Reviewby Patrick Caldwell
Princess Mononoke has been perhaps one of the most talked-about animes for the last three years. Created by anime legend Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service), and his flagship studio, Ghibli, this already-classic film uses the fairly common Ghibli theme (Man Vs. Nature) and depicts it like never before. It intensely personifies nature by interjecting towering, intelligent, and fierce animal gods. These creatures, a mixture of wolves, boars, and apes, are quite a departure from standard Disney-style talking animals- they kill, destroy, and debate philosophy, and this unique, albeit strange, formula works on a surprising number of levels. Additionally, the superbly designed and portrayed characters strengthen Princess Mononoke even more. San (Claire Danes), the title character, is a child raised by a wolf god, and truly is a fascinating depiction of a woman caught between the ranks of human and animal. Though she might eventually come off as a villian, Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver) is, in reality, simply a human being with a strong desire to accomplish her goals and protect her people. Finally Ashitaka (Billy Crudup), our hero, is frighteningly easy to identify with- unlike most heroes, he attempts not to defeat a villian, but to establish peace and pierce the layers of hate that blind two opposing sides. This struggle, which is far more realistic than most film plots, lends Ashitaka an air of heroism far beyond say, Tenchi. Miyazaki also does a nice job of keeping Ashitaka hypocrisy-free; his actions always correspond with his words. Princess Mononoke is, ultimately, about war, nature, love, and humanity. It doesn't hammer its points home, it relies on Miyazaki's magical storytelling abilities to enlighten and to entertain. Aesthetically, Princess Mononoke is a joy to watch. The animation is smooth, colorful, and detailed beyond belief. Simple things, like water, are depicted beautifully enough to catch your breath. Movement is fluid and lifelike, and the use of light and shadows are spot-on. Pure and simple, Princess Mononoke is one of the finest films to come out of Japan in a long time, and should satisfy any fan.
It might have taken a while to get released, but Princess Mononoke is a first-rate effort from Buena Vista. The video is presented in its original, widescreen, aspect ratio of 185:1. The transfer is fully anamorphic as well, so anyone with a widescreen television is in for a pleasant surprise. The picture is simply impossible to put into words. It's far brighter than most anime DVDs, and VERY colorful. The forest scenes are gorgeous, with vibrant greens, blues, and reds, and the darker scenes in Iron Town are also very clean in appearance. Rainbows and other forms of pixelation are completely absent. In short, the picture is, technically flawless, and very pleasing to the eye. The sound, Dolby Digital 5.1, is excellent. Voice, sound effects, and music are equally interspersed through the speakers, truly making it sound as if you were in the middle of that San versus Eboshi battle. Joe Hisaishi's musical score is brilliant. It's grand, magical, and always well timed. Rare for an anime soundtrack, silence is effectively used, often enhancing a scene's atmosphere. It's worth noting, however, that the Japanese track is significantly louder and fuller. While on the subject, the English dub track is very well done, with excellent performances by all but Billy Bob Thorton (Jigo the monk), but the Japanese version is still this reviewer's choice. It has none of the embarrassing or awkward moments of the dub and none of the translation errors, making it the preferred track. Also, if you select the Japanese language track, it will stream the original Japanese opening, as opposed to the re-arranged English opening. Very original, and very cool. I've only listened to a bit of it, but the French track sounds nice enough. It, however, is 2.0 and doesn't have the full, rich sound of the English and Japanese track. The packaging is fairly average, consisting of a typical DVD snapcase. The front artwork is better than the first US movie poster of Princess Mononoke, replacing the weird golden San image for a shot of Ashitaka, complete with foil swords. Menus are sparse, with no animation or sound, but have an excellent choice of images, as well as fast loading times and easy navigation. On a disappointing note, extras are very mediocre, consisting of a boring featurette and a decent, but hardly comprehensive trailer.
Despite a couple of shortcoming, the excellent content and high quality sound and video of the Princess Mononoke DVD makes it one of the top discs of the year. It's a safe bet for any anime fan!
Overall : A
+ Excellent Story, characters, animation, video, and sound.
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