Rated PG-13 for vivid imagery and some language
Starring Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver and Gillian Anderson (voices)
CineSight Rating ***
Set in feudal Japan, PRINCESS MONONOKE opens with a huge, crazed boar spirit about to attack the peaceful village of Prince Ashitaka (Crudup). The prince manages to kill the beast, but is wounded in the process. An iron ball is discovered in the boar's body, and seems to be the cause of it's madness. Ashitaka is given the task of answering the riddle of the iron ball. Hopefully, it will also lead to a cure for his wound, which is becoming slowly worse.
Ashitaka's quest leads him to Iron Town, a fortified settlement on a desolate lakeside. Under the rule of Lady Eboshi (Driver), Iron Town is a relative hotbed of technology. Forests have been stripped to enable mining, a foundry runs 24 hours a day, and they have begun designing rifles. Ashitaka discovers it was Lady Eboshi who shot the boar spirit in order to protect the town, and she has more recently shot the local wolf spirit, Moro (Anderson).
Enter Princess Mononoke, known to everyone as San (Danes). She has grown up with the wolves under Moro's care. San comes to town looking to take revenge on Lady Eboshi for shooting her 'mother'. Ashitaka manages to save San from the trap set for her in Iron Town, and the two of them disappear into the forests. There they learn of a plan by the boar spirit's clan, for a major attack on the humans.
Ashitaka now has to make a tough decision. Since he's against the killing caused by Iron Town's guns, should he fight on the side of San and the animal spirits? Or should he try to protect his fellow humans?
PRINCESS MONONOKE is an exceptional piece of work. Although a Japanese animated movie ('anime'), it has rightly received a PG-13 rating for it's intense battle scenes and complex adult-oriented themes. This is no Disney movie with clear-cut good guys and bad guys, cute characters, songs and a fairytale ending. The traditional Japanese themes of technology versus nature, and its animistic overtones make this a difficult movie for kids to follow, appealing more to adults. The animation quality is very high, with limited but effective use of computer graphics. And the English dubbing is much better than the usual standard for anime, with some top-name voice talent and a script adapted by fantasy novelist, Neil Gaiman. After seeing PRINCESS MONONOKE I can see why it was the second highest grossing movie of all time in Japan. Enjoy, but I would suggest leaving the kids to watch BAMBI with a babysitter.