Starring: Yoji Matsuda, Billy Crudup, Yuriko Ishida, Claire Danes, Yuko Tanaka, Minnie Driver, Kaoru Kobayashi, Billy bob Thronton, Akihiko Miwa, Gillian Anderson
Running Time: 133 minutes
I still remember first hearing about this film. Back then it sounded like some kind of strange myth, which Miramax had bought the rights to and refused to release. Many rumours spread as to why, with the main one suggesting that Miramax’s parent company Disney, didn’t want an Asian set animated film to overshadow (and completely trounce in terms of quality) their effort at adapting the story of MULAN. When it was finally released into cinemas, it only got a limited release, again surrounded by rumours that Miramax were annoyed that director Miyazaki had stuck to his guns and refused them the right to edit any of the footage. All that seems so long ago now that Miyazaki has become an internationally recognised figure with all of his releases getting the treatment they deserve.
PRINCESS MONONOKE has such an engaging and beautiful story, that it seems almost impossible that an individual living today was able to create such a tale. It is forever shrouded in an atmosphere that suggests this story has roots in deep and complex mythology passed down through the ages. Such is the incredible nature of Miyazaki’s mind. We follow Prince Ashitaka (Matsuda/Crudup) as he is forced to leave his village in the hopes of finding a cure for a curse placed upon him while battling a demonic boar. He becomes drawn into a battle between industrialist humans, lead by Lady Eboshi (Tanaka/Driver) and a group of forest Gods, including the human but wolf raised titular character (Ishida/Danes).
The whole film remains a sight to behold, with Miyazaki’s eye for detail bringing every background and set piece to life. There are so many moments that could have easily been cut out just to save the animators some work, but their inclusion allows the film to seem even more alive. High on action, the exciting scenes weave violence and subtlety to create a dangerous yet euphoric experience. People are decapitated and limbs chopped off, but the PG rating is still apt as the violence is never gratuitous and highlights certain emotional sequences. The animation also brings to life amazing fantasy creatures who have gone on to influence many fantasy films since. The recent 47 RONIN and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN both contain creatures and sequences in debted to this feature.
The story is also propelled by some of the most fascinating characters around. Lady Eboshi may be our antagonist, as she takes on nature, but her love for humanity is immense. She believes in equality for the women (designing guns especially for them) and even takes care and gives purpose to a group of outcast lepers. Despite her hardnosed business front, she impossible to dislike. Meanwhile our hero Ashitaka aids all sides in the final battle, not in a deceptive or indecisive way, but because he can genuinely see both sides of the fight in equal light.
Looking more stunning than ever on Blu-ray, with the ever watchable storyboard/film comparison for the entire feature, this is a grand package that celebrates one of the greatest films of all time. It literally has something for everyone, without ever feeling as though it is checking boxes. PRINCESS MONONOKE is a classic, and feels like one every time you watch it, filling you with a strange sense of completeness as you just know you’ll be watching it in the future and sharing it with those around you.
PRINCESS MONONOKE is released on Blu-ray/DVD Double Play from 19th May via Studiocanal.