“Princess Mononoke” was the film that introduced my family to Miyazaki’s work, and what an introduction it was: This is among his finest movies, a work of amazing depth and beautiful imagery that could bang the viewer over the head with its environmental themes but instead uses Japanese mythology to tell a tale that simply raises questions for its viewers to answer. All are the hallmarks of classics.
“Princess Mononoke” is also a film that might be distributed by Disney in the US, but it’s unlike much of the House of Mouse’s output. In fact, I’m not sure that even Disney subsidiary Pixar, which has been known to step out onto a few cinematic limbs, would have been willing to release such a story.
The film’s title character lives among the animal gods found in the woods near Iron Town. In the opening scenes, Prince Ashitaka travels there after being infected by a demon and finding himself an outcast from his clan, per their laws. Lady Eboshi runs Iron Town, which is populated by lepers, ex-prostitutes, and other outcasts not usually found in Disney films. Another thing not usually found in Disney films: Beheadings, one of which occurs when Ashitaka runs across some villagers being attacked by samurai en route to Iron Town.
The town’s harvesting of the forest’s natural resources has drawn the ire of the nearby animal gods, particularly the giant wolves who raised San, as Princess Mononoke is formally known. Prince Ashitaka, whose demonic curse is expected to be fatal, finds himself in the middle of the conflict. He also finds himself attracted to San, but their romance is not of the typical Disney variety, nor is the movie’s climax.
Unfortunately, the bonus features on this Blu-ray + DVD release don’t live up to the film’s status as a classic. They include the storyboards, original trailers and TV spots, a five-minute EPK-style featurette from the 90s, and a 1999 documentary about Miyazaki traveling to several North American film festivals where the film was being shown. It’s a shame more wasn’t included, so I’ll have to knock a half star off this review because of that. (Yes, I’m that ruthless.)
This release also includes a DVD with the film, the five-minute featurette, and the trailers.