Wednesday, November 24, 1999

'Princess Mononoke' subtle tale for grown-ups

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Princess Mononoke is an animated fable of dazzling artistry, one of the most beautiful ever made.

        It is decidedly not for tots. It is too long, too serious and too violent for, say, kids up to 10 or 12 years old. But for anyone old enough to appreciate animated story-telling, this film is a treat.

        When it opened in Japan in 1997, it became the biggest hit the country had ever seen. In the meantime, Miramax Films invested in a high-quality English adaptation (by Neil Gaiman) and movie-star voice talent before introducing the film in the United States and Europe.

        It was worth the wait.

        Set in the 14th century, when iron and gunpowder were revolutionizing the society, the movie opens with a battle between the brave Prince Ashitaka (voice of Billy Crudup) and a giant demon out of the forest, a creature whose flesh literally squirms with hatred for humanity.

        Ashitaka kills the beast, which was a wild boar infected by some evil that destroyed its home. The prince finds he is fatally infected, too, under a curse by the slain demon. So he sets off on a journey to find where the animal came from and perhaps to lift the curse.

        He comes up on a land embroiled in war between fierce samurai and townsfolk who work for the Lady Eboshi (voice of Minnie Driver), whose benevolence is mixed with ambition. To keep her iron works thriving, she wants to clear the nearby forests of animals.

        Opposing her is Moro (Gillian Anderson), a wolf goddess who has raised the Princess Mononoke, called San (Claire Danes), as a member of the wolf pack.

        Ashitaka becomes a fulcrum of the struggle between humans and animals that symbolizes the movie's complex ideas about the environment that technology and nature share.

        Director Hayao Miyazaki, a figure of reverence to animators, spins an enchanted tale that is by turns beautiful, violent and very Japanese.

        Friends become enemies and vice versa. The height of victory comes not when the enemy is dead and bleeding, but when he becomes your collaborator.

        This is a subtle value compared to the ham-fisted violence of American adventures. It certainly makes for a more sophisticated story than we're used to seeing in “cartoon” form.

'Toy Story 2:' Woody and gang faster, funnier
'End of Days' gutsy, gore-packed action flick
'Flawless' brilliantly acted, but plot just too predictable
- 'Princess Mononoke' subtle tale for grown-ups
'The Straight Story:' A simple movie about people

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