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The Prankster prys a glance upon PRINCESS MONONOKE!

Hey folks, we've been seeing quite a bit of absolute praise for PRINCESS MONONOKE for quite some time now. From everyone from Moriarty even to Roger Ebert. And here in Prankster we seem to pick up a bit of criticism. Of course not everyone looks upon genius and sees it that way. I mean, I look at GONE WITH THE WIND and see a white trash epic that I love the score, cinematography, production design, but really don't care much to watch. So... we all go back and forth. Now don't get me wrong... Prankster here seems to like it, but he does have some nitpicks here and there. Of course with a movie as highly hyped as this one... that is a danger. Here he is reporting from last night's screening in Toronto.

Heyo Harry-san,

Your unworthy servant The Prankster here, having just returned from the Toronto Film Festival's Gala screening of Princess Mononoke. I and a band of anime-loving Ronin laid seige to the Elgin theater in our quest to lay eyes apon the Divine Master of the Moving Picture, Hayao Miyazaki, and his masterwork. Which we did. Unfortunately my bladder spoke just as he was doing the same. Curses. I caught a fleeting glimpse though.

But it was that or miss the beginning of the movie.

Much has been bandied about on the internet of this film, which has the deck stacked against it in a way that, say, Iron Giant did not. It's a complex (and *long*) tale that is too intense for youngsters, and which is rooted in the preconceptions of a foreign culture; not to mention, it's dubbed into English.

But Mononoke has something other non-Disney animated features haven't:


That is, the full weight of the Disney marketing machine, through everyone's favourite reincarnation of David O. Selznick, Harvey Weinstein. And a marketing team which actually seems to believe in the film, unlike the serenely Zen efforts of WB in releasing Giant ("release it into the marketplace with no support...and what will be, will be.")

I don't care to guess whether Princess will be a success. But herewith, my thoughts on the movie itself.

Praise has been effusive, and to a great degree, it's merited. The animation is stunning, and the pace is mystical and contemplative without ever being boring; if you start to stir in your seat, there'll be another breathtaking visual along in a moment. If I could use just one word to sum up this movie, it'd be "detailed". Not only in the incredibly lavish landscapes and backgrounds, but in the small moments that are an animator's (or animation fans') joy. The way the hero puts his bow around his neck when fording a stream; the way forest spirits pause to stare at a newly- picked twig; the small eye movements and gestures that reveal character in a live-action movie, but which are generally sledgehammered home in animation.

The world this film creates is incredible. I'm pretty well-versed in folklore and myths, but I honestly have no idea how much of this movie is based on existing legend and how much Miyazaki dreamt up himself. It all blends together producing an effect I have never before seen: this world seems like medieval Japan, and some bizarre fantasy world, at the same time. There's no conflict at all, no matter how much historical detail crops up. I guess it's partly because Japanese culture is automatically so alien to our own, but that doesn't explain all of it. There's real magic here, folks.

Then there's the story. The plot is actually not that far removed from a Disney flick, but you won't notice, really. The details again. The world is so breathtakingly realized, the characters so much more real, and the designs so much more innovative, that the plot really does seem beside the point. For a good two-thirds of this movie, we're not really following a plot so much as we are meeting a huge array of characters and places, and seeing how they fit together. And you don't get impatient at all.

Unfortunately, there are a few weak links here. I worship the ground Neil Gaiman walks on, and I have a fast-growing respect for Miyazaki, so I can only conclude that the act of translating one artist's work into another's is what produced a few rough patches. The dialogue sometimes seems a bit awkward, and occasionally gives us more exposition than we need, just as Disney does (ever notice that the first appearance of *every* Disney character is marked by someone stating their name, loudly, so that we don't get confused?) Of course, the simple fact that all this dialogue was written to accomodate mouth-movements *already in place* renders all the above to nit-picking. And there are some brilliant lines, especially from Billy Bob Thornton's character, who we don't see enough of really.

That brings me to the voice actors. Billy Crudup is good, very well-subdued as the hero (I'm afraid I can't remember his name...Ishitaka?) living under a curse. Billy Bob steals the show; he's rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors, and the character is hilarious (without descending to Disney-style cutesiness, of course). Minnie Driver is the other standout, absolutely brilliant as Lady Eboshi. After this and Tarzan, I would plunk down hard-earned cash for a 976 number if Minnie was on the other end. She's one of the best voice actresses I've ever heard, and I don't think it would be a bad move for her to do a third animated film. On the other hand, Gillian Anderson is haunted by the ghost of Scully, even as a talking wolf goddess. I'm afraid she's not quite regal enough. Jada Pinkett Smith brings a nice spirit to a funny character, but it's essentially a cameo. And to round off, I found some of the backup voices a little overdramatic and corny--just 'cause it's a cartoon doesn't mean it has to be over-the-top.

What? Oh yeah--Claire Danes. Well, I have to say she was unjustly maligned in the review that complained she sounded like a valley girl. She's not brilliant, but she's certainly adequate. But as it turns out, it doesn't matter--our Princess is a girl of few words and many actions, and the essence of the character is in her movement, not her dialogue. Her introduction, and the sequence in which she stages a one-woman assault on Irontown with the intent of knocking off Lady E., are nearly wordless, and they're probably the two best scenes in the movie.

Somehow, the great performances enrich the movie, while the mediocre ones don't harm it. These characters manage to stand above the voices they've been assigned.

Any other complaints? Well, there's a bit of a discrepancy between the incredibly fluid action sequences and the more static, jerky scenes in which the characters simply converse. And the movie is too long (at almost 2 and a half hours!), and the climax too prolongued; I've heard Weinstein would like to trim about 15 minutes from the finale, and with all deference to Miyazaki-sama, he's right.

I apologize if, in my attempts to be as detailed as Miyazaki, I have exaggerated minor issues until it seemed as though I did not enjoy this flick. I did love it, and any animation lover should find it worth their while. But unlike Iron Giant or Toy Story, which I can recommend to anyone without qualification, Princess Mononoke is clearly only for the more adventurous and open-minded. This in no way diminishes its worth, but you should be prepared for a movie that requires some effort on the viewer's part; effort at bridging two distinct cultures, and at understanding a densely created world.

And, of course, an eye for detail.


The Prankster

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 19, 1999, 8:50 a.m. CST


    by joe6pack

    Howdy. Here's my first talkback post. I'm not an anime fan, but Mononoke Hime blew me away! Word had it that the English-language version would also replace the original score. Someone who's seen both please tell us it isn't so! The above review didn't mention the music and that worries me, because anyone who's seen the original couldn't neglect what is one of the best filmscores ever. thanks, Joe

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 9:53 a.m. CST

    Eternal hit it...

    by QuiGonFishin

    I, for one, cannot wait any longer to see this film. I just hope that my expectations are met!!! I've seen my share of anime flicks and understand how half of the ones I've seen are "simple" and could be enjoyed by anyoneone, while the others require some thought and focus. Is that so bad - to have to think a little while watching a movie. Sometimes it saddens me to think that most people have to be spoon-fed their movies to them, containing as much "fluff" as possible. I love to be entertained as well as provoked in thought. But that's just my opinion...

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 10:48 a.m. CST


    by Prankster

    I think I made it pretty clear that this movie is challenging, and I didn't mean it as either a compliment or a criticism. It was simply a statement. However, I would point out that there are some movies that are brilliant precisely *because* they're so accessible to everyone. A movie may require work from the audience because it is trying to make you think, because it's overwhelmingly original...or because it's not narratively clear. I would tend to place Mononoke among the second category (along with "Star Wars", or most fantasy for that matter). Nevertheless, a movie that places too much of a burden on the audiences--except in a few *very* special cases, such as 2001 or Seven--is simply not doing its job. Creating an engrossing and rich world to enjoy makes for a good film. But we must be able to navigate that world, and we're not "stupid" if we can't--how can we be expected to see inside the creator's head? At any rate, my point about Mononoke is that, while a movie like Iron Giant or Toy Story can be enjoyed by everyone (and therein lies their brilliance), Mononoke's appeal is not as universal, and its brilliance lies in another direction. It will appeal to a smaller group of people. That's neither a good thing or a bad thing, and it doesn't make Mononoke a lesser movie. But I bet there will be a lot more Talkbackers criticising Mononoke than there were criticizing Iron Giant.

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 11:25 a.m. CST

    A great time for new animation!

    by puzzlepuzzle

    I'm a huge fan of anime, especially Miyazaki films (I have them all in the original Japanese) and this is a great step forward for people to accepting more mature animation. Animation is just as varied and interesting as any other type of film (maybe more so) and north american producers should wise up to animation's potential. I can't wait until this hits theatres. It's gonna be great.

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 11:26 a.m. CST

    speaking of which....

    by SEELE monkey

    I'm a fairly large anime fan and all, and I plan to see Princess Mononoke as soon as I can, but anyways, anybody know what level my characters should be at by the end of Disc 3 of Final Fantasy 8? Seifer totally annihilated me, and I've been raising levels for hours now(level 52 right now). Little help?

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 11:36 a.m. CST

    Mature animation?

    by weegenie

    I hav never seen Mononoke and I really want to. It looks vry, very good! Most anime is kind of silly, but this looks much better. I found a website for a new fantasy animation that looks GREAT! It's called Dragon Kin. Has anyone else heard of it! I've never seen it before. It doesn't look like kids stuff...

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 11:38 a.m. CST

    Questions? We Got Answers!

    by Anton_Sirius

    Just some info on the questions raised here- Harvey does NOT want to trim anything as far as I know, and couldn't even if he wanted to. The deal with Mononke is that it comes over intact- Miyazaki learned his lesson with the Nausicaa debacle. That's why finding someone great to write the dub script was so important. (And here's my vote right now for a Best Adapted Screenplay ShinyBaldGuy for Gaiman's efforts.) As for the score, it's by Japan's most talented film composer Joe Hisaishi, who also did Totoro and the unbelieveably awesome score for Kikujiro.

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 11:59 a.m. CST

    Dragon Kin?

    by puzzlepuzzle

    I just checked out that website. It DOES look GOOD! Who else has seen it? Hey HARRY- what's with this Dragon Kin thing? Have you heard anything?

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 3:19 p.m. CST


    by enigma

    Ok, i was first introduced to anime about 4 years ago and had great contempt for it as all they seemed to be was guys with oversized muscles beatin the shit out of each other, but what troubled me was that i was pretty much right. Since then some die hard anime fans have been gettin me reluctantly to see some anime of theres. So i sat through there choise top collection. Ninja Scroll, Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Macross plus. All i can say is that i was hooked, these are all some of my favourite movies now and i have a new found semi-respect for qualoty anime (but then agin hollywodd also pipes out shit every year so why can't anime). Now 2 points, please please can anyone reccomend any anime for me to see, and are there any good sites online. And I am waiting impatiently for monoke(or whatever i can't remeber now i'm writin) to reach british shores. and is perfect blue any good?

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 3:21 p.m. CST


    by enigma

    Ok, i was first introduced to anime about 4 years ago and had great contempt for it as all they seemed to be was guys with oversized muscles beatin the shit out of each other, but what troubled me was that i was pretty much right. Since then some die hard anime fans have been gettin me reluctantly to see some anime of theres. So i sat through there choise top collection. Ninja Scroll, Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Macross plus. All i can say is that i was hooked, these are all some of my favourite movies now and i have a new found semi-respect for qualoty anime (but then agin hollywodd also pipes out shit every year so why can't anime). Now 2 points, please please can anyone reccomend any anime for me to see, and are there any good sites online. And I am waiting impatiently for monoke(or whatever i can't remeber now i'm writin) to reach british shores. and is perfect blue any good?

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 5:35 p.m. CST

    by Merc

    It's a complex (and *long*) tale that is too intense for youngsters, and which is rooted in the preconceptions of a foreign culture; not to mention, it's dubbed into English. First mistake..... no animation peice is "dubbed" into any language... they are recorded with no SOUND!!!!!!

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 6:22 p.m. CST

    Limited engagement?

    by Eva unit 01

    Can someone answer this question? I have only recently found out that this movie is being dubbed (yes I know, you can call me a pseudo film geek ). Anyway, I heard from 2 different people that a) this will be a limited release or (b)This will be a general release. So will NA get to see Mononoke or will certain privaledged people get to see it. Any help would be much appreaciated.

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 7:30 p.m. CST

    I have seen it

    by Dan42

    Indeed I have. And there's just one thing to say: Princess Mononoke is *GOOD*. Some scenes simply blow you away by the quality and fluidity of the animation. And I know what I'm talking about, I've seen a lot of anime. It *is* rather long. A few times during the movie, I surfaced just long enough to wonder "it isn't finished yet? Wow!!!". Then again, maybe that's just because I was sitting on a rock-hard seat in the anime club's viewing room and my butt was starting to get numb. The story is complex, epic, beautiful. This is *not* a movie to miss if you're an anime fan. But if you're thinking about converting someone to anime fandom, I'm not sure it's the right one. It's not *that* complex but it does require to concentrate for 2

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 7:41 p.m. CST

    I've seen the Japanese Version

    by Wade_W

    I bought the Japanese video of Mononoke Hime. It's not dubbed or subtitled and I don't understand but a handful of words and phrases of Japanese. I am a huge fan of Kiko's Delivery Service, Nausicaa and especially La Puta (Castle in the Sky). Mononoke blew me away. It was a captivating movie and I am eager to see the version coming out soon in theaters. You rarely see animation of this quality along with stories containing characters that you feel about as if they were real. I don't think we hold a candle to the animated films coming out of Japan. The Iron Giant gives me hope.

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 8:08 p.m. CST

    Miyazaki Interview's A-Comin'!

    by Moriarty

    Hey, all... I'm set to sit down with Miyazaki on Monday afternoon, and I'd like to toss the opportunity out there for anyone who reads this to e-mail me with questions at and I'll try to bring the best ones along with me. "Moriarty" out.

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 8:09 p.m. CST

    Perfect Blue

    by Dan42

    To answer Enigma's question: yes, Perfect Blue is EXTREMELY good. This is even less a movie for kids than Princess Mononoke. While the latter's complexity comes from the size of it's story, Perfect Blue is simply a movie that forces you to really *think* about what you see to figure out what is going on. It's not obscure, it's purposefully enigmatic... and it works! What I find awesome about that movie is that it's impossible to distinguish between dream and reality. The border between the two is masterfully blurred. I don't want to be too much of a spoiler, but based on my analysis I see four different "universes" which collide but you're not always sure which is which. This is *really* what is call a psychological thriller. Not to mention that the animation is incredibly realistic. **** Since I'm on the subject of anime masterpieces, I *have* to talk about "Jin-roh". I had the chance to see this movie at the Montreal FantAsia film festival. Yet another anime of incredible scope, complexity, realism, originality. **** These are indeed interesting for anime fans. If you are one, "Perfect Blue" and "Jin-roh" are definitely two movies to put on your must-see list.

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 8:13 p.m. CST

    Everything I know about animation I learned from "Mrs. Doubtfire

    by Prankster

    Merl, please. Despite what everyone who isn't an animator seems to think, voices are recorded FIRST. Then comes the animation. Think about it for a sec, it doesn't make sense to do it the other way around (not if you want it done right, anyhoo). But Mononoke is the exception; it was released in Japan first, with Japanese dialogue, and they had to record English overtop of existing mouth movements.

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 9:15 p.m. CST

    Mouth Movements in Anime

    by Dr. Duran Duran

    Everybody that's been commenting on how the voices in animation are recorded before the cels are drawn are confusing traditional American animation practice with the Japanese practice of producing the animation first and *then* recording the voices. Now, Ghibli films, since they're so elaborate, might be an exception, but almost all anime I know are drawn first, then voiced. They're designed to have 'generic' mouth movements which are then filled in later. The effect of this is that the English dub of Mononoke Hime has better matching mouth movements than the original Japanese version. If you've ever seen Japanese seiyuu (the voice actors) do their job, you know that they mostly work ensemble (the whole cast together at once) and are given scripts that attempt to generally match the mouth movements that have already been drawn. A perfect synch really isn't considered that important anyway. Nothing else to say other than Mononoke Hime is great, although everyone knows that Nausicaa is his true masterpiece. ;)

  • Sept. 19, 1999, 9:59 p.m. CST

    Anime requiring more effort on the viewer's part

    by angry

    OK, Y'see, that's not 'cause it's a complex movie or anything, the fact that it "requires more effort on the viewer's part" is simply an anime fanboy speaking. They do this all the time. Anime fans think that by watching all this stuff coming from a different country that they're better, more educated people. And, don't start to protest that, 'cause I know damn well it's true. I know more than a few people from the UofA's anime club and they can be normal, but when it comes to this anime stuff, they immediately think they're a "higher" lifeform. Makes me sick really. BUT, many "real-life" movies have complex plots too, that requre you to think, except many people dont' see that 'cause they're busy comparing it to their favorite anime flick. Oh, and, can anyone remember the last really good NORMAL MOVIE that came out of Japan? Anyone?

  • Sept. 20, 1999, 8:44 a.m. CST

    Why Mononoke Hime is SO great for us...

    by Nobiyuki77

    Ok, I'm new to you guys so let me introduce myself. I'm Nobiyuki77, a 5 year anime worshipper. I am currently attending the Ringling School of Art and Design, studying Traditional Animation, in the hopes of eventually starting my own studio that animates in the anime style, as well as with mature content (no, not hentai, I don't promote that!). Mononoke Hime is an incredible film, we all know that, but I'm going to introduce another facet of it's importance to America. Acceptance For animators like me who want to do animation that is more mature than bunnys jumping happily around on a sunny spring day, Mononoke Hime is going to help pave the way for more acceptance of this kind of entertainment. As an animator, this makes me EXTREMELY excited, and gives me hope for the future of American Animation. For all I have to say is that (I'm preparing for flames) is that Mononoke Hime is the most brilliantly animated film in hisotry. Never (I have seen just about everything...) have I seen such attention to little details and gestures as I saw in Studio Ghibli's Masterpiece. And that's not even talking about the story or the characters that are also brilliant. I saw the origonal Japanese version (in a "making of Mononoke Hime which I got my hands on, it shows the Japanese actors acting to the ALREADY animated film...), and the story is just captivating. It's STAR WARS all over again, 'cept without the Star Destroyers or the Death Star... ^_^. This is a must-see film for EVERYONE UNDER 16!! It's the single most brilliant film I have ever seen (better than Shindler or SPRyan...).

  • Sept. 20, 1999, 9:15 a.m. CST

    Princess Mononoke Original Score Available

    by Admiral Nelson

    In reference to Princess Mononoke