January 2, 2000 -- "Princess Mononoke" is a breathtaking saga of man versus nature, of gods and men, of bravery, nobility and redemption. Epic in nature and mythic in force, it is an artistic achievement of the first magnitude.
This animated film was first released in Japan in 1997, then re-released in the U.S. with American actor's voices dubbed into the speaking parts in 1999. Even the songs were translated into English. From that standpoint, it is just like an American film, but the first dead giveaway this isn't an American film is our first good view of one of the main characters, San (Princess Mononoke). She is sucking the blood out of a wound in a wolf. Her face is covered with blood. You don't see that in an American film, especially an animated film. This is no cartoon. This is serious.
San, a human being (voice by Claire Danes), has been raised by wolves and considers herself one of them. She, the wolves and boars are at war with a fortress-like village of Tatara iron-workers, the humans who are destroying her forest in order to mine more iron. Caught by the humans and about to be killed, she is rescued by Ashitaka (voice by Billy Crudup) a prince from a far off land who is seeking to rid himself of a curse. She, in turn, rescues him when he is fatally wounded during the rescue.
These two characters form the centerpiece of a much more complicated story about the god of the forest, the wolf and boar gods who guard the forest and the iron works at the nearby Tatara village. Ashitaka becomes caught in the middle of this conflict. He wants a peaceful resolution, while both sides want to destroy the other. The Lady Eboshi (voice by Minnie Driver), the head of the village, has done some kind things for lepers and prostitutes, but she has also made some deals with unscrupulous people to get what she wants, deals that go all the way to the emperor.
These struggles lead to huge battles between the gods of the forest and the humans. There are also battles between various divine and human factions as well, and the battle lines are not simplistically drawn. There are no clear winners. The eastern slant of the story is strange to these Western eyes, but the wonderful artwork, a combination of traditional and digital images, is dazzling, and the story is very moving in its own way.
Director Hayao Miyazaki continues his theme of strong women characters in this film. That is startling coming from a country which seems to be so male dominated. It gives the movie kind of a modern feel, even though it is about ancient myths and legends which most of us in the West are totally unfamiliar with. This is an excellent film it rates an A.
Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.