By Nicole Kobie
Just because a movie brings in $150 million in its first release doesn’t mean it’s any good. But usually, when every single reviewer sings its praises, it means the movie is good. The exception is Princess Mononoke, a movie without a bad review to its credit.
With only Titanic grossing more in Japan, the anime film Princess Mononoke is the brainchild of renowned director Hayao Miyazaki. Redubbed and re-released, Mononoke is described as the best animation ever made, and deeply philosophical by some. Roger Ebert called it, "a great achievement and a wonderful experience, and one of the best films of the year."
If this movie is one of the best films ever made, then somebody needs to redefine the word "best." Unless "best" means didactic, confusing, strung-out, and strange, Mononoke is not the best movie ever made.
The story begins when Ashitaka (Billy Crudup), a tribal prince, is forced to kill a monster that attacks his people, after trying to reason with it. Here begins the absurdity of the story line. Because he failed to successfully talk the monster out of mass murder, he contracts a mark on his arm that will spread evil inside him unless he seeks out the source. So off he seeks.
The source of the monster and his mark is a place called Iron Town, where workers produce iron from the surrounding mountains to fabricate weapons. The town’s leader is Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver), a vengeful character who does not value the environment, favours women over men, invents guns, and is highly materialistic. Of course, according to the movie and other reviewers, she is not all evil because she saves girls from brothels and finds jobs for lepers. The audience is supposed to see some decency in a woman who is a radical feminist, destructive and violent because she helps people fins work in a hard labour factory.
The monster develops because of a battle between Iron Town and the surrounding forest’s gods. The most prominent god is a giant, maternal wolf (Gillian Anderson) responsible for raising Princess Mononoke, who is also known as San (Claire Danes). She is a feral girl, abandoned by her parents, and not sure if she is more wolf or human. This is where the nurture-versus-nature theme comes in, but is never developed.
Underdeveloped themes are characteristic of this film The battle between the two sides, including a huge "spirit of the forest," develops into a full blown war between man and his environment, and good and evil. Woman’s superiority to their bumbling, useless husbands is another (thankfully) underdeveloped theme. The women–even though depicted as morally, physically and mentally stronger than their men–are still gossipy, giggly girls. If I had children I would not take them to this movie, not because of the animated violence, but because of the portrayal of the two sexes.
On a brighter note, the animation is not your typical Disney style. The sweeping scenes of nature and the dramatic battle action are impeccably created, but the character’s faces are bland, and their movements stifled and jerky. The most creativity shown is in little forest sprites, with their head-bobbing, pudgy movements. As well, some landscapes are so realistic they look like photographs, but they are not enough to save this movie.
Length is another problem with Princess Mononoke. Halfway through the film’s 133 minutes, it felt as if it should have ended. The rest drags on and on and on.
What would have saved this movie? Focusing on one theme. It’s fine, even appreciated, to have sub-themes and sub-plots, but not to carry the picture. All the theme and plot elements are underdeveloped and twisted which leaves a confusing, jumbled mess. Yes, it makes you think, but only to figure out why a character did something so strange or stupid.
Many things are convoluted about this movie, especially good reviews. Princess Mononoke begins playing Nov. 26, at the Plaza Theatre.