I absolutely adore Japanese anime and manga. They just tend to be much more interesting and character-driven than our cartoons. In fact, many of their TV shows such as Naruto, Bleach, Samurai Champloo, and especially One Piece make many American animated shows look totally pathetic. Sure, there are tons of bad anime out there, but the good ones are so much greater than our "good" ones. They feature believable characters and empathetical scenarios of conflict that happen between them. The events are structured so well that by the time the action comes into play, even though it's often really well structured and choreographed, it is but the icing on the cake.
For the most part, I found the same to be true for the Japanese animated feature Princess Mononoke. I can't say I love it nearly as much as some other animated Japanese creations, but for a cartoon it is interesting, intelligent, and well-structured throughout.
The story takes place in a mythological Japan where gods and spirits govern over provinces of natural wildlife. One such province is a forest belonging to the Deer God, who is the sole embodiment of life itself. The story wastes no time in kicking into gear as prince Ashitaka, last remaining heir of a legendary tribe of warriors, defeats a corrupted god endangering his village. In the process, the god curses Ashitaka. The villages oracle tells Ashitaka that in order to get to the bottom of this he is to investigate what is going on in the lands east of them. Ashitaka sets out knowing he may soon die from the curse that plagues his body, but wishes to do what he can to resolve the conflict taking place in the east, for what power could do what it did to the god that cursed him?
As with most any Japanese film imported to America, the option for Japanese audio with english subtitles I found much preferable to the english dub. In fact, the english voice-acting was much of the time downright terrible. Many of the voice-actors were shamelessly recycled, and Billy Bob Thornton was badly and rather redundantly cast.
So in terms of the Japanese version, I found it to be a very solid and enjoyable film. It had good dialogue, a huge emphasis on interesting characters, a great plot, and in some parts really fantastic action, though not in the over-the-top fashion that people sometimes expect from Japanese television. Rather, it was suspenseful, and intense; more along the lines of the kind of the action in Braveheart and Kingdom Of Heaven than in Bleach or Jubei Chan. Which brings me to this fact: that this movie does not go out of it's way to showcase blood and gore, but it's sure as heck not afraid to, either. For the first time in a long time, there was actually a couple parts where I really cringed, mainly when it came to the injuries some of the battling god-animals withstood. Yikes.
But moreover, Princess Mononoke displays a bizarre and unique sense of style and charm. The environment and atmosphere of the film is both breathtaking and beautiful. Though it's not one of my all-time favorite films, it is one of my all-time favorite animated films and I highly recommend it.
8 out of 10