Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Princess Mononoke

For those just tuning in, I'm relaxing this August by watching every film ever made by Hayao Miyazaki. Today it's the film that Miyazaki had intended to be his last, and went on to win the 1997 Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Celebrity Voice Cast
For their first theatrical Ghilbi dub, Disney got Billy Crudup, Claire Daines, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and the guy with the coolest voice in cartoons, Keith David.

This is the big one. As I've said before, Princess Mononoke came about right when I was getting involved with my college's anime club, and tracking movie gossip online. Needless to say, with those two communities combined, Princess Mononoke was the talk of the town. Reviews were trickling over the Internet from Japan...Disney brokered their release deal with Studio Ghibli and began plans for a North American release...originally to come out in North America in 1998, but Disney feared it was too similar to Mulan. Sadly, it didn't get the major release I had hoped for. One day, in late 1999, I finally read that it was having it's "final weekend" at the Princess -- Edmonton's most famous art house theatre. I did get to rent it around 6 months later, watch it on video, and was captivated. It was one of the first DVDs I bought in 2001. And I was heartbroken when most of my anime club alumni dismissed it as "just OK."

It's the dawn of Japan's industrial revolution. A small, isolated village is attacked one day by a writhing, slimy, hate-filled demon. The prince of the village, Ashitaka, manages to slay the demon, but is cursed by it in the battle. Ashitaka learns that the demon was once a kind and benevolent boar-god, and goes off on a quest to learn its origins. His journeys lead him to Irontown, which is ruled by the kind Lady Eboshi. Eboshi has created a better life for her people, by destroying the forests and mining the iron. This has raised the ire of the wolf-goddess and her human daughter San, the Princess Mononoke. Ashitaka has stumbled into the middle of an all-out war between Humans and Nature, and both sides have become so blinded by hate that a peaceful co-existence seems out of the question. Can Ashitaka and San find a peace before all are cursed?

What I Liked
Hands down, this has my favourite musical score of all of Miyazaki's films. I can't walk through the forests without humming the music. The film does have a rather complex mythology, but unlike some other fantasy films, it's still rather easy to follow. There are so many striking characters that draw you in.

What I Didn't Like
The scenes that explain that mythology do get a little long and preachy.

Final Verdict
One of the finest fantasy films ever made.

4 Nibs

Fun Trivia Fact
Disney hired renowned fantasy author Neil Gaiman to write the English translation. In interviews back in 1998, Gaiman said his job mainly consisted of "punching up the dialogue so it doesn't sound like a Saturday morning cartoon." However, though, Gaiman wasn't told that, when writing a translation, the words have to match the mouth movements on the animation. The director of the English translation then proceeded to adapt Gaiman's script to make it more...usable. When Gaiman found out, he was horrified, and then he and the director finally met and hammered out a translation that worked.

Next Time
So, as I said, Miyazaki had originally intended Princess Mononoke to be his final film. When it hit theatres, he announced his retirement. But then, an encounter with a friend's sullen young daughter got his creative juices flowing again, and he came out of retirement to make a film about that sullen little girl. The end result is hailed as the finest film Miyazaki ever made, and went on to win the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Film. Yup, we've finally come to Spirited Away.

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