Princess Mononoke

Starring (voice): Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Crudup and Gillian Anderson
Optimum Asia
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 27 March 2006

Ashitaka, a prince amongst the Emishi people, fights a demon that is threatening his village. In the course of the fight his arm is infected and the wise woman foretells that he will die of his wound unless he travels west to the land where the demon originated, to discover what had turned the god into a demon. His travels finally bring him to the land of the forest spirits where he meets a wolf god and his spirit princess San, but his discovery leads him to a greater understanding. The time of the forest gods is passing, mans move away from the old ways and his use of industry is destroying not only the gods but the forest as well...

Princess Mononoke shares many of the themes of Miyazaki's other films, whilst this an overtly ecological film, highlighting concerns about the way in which man encroaches on nature and the inevitable doom that this means for both nature and mankind, it also has the recurring theme of love that has appeared in so many of his features. The iron ore which is poisoning the forest represents the slow but unstoppable greed of the people, the ignorance that is born out of mans own hubris and sense of destiny. The difference in Mononoke is that whilst love can do many things, in the end it is unsure whether love can overcome man's inherent greed.

This is not the first time that Princess Mononoke has had a release. Previously Miramax put out a box set, that contained a feature with the American voice actors and a rather nice book on Miyazaki. I guess if you're looking to have as complete a collection as possible then you're most probably going to buy both discs. However, if you already own the Miramax version then I'm not sure that that the few different extras on this disc will persuade you to buy it. The extras on this disc consist of the original trailers, worth one look, the Studio Ghibli trailers that are on all the discs and the alternative angle storyboards which allow you to watch the film in storyboard form.

The print is excellent as all of the films in this series have been. As befits an eco-film the main pallet use is green, however the ever changing landscape is so beautiful to look at that you never really notice.

Audio comes in 5.1 English or Japanese and both tracks are well worth listening to. Whilst the voice actors do a grand job, some of their accents lead to, what I presume to be, unintentional humour, hearing Billy Bob Thornton as Jigo leading his troops into action in thirteenth century Japan with an obvious southern American accent was somewhat distracting, though he does a great job bringing out his characters humour. Of note amongst the other actors are Gillian Anderson who provides the voice for San's wolf god mother and Minnie Driver who plays the imperious leader of iron town, the lady Eboshi.

The adaptation was done by Neil Gaiman who, as an author in his own right, had already penned Neverwhere. It's probable that using a writer of this calibre went a long way to making the English audio track so engaging. All the nuances of joy, love and pain are played across the audiences psyche meaning that you really start to care about what happens to these people.

In the late nineties, the film was the highest grossing Japanese film ever, though that may have changed now. It's a position that the film rightly deserves being one of Miyazaki's most thoughtful, but accessible works.

Charles Packer

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