Japanese animation ("anime") was an animated genre that often was considered more of a "cult" offering, until a few years ago. A number of efforts have gained widespread popularity and have fueled greater interest in additional titles. The animation is fluid and rich, certainly different from the animation that we're used to from Disney. The storytelling is certainly different too - and in this case, somewhat more adult.
"Mononoke" starts off introducing us to the main character Ashitaka (Billy Crudup of "Almost Famous"), who spots something wrong in the woods right outside of his village. A beast with snakes serving as skin rumbles out of the forest, and after a fairly tense chase, Ashitaka is able to stop it - but not without it touching him first. Unfortunately, the touch starts off a curse that could end Ashitaka's life if he doesn't find a cure first.
Other characters include Lady Eboshi, whose Irontown is slowly destroying the forest land and the forest gods. Ashitaka also meets San ("Princess Mononoke") who was raised by a wolf. The film deals with many issues, including the way that humans treat the environment around them - but it never feels too preachy or heavy. The film's plot is often complex and detailed - many areas feel as if something new's happening or coming in every few minutes, but I remained interested and sometimes fascinated. If some pieces of the plot aren't always fully explained, the characters are well-written and engaging - I found myself caring about the outcome.
Again, the animation is fascinating to watch, with great detail and an almost "painting"-like quality. The story is complex and detailed, but works itself out well as it goes along, revealing new developments and twists. The action sequences are very well done - tense and often exciting, if somewhat graphic at times. Miramax has also brought in top-notch talent to provide the English dubbed voices for this American version of the film(Crudup, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Jada Pinkett and Minnie Driver and Gillian Anderson are among the voice talent who all do an excellent job).Young kids may be scared by the violence shown in the film (it is PG-13), but older children and adults will likely find the story thrilling.
VIDEO: Miramax presents "Princess Mononoke" in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and it is anamorphic. Although the film's animation will not provide the kind of viewing experience that some other recent animated films will offer, the style of animation that "Mononoke" does offer is often ultimately more pleasing and enjoyable than most recent animated offierings. Although Miramax has not presented the movie perfectly, much of it does boast pretty exceptional quality. Sharpness and detail are very good, bringing out every detail of the animated feature.
I really didn't notice any problems with pixelation or shimmering, which made for a refreshingly clean and natural looking viewing experience. I did notice a few small problems throughout the movie with some slight print flaws. A couple of slight marks were visible on a few occasions, but these really didn't take away from the movie that much.
Colors are excellent throughout the movie, looking bright and beautiful. Lush greens, vibrant reds and deep blues are on display throughout, looking well-saturated and without flaw. Overall, aside from a few slight instances where marks were visible, I found this to be a very enjoyable viewing experience.
SOUND: "Mononoke" is presented in English, French and Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1. The DVD was originally delayed due to the fact that Miramax had decided to leave out the original Japanese track, but it is included here - there's even a sticker on the front of the box that boasts it as a feature. The audio is rather unagressive, even in some of the more intense scenes of the movie. The beautiful score often takes center stage and fills the listening space quite well - it's certainly the highlight of the audio presentation.
Surrounds are not used a great deal, but on occasion they do get some effective use, most often for the score. The front speakers do provide a nicely active environment, though. The dubbed dialogue is clear and easily understood, with no problems. Also pleasing is the addition of both English captions and a literal translation subtitle track in English.
MENUS:: Menus are fairly basic and non-animated, with film-themed images as the backgrounds.
EXTRAS: Miramax offers an uncreative group of minor extra features for this film, which is unfortunate. Commentary by those involved in altering the film for American audiences of the original crew probably would have proved to be interesting and informative. Maybe an "anime" expert commentary? All we do get is listed below, and unfortunately, it's not much.
Featurette: A short featurette that has interviews with the voice talent who dubbed the film for American audiences, as well as others who were involved. I found it interesting to listen to the challenges that the actors went through to provide vocals, but I would have liked more. There are some films where, afer you watch them, they really don't need layers - but as someone who doesn't know about Japanese animation and found this film very enjoyable, I would have liked a lot more information about it.
Trailer: The film's American theatrical trailer, presented in Full-screen and Dolby 2.0.
Final Thoughts: "Mononoke" is a grandly entertaining animated feature, with beautiful animation and a complex and engaging story. It may not be for young children who may be scared by the violence, but older children and adults will most likely find a lot to enjoy in this film. Miramax's DVD offers good audio/video quality, but not much in the way of extras. Very highly recommended, even if as a rental first.