Set in medieval Japan, Miyazaki's original story envisions a struggle between nature and man. The march of technology, embodied in the dark iron forges of the ambitious Tatara clan, threatens the natural forces explicit in the benevolent Great God of the Forest and the wide-eyed, spectral spirits he protects. When Ashitaka, a young warrior from a remote, and endangered, village clan, kills a ravenous, boar-like monster, he discovers the beast is in fact an infectious "demon god," transformed by human anger. Ashitaka's quest to solve the beast's fatal curse brings him into the midst of human political intrigues as well as the more crucial battle between man and nature.
Miyazaki's convoluted fable is clearly not the stuff of kiddie matinees, nor is the often graphic violence depicted during the battles that ensue. If some younger viewers (or less attentive older ones) will wish for a diagram to sort out the players, Miyazaki's atmospheric world and its lush visual design are reasons enough to watch. For the English-language version, Miramax assembled an impressive vocal cast including Gillian Anderson, Billy Crudup (as Ashitaka), Claire Danes (as San), Minnie Driver (as Lady Eboshi), Billy Bob Thornton, and Jada Pinkett Smith. They bring added nuance to a very different kind of magic kingdom. Recommended for ages 12 and older. --Sam Sutherland
"Princess Mononoke" is absolutely an animated epic. I really think that "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" (with their epic journeys, warring factions and unknown lands) had a strong influence on this film, and they give you a good idea of the general plot and feel. Then, throw in samurais and a big helping of Japanese myth (which really isn't any more objectionable to western religion than our own Mother Earth myth, if this is a concern for you). Beyond any feel or ingredients list, though, is an awesomely complex and creative storyline, the like of which I've never seen before in an animated film. I belive that this film is so good that it could easily stand being done in live action and could be huge on the scale of a LoTR movie (no joke). Princess Mononoke just "happens" to be done in animation.
Princess Mononoke really blew me away. I've never been a fan of Japanese animation, but I'm becoming a fan of Miyazaki. The difference is in the story and the creativity. I highly recommend Princess Mononoke to everyone, but especially to the average moviegoer who needs convincing to try it out. The only folks I'd like to warn are those who have a tendency to think or say "this is weird" 20 minutes into a film and give up on it. You have to have a little bit more of an open mind than Disney would like us to have. You'll be rewarded if you closely follow the film and have that open mind.
While the English voice over actors are quite good, I do recommend a viewing or two with the Japanese voices and English subtitles. I don't speak Japanese, but the characterization of THOSE voices adds a lot to the story and the English subtitles are a bit different than the voice over.
The creatures come, I suspect, from Japanese myth and are very different than anything I have experienced in Western myth. It is quite wonderful. There are powerful and disturbing images that might not be suitable for very young children, but there is no gore for gore's sake. But the way the creatures become demons is very powerful and intense.
I am glad to own this disk and suspect you would enjoy it as well.
But the story, too, stands out from the crowd. Written by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki and adapted into English by writer Neil Gaiman, Princess Mononoke is the story Ferngully wanted to be. It tells of a great clash between humans and nature, with the animal gods and forest spirits rallying to stave off encroaching devasation. The archetypal figures, such as the Night Walker, are magnificent, but there are also the smaller gods and fey beings for a lighter touch.