Princess Mononoke


Viewed – 25 May 2014  Blu-ray

I have wanted to give this much acclaimed Studio Ghibli film a second viewing for a while, and now that it has finally arrived on Blu-ray a film I originally was a bit mixed about, I can give a final verdict on.  This tells the tale of a young warrior, Ashitaka who after saving his village from a demonic boar, is cursed during the battle and forced to leave.  He soon stumbles upon the plight of mining colony who seem  hell-bent on destroying the local forest, regardless of the spirits and animals present, due to a power-hungry governess.  At the same time Ashitaka spots a young girl who is living amongst the wolves, and the villagers refer to her as Princess Mononoke, the wolf-girl.  Before long Ashitaka is torn between his loyalty to a village that take him in and the survival of a sacred forest, as war breaks out.

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This grand spectacle is full of quirky characters, some decent voice acting from the American cast shoe-horned in to replace the original Japanese (Claire Danes especially giving Princess Mononoke plenty of attitude), but its Miyazaki’s magical world and that charming Japanese art style that wins through, with a good story where you are soon routing for Princess Mononoke & Ashitaka and booing the villains.  At two and a quarter hours, it’s certainly epic, both in imagination and emotion, and it’s not hard to see why this is so regarded among movie fans; yet it also drags in places, which could make some viewers restless, with plenty of time given to bland dialogue and mundane moments like eating and working.  On this second viewing however, I was able to better appreciate the (at times) slow pace and the sheer artistic beauty of it all, as well as comedic side characters (the feisty female workers) and the various action sequences (Mononoke’s attack on iron town).  Although I do think it would benefit from about ten or twenty minutes being cut just to make it zip along more.   Yet for it’s character design, setting and echo-friendly message, this remains a land-mark.  I enjoyed it, even if for me it still pales next to Ghibli titles like Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle.

This Blu-ray release from Studio Canal is impressive.  First and foremost the image is vibrant, sharp and very clear, with none of the smudgy, rough appearance that graced the DVD – clearly having been polished up quite a bit.  Add to this a stellar 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack with great use of the surrounds and pounding bass (when those drums beat … wow) and the orchestral theme is delivered wonderfully.  Dialogue is also very clear and easy to hear at all times (we also get the original Japanese soundtrack which I didn’t sample).  Extras are somewhat limited as they often are on these Studio Ghibli UK releases, but we do get a trailer, storyboards and a featurette.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

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Howl’s Moving Castle


Viewed – 02 February 2013. Blu-ray

I am not sure why I’ve taken so long to see this acclaimed entry in famed Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli’s cannon.  Telling the story of a young woman who is cursed by a witch and turned into an elderly lady.  As a war ravages the city where she lives, she takes refuge in wizard Howl’s legendary moving castle.  Can she lift the curse, or are Howl’s own problems more pressing?

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Directed by studio head Hayao Myazaki (Ponyo, Princess Mononoke) and boasting quite boundless imagination and visual beauty, this is one of those movies that you can easily lose yourself in.  The story is utterly charming, told gracefully and packed with ideas.  Voice acting from Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer and Billy Crystal (as a lovable fire demon) amongst others is also enjoyable and although at nearly two hours it can feel a bit hard going, this remained classic fantasy storytelling that kept me glued throughout.

I think compared to similar Ghibli movie Spirited Away; being based on the children’s novel by British writer Diana Wynne Jones helps it break free from the studio’s otherwise very Japanese style.  Sometimes the bizarreness of Ghibli can leave me cold, but that wasn’t the case here.  Although, what was that war about? Never the less, an enchanting, very well made and totally gorgeous evening’s entertainment.

The blu-ray from Optimum is very pleasing. The image is vibrant and sharp. Some slight juddering during fast movement seems evident occasionally but not very noticeable. The soundtrack in DTS HD Master Audio is immersive and full of little details, with the music and quality voice acting all impressing. Extras consist of several featurettes, including Myazaki’s visit to Pixar as well as behind the scenes voice over footage. Sadly many are in 1:33:1 format so we get ugly black boarders either side of the screen.

Verdict:

(the movie) 5 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5