(The Disneycember logo is shown, before showing clips from Princess Mononoke)
Doug (vo): It's what many consider Hayao Miyazaki's grandest masterpiece, Princess Mononoke. This was one of the first major releases in America of Miyazaki's work. Originally under Miramax and getting one hell of a cast to redub it, Mononoke was the highest-grossing film in Japan until Titanic came along. And that's how they marketed it for a while. What is in this film that got so much of the Japanese culture coming back to it? Going in, I was pretty hyped up. And after it was done, I definitely liked it a lot...maybe not to the level everyone else liked it, but... [An audience boos] Yeah, yeah, all right, let's just jump right in.
Doug (vo): The prince of a village, named Ashitaka, tries to stop a demon from attacking it. After his arm gets touched by the demon, he finds out that he's doomed to die because of it. At what pace will it consume him and how much of his strength will it take? That all depends on how much he can tame the part of the demon that's forever gonna be inside him. He decides to set out on a quest to, as he puts it, see with eyes unclouded by hate. What he discovers is a war going on between the human world and the world of the forest, filled with animals and gods. The humans want to make a prosperous future for themselves, while the animals and the gods of the forest want them to leave. He comes across an industrial leader, voiced by Minnie Driver, who wants to cut off the head of the Spirit of the Forest so they'll have no more trouble from them. One of the forest's greatest fighters, the Queen of the Wolves, and her half-human half-wolf daughter, are at the forefront of trying to stop her and regain balance back to nature, all while Ashitaka is caught in the middle, not knowing which side to choose and not knowing which foe to fight.
Doug (vo): The movie has a lot going for it. In fact, I think you could argue this is probably Miyazaki's most adult work, not just because of the violence and gore, though there is quite a bit of it, but because its message is not so obvious and blatant, at least not in terms of movies that have done it in the past. What's the route this could so easily go? The Ferngully, Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, Avatar bullshit where the humans are evil, nature is good, the end. But one of the great things about this film is that there is no real villain.
[Several of the supporting characters are shown]
Doug (vo): Even Minnie Driver's character is very likeable. She's helping to cure the sick, she's a great motivator, she brings people together. She knows the tragedy of war, and she listens to the people who have lost so much. There's also other side characters that could so easily just be seen as villains, but they put it very straightforward that there are no real bad guys in this world, there's just people trying to get what they can, trying to survive, trying to be comfortable, trying to be prosperous. It's a very human as well as animalistic trait. And that's part of what makes it so clever. It's showing that the humans and the animals are very much alike, but not in the same way that, "Oh, we shouldn't fight them because we're so similar", but in a way that this is the reason why we're fighting, because we are too similar and we both want the same thing: lots of land and lots of means to survive a very long time.
[Various clips resume showing]
Doug (vo): It's funny because when I reviewed Nausicaä, a lot of people were comparing it to this movie, like which one did it better, which one was stronger, and a lot of people seem to lean towards this one. In a sense, I kind of agree. I think this movie has much better characters. I think its message is a little bit more direct, but it's also a little smarter. It ties in much more to what's happening nowadays and will probably happen in the future. Where Nausicaä had this really big story that went all over the place and could kind of do it because it was so large in scale, Mononoke feels like a smaller story yet kind of tries to do the same thing. It goes everywhere and back again. We cut back to so many of these same locations like three or four times. And don't get me wrong. I like these locations, but there's only so many times I can see our main character walk back and forth between them. It was definitely a film where before the climax, I was kind of looking at my watch saying, "Huh. How long is this movie?" Not that I wasn't enjoying it, but I was definitely noticing the length, and definitely felt it could have been cut at least 10-15 minutes. Just take out a couple more scenes of him running to the other side saying, "Wait! Stop!"
[One of the film's main characters, San, is shown]
Doug (vo): Also, as much as I love the characters in this, I do think there's one that's surprisingly not very interesting. And believe it or not, it's Mononoke. I don't think she's a very interesting character, and she should be. Half-woman, half-wolf, constantly torn between what she is and who she's supposed to be? This should be great for the main character, they should be able to talk and share stories and be able to relate unbelievably. They're both kind of going through the same thing. But most of her dialogue, voiced by Claire Danes, is mostly just her shouting, "No! No! I'm a wolf! No! No! I'm a wolf!", which is so strange, because Miyazaki is so good at these kind of characters. The young heroine who's action-packed but doesn't know which route to take. He usually writes them so well, but this one is just so whiny. I have no idea why the film is named after her. It would've been neat if she played as big a part as Ashitaka, it would've been nice if she was just as complex as he was. But as is, she just didn't do anything for me. I know that's so weird, because she's, like, the big icon from the film, but outside of her design, I think she's a real missed opportunity. But thankfully, like I said before, the rest of the characters are very interesting, and their dilemmas are very understandable and relatable. This is about the majesty of the forest and the majesty of mankind both evolving too fast for their own good and trying to figure out where to level out.
Doug (vo): I do really like this film, and there's even elements of it I absolutely love. I think if it was just a bit shorter, a little less complicated, and the Mononoke character was made more interesting, it could've been something phenomenal, at least from my standpoint. I know to a lot of people, this is phenomenal, and I can totally see why. The voice acting, the imagination, the writing, it's a strong piece. I guess I just don't quite see it as the masterpiece that everybody else builds it up to be. I do have issues with it that hold me back from absolutely adoring it. But the stuff that's good is just too damn good to overlook. Whether you love it, like it, think it's mediocre, or even don't like it at all, it's a good film to check out, because there's just too many interesting things in it. I can't see anybody going to see this film and just saying there was nothing to get out of it. It's an impressive feat and everybody should check it out at some point. I just can't call it the Lawrence of Arabia of animation like everybody else does. But I still think it's a pretty damn good movie. The animation alone is breathtakingly impressive. So go find a copy, give it a watch, and see what all the animation buffs are talking about.
[A scene showing the forest slowly beginning to rebuild itself is shown]