Twenty years ago, Studio Ghibli and the master Hayao Miyazaki opened my mind up to a new dimension of animation and storytelling that pretty much changed my life. It also inspired me to look toward telling bigger tales with richer characters, because Miyazaki is very much about rich characterization and brilliant metaphor. Much of his films revolve around the love of nature, the vastness of the open sky, and the effect humans can have on the environment and the world around us.
In the 14th century, the harmony that humans, animals and gods have enjoyed begins to crumble. Our hero, young Ashitaka is infected by the attack of a vicious boar possessed by a black demon that wreaks havoc on a village. After stopping it, Ashitaka travels the land seeking a cure from the deer-like god Shishigami, before the infection completely consumes him. In his travels, he sees humans ravaging the Earth with their machines, incurring the wrath of wolf god Moro and his human companion Princess Mononoke. His attempts to foster peace between the savage warrior and the humans bring only conflict, and a plot that may destroy nature.
“Princess Mononoke” is one of the most sprawling period epics that Miyazaki ever produced, and it still holds up as an accessible action film with a clear cut message about respecting nature. Miyazaki is never afraid to inject a sense of wonder and the supernatural within his natural worlds, exploring how machine and nature combine in to something incredible, and often something absolutely loathsome. Miyazaki’s fantasy epic is the first film from the master I’ve ever seen, and it holds a special place among some of the greatest titles that Ghibli has ever given to the masses of movie goers and fantasy buffs alike.
Miyazaki is able to even turn nature in to more of a character than a presence, giving life to every element from the towering trees and almost sacred water. There’s a fantastic statement to be made, and an important one that can be soaked up amidst the wonderful chase sequences, bow and arrow battles, and absolutely stunning animation. Whether you prefer the original language film with subtitles, or the all star US version with Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, and Gillian Anderson, “Princess Mononoke” is guaranteed to impress and live on as one of Miyazaki’s many masterpieces.
GKIDs and Shout! Factory produces yet another wonderful edition for fans of the film from Ghibli and it’s worth pairing with the “My Neighbor Totoro” set. The packaging includes a hard shell box with wonderful art from the film, and a full color book about the film. The included book garners some wonderful art work and at thirty eight pages completely breaks down the film with footnotes on plot points, characters, a director’s statement, looks at backgrounds, twists in the narrative and the various monsters we’ll visit during the film. The disc display is formatted like a book with three very thick pages holding the film’s Blu-Ray, and the CD with the film’s original soundtrack.
The detailed track listings are included on the alternate page with a list of all thirty three tracks by Joe Hisaishi, along with acknowledgements in the footer of the page. The extras for the new release include much of what we saw in the previous release. There is a storyboard feature exploring how the film was mapped out and how Miyazaki worked with them to help realize the film. There are also the original Japanese and English Language trailers for the film, the international trailers, and of course the various TV Spots. There’s also a five minute featurette that explains the property of “Princess Mononoke” for English language viewers with the cast.
Finally, there’s a twenty minute piece that shows how the film originated in Japan and made its way to the US with a release that garnered a ton of publicity and helped pave the way for many more Studio Ghibli properties, as well as a ton of other Asian masterpieces that the US film industry were otherwise ignoring or dismissing. The film garnered a strong push in the media, and ended up earning critical and surprise financial success domestically despite its limited theatrical run. It’s a fascinating segment for hardcore fans.