"Princess Mononoke" is an animated drama film from those fine folks over at "Studio Ghibli". This film starts off with a prince named Ashitaka who is riding his loyal pet Elk (who looks more like an Antelope) named Yakul only to hear that their village is being attacked. What they saw attacking them was something rarely scene and that thing was a Forest God in a form of a Wart Hog but not just any Forest God as this Forest God was so corrupted with hatred that he turned into a vengeful demon. After a long hard battle they slay the demon but not without tragedy as Ashitaka suffers a burn on his right arm that mutated into a curse and he hasn't got long to live. Ashitaka then travels afar to a forest to where he could possibly get his curse lifted.
On his journey he rescues two injured people who have fallen off a cliff from battling a Wolf God and then heals them up. Ashitaka returns the two people home only to find out that they are iron miners that work at an iron mine. Lady Eboshi (the boss of the mine) sends him her gratitude and shows him around. Turns out that they are mining iron from under a mountain to where Forest Gods live and the Forest Gods are not happy and plan on taking down the mine. Now Ashitaka is caught in the middle and he doesn't want both sides to fight but to live in peace instead and put this war to rest. This is sure to be a real clash of the titans. (Click "Read More" to read the full review).
The story in this film is pretty good and was told smoothly and kept me hooked throughout the whole film. While this film does have a strong supernatural element this film felt more like a straight-up drama rather than a supernatural film. The drama in this film is very serious and was done well as it will emotionally draw you into the film. This film is surprisingly pretty violent with a bunch of blood and a little gore thrown in for good measure. This film also gives off a strong "environmental message" that normally annoys me due to how preachy and pretentious it can get but I was not annoyed by "that" message this film was telling as it wasn't preachy, pretentious, or annoying.
Characters in this film were written well as they are very interesting and have an element of mystery that keeps you from turning away from the film. The characters also have a down to Earth feeling about them and that adds to the interesting nature of the characters. Each character also has a unique personality which keeps the film feeling fresh. I'd like to say that there were some characters I had a problem with but I couldn't find a character that did not find enjoyable.
Artwork in this film looks spectacular with lots of effort, detailing, and life put into it. Backgrounds have a very beautiful look as if they were pulled right from a very classy museum and they also set the mood to each scene perfectly. Character designs were really good and the humans have a very down to Earth look to them. The Forest Gods in this film all have a unique feeling to them raging from magical, creepy, scary, and even cheap as not all of them were designed well. Oddly enough the cheaper looking characters actually helped add some creepy atmosphere to the night time scenes and ironically end up being good. Animation in this film was really impressive to where I find it hard to believe that this film was animated in 1997 as it feels a few years ahead of its time.
The English dub in the film is very good with a lot of strong voices and equally strong acting for nearly all of the characters. The only voice I had a problem with was with the character "Lady Eboshi" as her voice sounded a bit forced and the acting was incredibly wooden. The soundtrack to this film was also very good with a beautiful symphonic sound that also helps set the mood in every scene. I would go as far to say that I would purchase the soundtrack if I found it in the store... Granted I'd only buy it if it were cheap but still I wouldn't mind the soundtrack in my music collection.
The special features section isn't bad but is one of the weaker selections from the "Studio Ghibli" Blu-Ray releases. You get the ever so brilliant "Storyboards" with very nice artwork that play alongside the film that makes for a great reason to re-watch the film. This film also comes with a very special documentary titled "Princess Mononoke in the U.S.A." (great parody title for John Cougar Mellencamp's hit song "Rock in the U.S.A."). In this documentary we have a collection of interviews and conference footage from when Hayo Miasaki toured the United States to promote the English release of the film from all the way back in 1999. This documentary was quite interesting and entertaining and it made for a great time.
Lastly we have a whole bunch of trailers and promotional videos and I wasn't really a fan of them at all. My biggest problem was with a feature that was simply titled "Promotional Video" as it was essentially the movie but repackaged into a five minute clip and my problem is that this was intended to be seen before the film and it gives away way too much. The other problem is that if you watch it after the movie you'll find that this feature is redundant. The rest of the trailers are: "Original Japanese Theatrical Trailer", "Original Japanese Promos", "Original Japanese TV Spots", "French Theatrical Trailer" (a feature I was not expecting at all), and "English Theatrical Trailers". All of the trailers I had just mentioned wern't good nor bad but just very average to where you'll be saying "okay this movie exists" rather than "Oh baby! I have gotta see this!".
Overall this is a very solid film that should be watched by all fans of anime and fans of movies in general as people who do not watch anime will also get a kick out of this film. If you are impatient this film won't be for you as this film runs for over two hours but do me a favor and learn to be patient. Great viewing.
Title: The Cat Returns
Animation/Production Studio: Studio Ghibli
Genre: Animation/Anime, Drama, Supernatural
Running Time: 134 minutes
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Rating: M15+ (Moderate animated violence)