Sunday, February 04, 2007


Movie of the week:

What is the greatest action movie of all time? Is it Star Wars? Is it The Lord of the Rings? Is it Lawrence of Arabia? There is a very significant portion of the earth's movie-watching population who believe that it's this week's film, PRINCESS MONONOKE.

Now, I’m thinking that you’re feeling a little skeptical. You’re probably thinking, “From the looks of it, it’s a cartoon, right? How can you possible place a ‘cartoon’ in the same category as Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings, or Lawrence of Arabia? Besides, I’m an adult, and can’t waste my time watching cartoons.” You’d be half right. It IS a cartoon, an animated cartoon. The Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines an animated carton as

a motion picture that is made from a series of drawings, computer graphics, or photographs of inanimate objects (as puppets) and that simulates movement by slight progressive changes in each frame

…,. And thus are the likes of Pokemon, Bevis and Butthead, Spirited Away, Finding Nemo, Fantasia, Barnyard, The South Park Movie, and PRINCESS MONONOKE, all bundled under the same heading. AND, if you consider that many movies made today are heavily laden with CGI graphics (computer animation), would it be wrong to also place a film like "The Lord of the Rings" under the “cartoon” heading? So – maybe you’d be half right, about calling it a cartoon.

But you wouldn’t be right about the waste of time.

Being an adult doesn’t mean you can’t watch animated films. Not all animated films are for children - any more than oil paintings, hanging in a museum are any less adult (or real) than photographs. The Japanese understood this. In Japan, animation is a serious art form. As many animated films are made for adult audiences as are made for children. Nearly one-fourth of the box office take comes from animated films. Is it any wonder that some of the best (like this week’s movie) come from there?

PRINCESS MONONOKE is another masterpiece from that master animator-storyteller Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli. He is responsible for two of my past recommended movies My Neighbor Totoro, and Spirited Away. He has sometimes been compared to Walt Disney, a visionary in animated films. But unlike Walt, who would mostly oversee teams of animators in a project, Miyazaki draws many of the scenes himself. He drew 80,000 individual cels for PRINCESS MONONOKE. Not many people still “draw” animation by hand anymore. Computers are great and produce almost any result and look you want, but there’s something really fluid and free flowing in hand-drawn animation. It’s his attention to this kind of detail that has earned him the respect by all in the business. The folks at Disney revere him as a god. Maybe that’s why they bought the video distribution rights to the whole Studio Ghibli catalogue.

PRINCESS MONONOKE has themes that are common in most of Miyazaki’s films, that of human’s interaction with the embodiment of spirits of the forest. Here the main character, Ashitaka, a young prince on a quest for a cure to a deadly disease, happens upon a war between the forest spirits (led by a young human girl, San, the princess), and the citizens of a mining town who are clearing many of the trees for profit. What’s a boy to do?

Here’s why I think you might just like PRINCESS MONONOKE.

  1. Sometimes you watch movies to see the real physical world. Like the one around you. It’s easy to relate to this kind of movie. This is good. But sometimes, you want to see something that you can never see in the real world. Something that shows you what is possible, only in the imagination. This is good – your imagination needs a good movie now and then.
  2. It’s suitable for the whole family – to a point. There are some battle scenes which may be a little too intense for very young children (say, 10 or younger).
  3. It reinforces positive social values …….. if you like that sort of thing.
  4. The version released in the US has an English language soundtrack (no subtitles to read). However, I am told that it is better with the original Japanese soundtrack. I don’t know about that – I watched it with the English soundtrack and liked it just fine.
  5. If you only like “conventional” movies and don’t like anything “strange”, then forget about it.
  6. On second thought, don’t forget about it. Sometimes you have to take a chance with a film because you just never know – you might like it. Besides, how else will you expand your horizons?
  7. I’m not always right. I know some people who hate hate hate this movie. I make no guarantees. I make only recommendations.
  8. It’s on the IMDB to 250 at # 114, between Cool Hand Luke and The Sixth Sense, just to show the caliber of film we’re talking about. It also appears in Steven Jay Schneider’s book, “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.” It also scores a 92% on the tomatometer.
  9. Film critic, Roger Ebert wrote a great review of this film. You can read it here.
  10. Princess Mononoke – Princess Schmononoke!

This is among the very best of animated films. I wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t. So, ……. Enjoy.


At 8:16 PM, Anonymous JOE C said...

Funny, I've seen this film a couple of times on late night TV and never found it that ispiring. I don't Hate Hate Hate it, just didn't find all that much about it to write a blog about.

You obviously are a fan of Miyazaki, and I wonder if that colored your opinion. Or maybe I just don't get the Japanese story line nuances.

I am a big fan of anime movies, the weirder the better, but this one was just kinda Shmononoke.

At 5:42 AM, Blogger FranksFilms said...

This was actually the first of Miyazaki's movies that I saw. I know people who tell me the same thing. I think it may have to do with the Disney English language sound-track, it significantly changes the feel of the story.


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