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Princess Mononoke

Japanese Anime master Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke tells the epic story of a Cambellian hero named Ashitaka, who is forced out of his village because of a curse put on him by an angry boar god who he fought and killed. Needing a cure for the growing curse, which is making his violent acts fatal, he stumbles on the village (led by the Lady Eboshi) where the boar god came from, finding Eboshi and her town warring with the spirits of the forest, most notably the wolf gods, who have with them a human daughter San (aka, Princess Mononoke). The bullet that turned the boar into a demon was made in this village, but Ashitaka was asked by his village to view things "with eyes unclouded by hate," making him some sort of impartial observer. Lady Eboshi's people are stripping the forest for iron to make bullets as the forest is trying to replenish itself, creating a standstill — the humans know that the world wants iron, and Lady Eboshi is using ex-prostitutes and lepers to help make guns and bullets. But the outcasts of society have a place in her world, where she takes care of them. One does not expect such political machinations from most animated films, but whether one agrees with the decidedly environmentally friendly messages of Princess Mononoke or not, there is no doubt that Miyazaki's epic tale is a bravura masterpiece of animation. In every reel something shows up that can awe the viewer, be it the little spirits in the film that show up for no reason, or the subtle shadings of the animation (one of the women in the village keeps adjusting her robe while working a billow, to be modest for the attractive Ashitaka), to the epic battle between the boars and humans. The thoughtful plot is more intelligent than most live-action films, and though animation may be considered kiddie fare, Miyazaki tells the complex tale without ever pandering. His animation shows a freshness and a beauty that seems missing from Disney's more recent efforts (which don't have Walt's magic anymore), and accompanying the lush and epic imagery is Joe Hisaishi's music, who could be considered the Japanese equivalent of John Williams. Miramax's DVD release offers the English-language dub (released theatrically in North America, to the ire of serious Anime fans) or the original Japanese track (also included is a French dub), and all things considered, the American dub actually is pretty good — most of the voices are acceptable, outside of a misplaced actor or two (Claire Danes seems the most awkward). But Miyazaki is a master of getting voice artists to do just as he wants, making the original Japanese track smoother and more complete. The DD 5.1 soundtrack is impressive in any language, and Hisaishi and Miyazaki get a good fusion of worlds here. Featurette, trailer. Keep-case.
—DSH

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