copyright © Jedo Dre 2011

Princes Mononoke is one of Hayao Miyazaki's high profile creations relatively well known in the West, which is not surprising considering its reserved adult tone and the down-to-earth ecological themes that should resonate with the Western audiences. Still, it is a complex epic with a high artistic level and it has a knack for holding the viewer's attention from start till finish.

The film tells a story of a conflict between the forest Gods and humans into which the human protagonist is pulled as he comes searching for a cure for his worsening affliction. Although, it has a hippie tint to it, the story is not forcing any opinions and the characters are realistic with appealing personalities.

The Japanese acting and its English dubbing are both notable. The makers tried to ensure a high quality conversion into English and even the songs are beautifully sung in English by Sasha Lazard. The English acting however is…strange. A lot of it is bizarrely devoid of emotion, far more than the original material, which is already relatively tame by Japanese animation standards. This is especially true for the main hero's dialogue.

This detached English performance keeps coming back throughout the film in various characters and therefore seems to be intentional but it does not appear to be in key with the tone of the movie and, at some points, sounds out of sync with the emotions being portrayed by the characters' faces. As mentioned, the Japanese performance can also be very calm at times, but that calmness serves a purpose to underline someone's character or a particular situation and feels appropriate. The English monotony often does not.

With some of the characters the English dub does feel weightier, most notably with the animals, but despite the efforts of such notables as Gillian Anderson the Japanese version still feels far superior.

The personalities are all interesting, but the main character is a little unreal. He is a young person who is introduced to a new environment, but whenever it suits the movie, he somehow knows what is going on and what to do, with copious amounts of confidence and better than the characters who have been living at the location for a long time. It feels like the animators cut a few corners with his character not to make the already long movie even longer.

The animation is awesome. Myazako is really all about that word, "animation". Everything feels alive. This life comes from a high attention to detail. Small and sometimes subtle movements breathe life into the side characters, some of whom will only occupy the screen for a few seconds , but they pass that life on to the rest of the film. These little imaginative details keep the viewer interested and drawn in.

The high budget for the film shows in these details and in the fluidity of the animation. There are noticeably many frames of animation, not all the time but there where it matters. The visual transitions are also great, like the change from dry to rainy weather or from living to dead plants. These are made especially effective by sparing use of colour. Bright saturated colour in this film appears to be used primarily for contrast to indicate life or magic.

The orchestral soundtrack complements the mood well most of the time, with an occasional recurrence of minimalistic taiko drums for extra contrast. I did notice a few scenes where the mellow music did not fit in with the action, but I know this is more to do with the Japanese cultural outlook on such type of action scenes.

What is really good with both the music and other sound effects is that they are used sparingly and stop when appropriate. The lack of sound is used very effectively.

If there is one point of contention it is the ending. It feels rushed. Once the movie comes to its conclusion you might realise that the motivations of different characters have not been fully explained. Considering how major the decisions they make are, it would really help to explain things in more detail. The last few events in the film and their consequences are also unclear. At this point the dialogue starts going off the track as well. One of the characters who failed at what he tried to achieve just happily accepts the outcome. The main hero starts uttering empty pretentiousness. Yet another character is just forgotten. Most of the issues the characters had do not get resolved. No lessons learned. The last few minutes of the film just feel mangled up and cut short.

I feel the memory of this film in the fans may be a tad rose-coloured, but apart from a few story issues, Princess Mononoke is one of the greatest things you can see on the screen. The interesting details and good contrast in sound and visuals keep the viewer engaged. I want to say this film is what Ferngully should have been, but I feel like I am insulting Princess Mononoke by putting those two in the same sentence.

Princess Mononoke