Princess Mononoke (1999)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Written by Hayao Miyazaki, English translation by Neil Gaiman
Starring Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Gillian Anderson, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton

My Advice: Don't Miss It.

It's 14th Century Japan, and Ashitaka (Crudup) is the last prince of an ancient people.  Having successfully defended his village from the wrath of a mad god, he finds that a wound given him by the god-turned-demon is inevitably lethal.  Going forth to meet his destiny, he backtracks the god's path and finds himself drawn in a conflict between man and nature, between an ambitious noblewoman (Driver) who runs an iron-mining town and a wild princess (Danes) who was raised by wolf-gods.

If there's anything I've learned while writing these reviews, it's that although adjectives and descriptions get thrown around a lot, there are a few that you just don't get the opportunity to use very often.  So let me use this one while I have the chance: "sweeping."  Hey, here's another one for you: "epic."  This is the most breathtaking animated film I've seen in a long time and I find it amusing that Miramax, a division of the Rodent Empire, brought what is essentially the antithesis of Disney to North America.  Let's hope they watched the film a few times and took some notes, eh?

But to be fair, let me say that this is not a children's animated film, so maybe it's completely outside of Disney's jurisdiction on cute happy animal crap.  At least I hope your eight year old doesn't get off on arms getting shot off and the like.  But instead of singing squirrels and other such shite, you get what I can only term as art.  For example, who knew that something as seemingly simple and plain as watching a rainstorm begin could be so incredibly captivating?  And also, who knew that you could take a film that was originally in Japanese and translate it so damn well that unless someone told you before hand, you'd never know it was a dubbed flick?

Well, we can thank lit god Neil Gaiman for that.  He brought his own style to the fore and yet remained true to the original Miyazaki source material.  Now granted, Studio Ghibli, the originators of this film, were watching him like a hawk, but still--it takes dedication to pull something like this off.  And it works so wonderfully.  I have no idea what screenplay category this would fit into, (Adapted?) but it needs to go somewhere in there.  Simply beautiful.

As for the vocal chores, the two that stand out from the rest are Crudup's determined Ashitaka and Anderson's Moro, the wolf-goddess.  Anderson delivers Gaiman's words with a lyrical dignified tone, and you would think she had experience as being a tremendous she-wolf, the performance is so good.

And lastly, a word about Miyazaki, the director.  I was unfamiliar with his work before viewing this film, but I will now definitely check out the rest of his filmography.  It's unfair to say that this is the best animated film I have ever seen--it does sit apart from all the others, it's simply wrong to judge them all in the same category with this.  I will say this, he has managed to craft a film that simply must be seen on the big screen to get the full benefit, and that's how I recommend it to you.  You simply must see this film for yourself.  Go in with an open mind, clear your expectations, and let it do its thing.  Trust me.

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Buy the symphonic suite CD from Amazon!

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