks to the incredible set pieces and animation.

Like any Miyazaki film, the world is incredibly imaginative and just wonderful to take in.

Seeing the different locations, spirits and entities that make up the world of this film is easily the biggest highlight of the film.

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That said, characters aside from Ashitaka are rather one-dimensional and serve no purpose other than to service the plot, including the title character.

This wouldn’t be a problem if this film was more of a fairy tale like film. However, the movie, from it’s animation to it’s conflicts, gives off a Kurosawa like feel of epic conflicts and tragedies that it strives for (think Ran and Seven Samurai). From that prospective, it misses the mark.

The film begins with an exile of the main character, only for him to be involved in a larger conflict. Yet, with any of the pieces of the conflict, whether it would be nature or the area of Iron Town, none of the characters seem to have a distinct characteristic to distinguish themselves from their opponents.

Even one-sided epic movies, like Braveheart, have all sides realized and characterized in order to understand the conflict. Mononoke doesn’t give you any subtext to make you feel any side of the conflict.

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And for what is ostensibly a war movie featuring 4 different sides, one of which you don’t even see, it’s hard to get invested in a story with that specific of a problem.

War movies in themselves don’t need to be complex: you can have one side be represented or even both and all you need are either good action set pieces or a general message and you have yourself a decent war movie.

Mononoke has battles: one-on-one battles, monster vs. human battles, battles between different nations, a battle against a supreme entity, etc. The battles, whether they are small in scope or are epic, are entertaining and wonderfuly detailed. It’s great to hear then that the battles are what make up roughly a third of the film itself.

Now take in that the film is 2 hours and 20 minutes and you can see a clear problem with watching the film.

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The movie has the distinct problem of having it’s most annoying character be it’s title character…of whom is only in the film about 30 – 45 minutes. The annoying part of this character is mostly who voices the character: Claire Danes.

Danes plays this character whiny and infantile, which adds to the problem of this character being completely one-dimensional.

Son, the Princess Mononoke of the film, is also the love interest of the film. The romantic angle of the film is forced and pretty questionable, since the character itself is constantly fighting Ashitake throughout the film.

Honestly, you just have a character that the film tries so hard to make the central piece of the film without ever earning that distinction. Every scene with Son is annoying, detracting from enjoying the rich, exquisitely detailed world that is created.

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And with that, you have a film that only stands near what Miyazaki’s filmography in looks alone, but doesn’t have the story or character to drive it to other heights.

The world that is created for the movie is beautiful to watch and for that alone, it’s worth a recommendation. This promising world of spirits, greenery and demons is the lone part of the film that keeps it engaging.

Yet, none of the characters, including Ashitaka, are that memorable. Some are downright annoying. But the film tries to blend epic and personal struggles and it doesn’t work overall.

For Ghibli/Miyazaki film lovers, you should watch it just to experience it. The rest? Again, it’s beautiful but that’s about it.

2.5/5 – Beautiful animation and excellent set pieces; substandard character development and plot.

The Wiz Says #46

 

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