Sunday, March 1, 2009

Princess Mononoke

Hayao Miyazaki holds power in his films found in few other places. Usually finding delight in his animation, he here ranges towards a dark and gruesome battle between humans and nature, where rage is boiling and turning the earnest into maddened demons. As the movie opens, we are faced with a town hero, Ashitaka (Billy Crudup), who becomes infected by the virus of anger when he slays a charging boar. He is told to go to the forest spirit to make peace for his killing and also to end a brutal war. This gives Miyazaki a chance to do what he does absolutely best: beauty. His visions of a countryside are mind-blowing, his keen eye stunning, and his ultimate product detailed painstakingly. "Princess Mononoke" lays claim to the fact that its a visual masterpiece, easily one of the director's best to the eye. It is surely his epic film, and he creates unbelievable images. The problem is, though, that he goes far beyond what his writing can attest to. It's sad to see what happens to such an achievement when the dialogue is mediocre, and the overall effect takes somewhat of a hit from the maddeningly simple wordings that are used too much to work. They do not, however, extinguish all of Mr. Miyazaki's brilliance. Jack Fletcher's casting for the English language is quite inspired indeed. Crudup does nicely in the lead, and Danes supplements, if predictably, well. Minnie Driver is the only one here who decides not to enunciate the hell out of her lines, and I acknowledge that. But the really interesting casting move is for Jada Pinkett Smith, who plays, through the magic of the medium, a character of the other race. That's really something interesting to be wrought out of a style. "Mononoke" has a lot to be said for its visual, visceral images and gripping although somewhat climactic plotlines. The acting and writing fail to bring the whole enterprise full-circle, but that's no reason to make it fall to the wayside. This is a master working hard, and the results are praiseworthy. B+

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