Sunday, January 21, 2007

Movie Review: Princess Mononoke 4 ½ Stars

The highest grossing film in Japanese history, Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime) is the most recent masterpiece from anime sensei, Hayao Miyazaki. Like his previous efforts, Naussica Of The Valley Of Wind, Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke is a complex allegory (with Miyazaki’s signature eco-Marxism overtones). In Princess Mononoke, good and evil, right and wrong, yes and no are not clearly defined; the heroes of the tale are peasant and samurai, men and women, forest gods and humans alike.

The English-language translation was adapted by Sandman comic creator Neil Gaiman and voiced by Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Gillian Anderson under the helm of acclaimed ADR director Jack Fletcher.

Ashitaka (Billy Crudup), the sole remaining warrior of the dying Emishi clan, unwittingly kills a Boar God-turned-Demon God to protect his village. His act brings a curse, a lesion on his arm that seethes with hatred and rage. To free himself from the curse, Ashitaka must travel to the primeval forest to discover the catalyst for the Boar God’s possession.

The Tatara, ruled by the proud Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver), operate an ironworks, principally to make bullets and firearms for their war. Their trade ravages the forest and pollutes the streams, angering the Ape Gods, who, at night, attempt to replant the trees. Moro, the Wolf God, is especially at odds with Lady Eboshi. Moro’s daughter, a human girl named San, the Princess Mononoke (Claire Danes) is dispatched to kill Lady Eboshi to bring harmony again to the forest. But Ashitaka prevents this. He is both in love with San and sees the good in Lady Eboshi, who employs whores and lepers in Iron Town.

Deceived by the treacherous monk, Jigo (Billy Bob Thornton) who seeks to decapitate the Great God of the Forest for the Emperor, Ashitaka becomes embroiled in a savage battle between two warring clans and the Forest Gods trapped in the middle.

An impressive period drama in any medium, Princess Mononoke is especially impressive in its visuals, mostly hand-drawn, mostly by Miyazaki, himself. Princess Mononoke not only raises the bar for anime, but sets a new standard for animated features across the globe. Sumptuous!

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