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NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND
Man, I love when Fandango keeps at it with cool stuff like this.
Alright, so I’ve likely said this every time I’ve seen an anime movie, but for those who have not heard me say it, here it goes. I’m not really an anime fan. Not that I have anything against the art form, I’ve just not really been exposed to it. So by extension, I’ve not seen many of Studio Ghibli’s work. In fact, were it not for my experience with NAUSICAÄ last year, the only ones I would have seen was TOTORO (1988) and HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE (2004). But, thanks to Fandango, I’ve been given the opportunity to see their work on the big screen. Pretty exciting if you ask me, and now I get to see what I think is arguably one of Ghibli’s best.
The story looks like it’s about a young man who ventures out into the world and happens upon a war between man and Gods.
Here’s some of the English voice talent. Starring, we have Billy Crudup (ALIEN: COVENANT , JACKIE , SPOTLIGHT , MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III , and upcoming WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?  and The Flash ), Gillian Anderson (THE X-FILES [1993 – ongoing?], and the upcoming THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME  and UFO ), Claire Danes (BRIGSBY BEAR , STARDUST , and TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES ), Jada Pinkett Smith (GIRLS TRIP , BAD MOMS , MAGIC MIKE XXL , and the upcoming ANGEL HAS FALLEN ), and David Keith (THE NICE GUYS , and upcoming films NIGHT SCHOOL  and AMERICAN DRESSER ).
Now for the crew. Writing, directing, and co-editing is the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, known for HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. Composing the score is Joe Hisaishi, known for HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. The cinematographer is Atsushi Okui, know for HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. Finally, Miyazaki’s co-editor is Takeshi Seyama, known for HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and GRAVEYARD OF THE FIREFLIES (1988).
Overall, I’m pretty stoked. Looks, great, sounds like fun, can’t wait.
This is my honest opinion of: PRINCESS MONONOKE
The world is at war between man and the gods and demons.. Prince Ashitaka (Billy Crudup) is a young man living in the village of the last of the Emishi, a people who harbor no hatred for the gods or demons and try to live in peace away from the conflict beyond their borders. However, a boar god, now turned into a demon attacks, the village. Though Ashitaka’s bravery saves the village and he kills the boar, the demon touches him and is marked with a curse that will ultimately claim his life. Banished from the village, Ashitaka sets out to the west to locate the great Forest Spirit and seek a cure for his ailment, encountering the most intense fighting he’s ever seen.
Yup, I really like this movie.
Can I start with a negative though? Why is this titled “Princess Mononoke?” San (Claire Danes) is not who the movie revolves around and she’s not the one who ultimately has the biggest character arc. In fact, she doesn’t have an arc at all. From the moment she’s introduced on screen all the way until the credits start rolling, she still hates all humans with the notable exception of Ashitaka. Hell, she barely has a whole lot of screen time compared to even some of the supporting roles. She’s barely even the main point of contentment for the more antagonistic players in this war. The main goal for Lady Eboshi (Minnie Driver) is the Forest Spirit and its death. At best, San and her wolf family are considered notable henchmen. Take Lord of the Rings, for example. Saruman is definitely a bad dude and is responsible for a ton of problems in Middle Earth, but he’s not the primary antagonist that everyone’s trying to survive against. That distinction goes to the Great Eye of Sauron, or even the One Ring. That same principle applies to San. Ashitaka is the one with the problem, is the one trying to mediate between the two sides, and makes active attempts to end the war. Had Ashitaka and San never met, she’d have killed every human in her line of sight.
Would it have killed this movie to throw in a few more screams of pain when an arrow takes a man’s arms off? I mean, I can’t claim to know how powerful an iron arrow would be, but if they’re strong and powerful enough to rip through limbs like a lightsaber, then a dude needs to be screaming like he’s giving birth. Instead, they just sort of act confused… or die. Also, I don’t believe for a second that those arrows were decapitating anyone. Maybe you can explain it away that his cursed arm gave him super strength, but that’s not exactly made clear.
What exactly was the point in giving Ashitaka powers? I mean, it’s already not made clear if his cursed arm gave him super-strength, and was certainly demonstrated to push open that gate that is only meant to open with the strength of, what, twelve men? But the thing is, those superpowers, as well as his ability to bend Gonza’s (John DiMaggio) sword, as well as survive rifle blasts through the chest and massive blood loss, but those powers are only there for that one duration of the scene. Where was that super-strength when he was trying to live that boar corpse off of that sandwiched wolf? That arm can life a ton of wood, but can’t lift a single boar? And for the most part, he’s never given any opportunities to use the powers anyway.
Some other smaller details that I didn’t agree with. Can someone tell me why San was sucking out blood from that wolf? Was that Moro (Gillian Anderson)? I don’t recall ever hearing that the iron bullets from Eboshi’s rifles were laced in poison. Next, I don’t care what San’s mask is made of, but there is no material that could withstand a rifle blast to the face and merely knock her out. That bullet should have gone through her head and turned her into red-stained popped balloon. Not even shrapnel wounds, man! Piss off with that! I don’t like that Ashitaka said that San was beautiful. This sort of implies that there’s going to be a romantic relationship in the future, but I don’t recall anything happening to spark that. Maybe he was just delusional, as he was severely injured at the time, but their relationship seemed way too platonic for a line like that.
Ech, but let’s stop listening to me bitch and moan about my nitpicks. Let’s get to what makes this movie good!
I think I remember hearing someone say that there weren’t any real bad guys in this story, or at least no one was considered a villain. I’m not entirely sure how much of that I agree with. I mean, maybe there’s no clear-cut bad guy-good guy dynamic going on, but I think to say “no villains” is inaccurate and would be more accurate to say that everyone is the villain, and the characters are complex. Take the humans in Iron Town for example. They’re all led by the ruthless warrior Lady Eboshi. She has no love for the gods, constantly boasts about killing one, and has her heart set on killing the Forest Spirit. With that said, look what she did for Iron Town itself. She took women from local brothels, living a life sexual objectivity and given strength to fight and are even considered more formidable with rifles than the men. They’re given honest and hard work. Even the lepers aren’t huddled in some dark abandoned corner waiting to die. She puts them to work by crafting lighter rifles for those same women. And she’s not the type of leader who makes everyone fight the battles while she presides on a hill, no she’s right there in the muck with the rest of her warriors and cares for them. On the flip-side to this coin are obviously the animal gods. For the most part, the only reason why the boars have been attacking is because the humans were mining for iron, which made the boar gods angry. As a result of their war with each other, the humans have opted to tear down the forests, which the gods are only trying to protect. Hell, San’s original family abandoned her to the wolves to save their own lives and the wolves took her in and raised her as if she were kin. Clearly, they have compassion and know better than to kill infants. However, they’re still as fallible as they come too, seeing humans as one force as opposed to individuals, rarely if ever making distinctions between those who want only peace (the Emishi) and those who genuinely want to hurt all gods. Granted, you could say that this only really occurs when they become demons, but the fact that they seem to have the ability to fight against that possession, yet refuse to when they catch sight of humans, is a clear sign of their imperfections. No one’s a bad guy, or everyone’s a bad guy. Maybe it depends on point-of-view, but I say there is no innocence for either side of the conflict.
One of the first things I started to adore was how great the visuals were. Not just scenery, although that’s certainly beautiful to marvel at, but I’m referring more specifically to the creature designs. I love how demonic possession looks in this world, worm-like things coming out of the wounds of the boar, it’s really disturbing and I love it. I love how unapologetically graphic the film is. But more than anything, I kind of love the poetry. This might be a little on the nose, but what I’ve taken away from all this is demonic possession in this world is more of an allegory for us. We let it fester or get too high of a boiling point, it consumes us and makes us more like animals than who we’re meant to be. It’s clear we all have hatred and anger within us, but it has be tempered, or else our fate is to end up more than dead, but a skeletal remain of what wonderful beings we used to be. Wow, reading that out loud was a huge mistake. I mean, no matter how a human being lives, we’re destined to end up as worm food, but I hope someone can pull the same poetry that I took away. Thank God I’m not a poet because I’d suck big time at it. Anyway, fantastic visuals.
I think my favorite designed creature is the Forest Spirit itself. It looks like it’s an amalgamation of all forms of life. The body and antlers of a deer, it’s eyes look like goat eyes, it’s feet are closer to scales like a lizard’s feet, and a face that’s basically human. All it’s missing are feathers, gills, and maybe a mosquito’s proboscis to complete the animal kingdom. But it’s nice to see this be kind of a reminder that man and nature and the gods should be living together in this world without this conflict. And because the Forest Spirit seems to pick and choose who to save and who not to, as it seems that Ashitaka is more worth saving than Moro, it’s never saying that the Forest Spirit takes sides. It’s not pro-mankind, or pro-gods, it’s just its own thing doing its own thing. For all intents and purposes, that what we should be doing. It’s not claiming that we be perfect and to not have our darker sides, as it’s revealed that even the Forest Spirit has that, but… it just works. It’s a being that’s all these different things, and despite the biology, it’s alive and going about its business.
Other small fun details, let’s see. I want a kodama. I want fifty kodamas. They’re so weird and creepy looking, and yet so @#$%ing cute! Gimme all of them, I’ve made my demands! Kohroku (John DeMita) absolutely killed me, he was so funny. His broken arm stops hurting, and he’s all like, “My arm doesn’t hurt. I’m healed! Woohoo! OW!!! No, it’s still broken.” Dude, I laughed so hard. In fact, the humor is really spot on. Toki (Jada Pinkett Smith) was a hilarious ball-buster, how the women and men constantly bicker, and how the women ogle over Ashitaka, they’re all great little moments.
Overall, yeah, I’ve got more than a few nitpicks here and there, which does occasionally take me out of the story, but I can see why Ghibli fans rank this as among the better and more popular ones. While I may not agree, this is still a damn good movie and downright impressive. It’s a movie that really makes you think, it’s got a strange but gorgeous imagination, all culminating into a wonderful story. I do encourage anyone who hasn’t seen this movie to check it out, even if you’re not an anime fan. It’s got too much to admire to be overlooked. So happy that I got to see this. A misleading title doesn’t stop this from being a wonderful movie.
My honest rating for PRINCESS MONONOKE: 4/5
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