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Written by Funn Lim

"All in all, the animation is superb."


SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!



AKA
Mononoke-hime

Released In
1997

Language
Japanese with subtitles. But the DVD I bought got also English and French dubbing and the English one is done by big Hollywood stars whose voices are very hard to recognise, for me. The version I watched is the English version.

Directed by
Hayao Miyazaki

Writing credits
Neil Gaiman (English adaptation: US version)
Hayao Miyazaki (screenplay)

Cast-Character
Gillian Anderson .... Moro
Billy Crudup .... Ashitaka
Claire Danes .... San (Princess Mononoke)
Keith David .... Okkoto
John DeMita .... Kohroku
John Di Maggio .... Gonza
Minnie Driver .... Lady Eboshi
Sherry Lynn .... Iron Town Woman/Emishi Villiage Girl
Tress MacNeille .... Ironworker
Jada Pinkett Smith .... Toki
Tara Strong .... Kaya
Billy Bob Thornton .... Jigo
K.T. Vogt .... Complaining wife


Summary
This is the land of myths, demons and Gods. Gods come in the form of animals from the magical forest but because of men logging and destroying the forest, many Gods became very angry and turned into senseless demons where the very touch of their oozing blood will kill the humans and everything in their paths. Prince Ashitaka, a young prince from a village occupied by really old people was defending the village from a demon boar called Nago and he himself got touched in the process. This meant he will die a painful death as the poison in the form of the demon ooze spread around his entire body. The boar died. The village elder, like the witch doctor advised him to forever leave the village, go to a place she named to see the world without hate and to seek a cure for his illness. And so he went and he encountered a seedy monk in the process with an agenda of his own and he came upon Iron Town which was situated near a great magical forest where animals still dwell there. The forest is considered healthy with appearances of tiny magical creatures and is run by the respected Forest Spirt which by day takes the form of an elk and by night a magical big transparent creature as he walked around the forest. Iron Town is run by lady Eboshi, a ruthless woman who cares very little for the forest and has been for many years slowly encroach onto the forest land in search of iron. The animals in the forms of Gods were naturally very angry but did little over the years except to wish her dead. As Prince Ashitaka stayed at Iron Town for some time, he realised Lady Eboshi was not as bad as the animals would see her. She saved young girls from brothels and gave them jobs, she treated the lepers with respect and she genuinely wanted to build Iron Town into a place for those without much hope but she has little respect for the forest and the Gods. One night Iron Town came under attack by the wolves and a wolf girl adopted by the Wolf named Moro. This girl was Princess Mononoke and she was fearless in her attempt to kill Eboshi but failed and Ashitaka instead saved her and left Iron Town. Mononoke distrusts humans and wishes only to kill Eboshi. As Ashitaka left, someone shot him but amazingly he didn't die. Mononoke took him to the Forest Spirt who healed his wound but not that demon scar. And then suddenly the boars appeared, led by the very old and very blind Okkoto who wanted to wage a war against the humans. As the boars prepared for war and Eboshi agreeing to help the monk with an agenda to kill the forest spirit (the Emperor wanted to live forever so he thought by eating the forest spirit's head he will live forever), Iron Town came from under attack by the samurais who wanted to take Eboshi's irons. Mononoke was busy helping the boars to save the forest whilst Ashitaka was busy finding Eboshi to stop the killings. Very hectic time and in the end Eboshi's arrogance and action nearly destroyed the forest and killed everybody but Ashitaka and Mononoke set things right once again.

Comments
It is very hard for me to summarise the entire story without the summary sounding like some out of this world fantasy tale. This is a fantasy movie, an animation by the famed animator who later gave us the delightful and enchanting Spirited Away. Both movies dealt with spirits, Gods, respect and arrogance. Knowing ones place in the order of the world. I am sure Asians, although you may not be a Japanese may be able to identify with the many aspects of this movie. Quite simply this movie is about environment, respect for the environment and if not dire consequences shall follow. It is a tall tale, the animals as Gods who seem way too big. But it is interesting to see the animator choosing the boars to play a certain role, the wolves another, the deers and etc. You won't see tigers and lions and basically African type of animals but enough to sense certain animals have certain characteristics so well connected to this movie. The boars are a hateful irrational bunch, the wolves the wise ones, the deers the loyal ones and etc. I am simply amazed by the suitability of the animals.

Humans in here are portrayed as the ignorant ones, the ones who caused chaos without knowing it. Whilst it does not portray humans in a favourable light, nor is there a clear cut line between good people and bad people. The two extremes are Ashitaka, the bystander drawn into the war and Lady Eboshi, the one who fueled the war with her disrespect for nature. The animals themselves aren't that innocent at all, in fact the animals themselves are almost human-like in many aspects; the boars are the extremes in one hand and there are the wolves who tried to stop the war eventhough they hated the humans. The contempts by the humans for the animals and the animals for the humans are equal in strength; basically they hated one another. Humans hate the animals for occupying valuable space and taking up valuable resources whilst animals hate humans for driving them away and taking valuable space and using valuable resources. You see the similarities? If there is a message that this movie tries to drive home, I feel it is the need to seek a middle ground, an equilibrium and the balancing of needs, wants and resources. Sharing of resources and preservation of nature that provides these resources together with all the inahibitants are equally important because one can't do without the other. Of course this movie makes it like really out of this world but the theme and its message is universal and very true, more so in today's world. Whilst scientists acknowledge that nature as in the forest provides for cures to some illnesses that we are only beginning to comprehend, humans are logging away at such rate that by the time we do understand, the cure is destroyed. Life is like one big chess board, every piece on it is as important to complete the game. I think in the end that's the movie's ultimate message.

I must say though, this movie is by no means easy to watch. For an animation feature, some scenes are very violent such as one arrow could basically decapitate a head (and you see the head falling) or sexually suggestive such as the women of Iron Town whose dress are rather loose and you could see cleavage. This is not a child's animation but a very adult themed (not porno type but serious issues) packaged in a cute looking anime which in retrospect isn't that cute. It is more suitable for adults since the message may be geared towards adults.

There are many characters coming in and out of a given scene, but never did I feel a particular scene seems crowded. I feel each character has a role to play, however insignificant or irrelevant they may be.

For me, the most boring character is actually Ashitaka because he is a bystander, observing and later taking part mainly to save the girl he loves. If you must know he couldn't be with the girl in the end as the girl rationalised that they may love one another but their ideals are different so it may be better for them to be apart.

The most irrelevant is Mononoke herself who seems to be involved in this war without realising and acknowledging she is human too. It at times seem silly that she can ignore such an obvious fact. For a title character, she has very little role and only appear much much later into the movie.

The most confusing one is the monk, Jigo who is not really a monk I guess since he is so keen on killing the forest spirit on the orders of the Emperor. He is quite ambigous in character; even until the end I am not sure if he is good or bad. But one thing for certain, he is greedy and he cares very little for the consequences of his actions.

The most interesting character is actually Lady Eboshi. You think she is evil and yet she genuinely cares about Iron Town and the people in it. She is mostly arrogant, thinking that the forest and the Gods are nonsense and it is to be exploited and not to be preserved. But she is by no means evil or mean spirited. She just have very little regard for environment, and to me Lady Eboshi is very much like you and I. I too sometimes can't understand why we must give way to the forest, why we can't just chop them all of to build more houses for needy people, why we must create a forest reservation whatever when we can better use that big chunk of land. But that was me before I watched National Geographic Channel almost every night and remembering the delicate balance between nature and humans and the effect on the environment. After all, like the campaign says, Earth is the only home we have right now and if we don't do something now, it will die sooner than the expected expiry date. We will definitely not see that day any time soon, maybe your great great great great grandchild will. To put it simply, if you believe in reincarnation, you may as well be that great great great great grandchild. And isn't that just a drag?

All in all, the animation is superb. The Japanese have been drawing their animation the same way for decades, the difference is the attention to details and the vibrant colours. This movie boasts some very beautiful drawings, and very life like especially the way the wind blew over the grass and the way the grass swayed to the wind. It was such a sight. One of my favourite has got to be those that involves water, the river, the way it interacts with the touch, the wind, the rain ... so very real and so very beautiful and yet you know it's animation. The animation in this movie does not try to be realistic but yet everything feels real. Essentially the drawings captured the essence of the subject and not merely copying the subject itself. Much like those Chinese paintings you see in the olden days where a black inked bamboo still feels like a green coloured bamboo because the feel of it is captures, rather than just a photographic capture of it. The humans are still as cartoonish as ever, with western features that most westerners may not even have. I think it is deliberate to draw the humans so un-human like, so cartoon-ish looking so as to differentiate between reality and fantasy. But the best had to be those moments of complete silence but with a music playing in the background, softly. The Japanese are very good with silent type of scenes, it kinda gives you goosebumps and that you suddenly feel like you're all alone in that big wide space.

The dubbing ... mostly excellent. I didn't like the actor who dubbed Ashitaka who sounded like half dead. Claire Danes was quite ok as the very emotional Mononoke. Jada Pinkett Smith had a small role only and I find her character too "in your face" type of personality whilst Billy Bob Thornton as the monk did well. Gillian Anderson as Mono was strange; almost didn't recognise her voice but she sounded wise although again like half dead. The best was the voice of Lady Eboshi; at times arrogant, sometimes cynical, sometimes kind, it was English accent and I couldn't recognise who. Only in the credits did I know it was Minnie Driver. What a voice if you ask me but yet didn't quite notice it before. I must say though the timing of the dubbing was perfect. It is funny to hear them speak too fast and then I realise Japanese do tend to speak very fast so the dubbing had to follow the rhythm of the movements of the mouth. It will be mighty interesting how the Germans will be able to dub it this way since generally it takes the Germans far longer sentence to say the same thing as in Japanese. Chinese will have no problems since we are generally fast speaker and we use less words to describe something that the Japanese would have in their native tongue.

Anyway, superb animation, great dubbing, interesting storyline and a great message in the movie also, this movie's only flaw is the length, like Spirited Away. Very long which at times gets to my patience. But still a great watch.

Verdict
A must buy.

Interesting Ermm Illegal Activity
I know it is wrong to buy pirated DVDs but my conscience is clear. You know how much is one DVD these days? RM69-90 to RM89-90 for those with special features and all. What a ridiculous amount of money.

Anyway, when I chanced upon this movie in a DVD store at some undisclosed shopping complex, and it only costs RM8-00, I bought it. I thought it was you know pirated. When I got home, to my delight I realise the guy sold me the original DVD which would have cost more than RM8-00. How I know it's original? For one the special features in the DVD actually had special features from this movie and not from other movies. Then I noticed the DVD itself, the disc itself looks very original and then I saw the hologram sticker on the disc that no pirated DVD would ever bother to produce. It was real indeed. Maybe nobody wanted to buy this movie?

It is also frustrating though that Korean movies are so IN these days and yet not much selection. Very frustrating.

Anyway the art of buying such DVDs is simple. Wait for the real original DVD to be released and rest assured all the pirated ones you buy will be of high quality, except no trailers, special features, and etc. And may not play also. If you want to watch latest movies, take my advice, don't buy the pirated DVD which will spoil your viewing pleasure. Go to the cinema. I enjoy going to the cinema to watch movies, big movies with special effects which will worth the RM10-00 ticket. I only buy DVDs of the pirated type when I can't find the original OR if the movie is like Untold Scandal. I hate editing and cut scenes so what to do eh? Buy pirated ones lar. But even pirated ones got different versions! Not easy to get the pirated DVD that you want.

My point is, pirated DVD is the last resort. I hate it when I am watching original DVD and there is this ad which says buying pirated DVDs is illegal when hey, I bought the original. You won't have such nonsense in the pirated DVD though. Of course the entertainment industry will protest and say what you're doing is illegal. But it is for my own private "consumption" and if DVD is maybe RM30-00 cheaper, you bet I'll buy the original. In fact I bought the original for Harry Potter movies and also School Of Rock and those Korean movies, each one of them over RM69-90 and sometimes as much as RM150-00! I am willing to spend on my favourite films. To tell you the truth, I rarely buy pirated DVDs or VCDs unless I can't find the original or the original is cut, edited and then butchered.

The art of making people ignore pirated and buy all things original is to give it a fair and reasonable price. And I mean fair and reasonable to us and not to the industry. To me VCDs at RM14-90 to RM16-90 is fair. DVDs with all the special features at RM40-00 to RM50-00 is fair. Anything above that will only encourage piracy to bloom.

If you're in KL, check out the Berjaya Times Square GSC cinema. Big, new, clean, spacious and best of all, the popcorn. Definitely worth the RM10-00.

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