By Casey Campbell
Princess Mononoke was a blind buy for me, but when a movie is directed by Hayao Miyazaki, “blind buy” isn’t exactly an apt description. Blind buy infers that I haven’t seen the film previously, and that it could be hit or miss. But when it’s from Miyazaki, a blind buy just means that it’s a great film that I haven’t seen yet. And now that I have seen it, and sat with the experience for a day, I can confidently say that it was brilliant. But that’s not exactly news to fans of Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli. Nor is it a brave statement.
I got the recent Collector’s Edition from Target, oddly enough, released through Shout Factory and GKids with beautiful, if bulky, packaging containing stunning artwork, a CD of the soundtrack, and a booklet.
It’s funny, this wasn’t my first Miyazaki blind buy either. The other was My Neighbor Totoro, only it’s physical presentation leaves a lot to be desired, unlike this new Mononoke set. For starters, the Mononoke Blu-ray thankfully doesn’t have shitty Disney branding all over it like the Totoro one. But that’s neither here nor there. The movies are what matter.
Watching a Miyazaki movie for the first time is such an interesting experience. His films aren’t structured with American audiences in mind. Watching the supplements on the disk (there aren’t many, regrettably), I came away with the impression that American film critics are kind of dumb asses with fairly passive views of non-American cinema. In a 19-minute-long segment called “Princess Mononoke in USA,” Miyazaki traveled to North America to play his film in Toronto, L.A., and New York. During each stop, it seemed like each critic harped on the fact that Mononoke isn’t for kids, despite it being a cartoon. It’s bizarre to me that these critics, people who are literally paid to watch movies and have a decent knowledge of them, wouldn’t be able to wrap their heads around the fact that Miyazaki doesn’t make “kids” movies. And nor should he, as animation isn’t something that should be confined to a certain audience. But, I digress.
When watching Mononoke, I was regularly viewing it with American eyes. Rather than watch the PG-13 rated movie and think of how children shouldn’t watch it, I was constantly interested in the real motivations of the characters. No one can be nuanced in a movie, can they? Characters are black and white, good or bad, clear cut and visually descriptive in their ways; good guys are beating an evil force, the evil force typically trying to harm nature or something pure and beautiful like that. But in Mononoke, every single character was so fleshed out and dynamic that they cannot be easily sequestered into normal archetypes. There’s no real villain, per say. There are characters with destructive end goals, but they’re also realized characters that have done many good things too.
Since this was my first watch, I can’t say much about the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray other than the film itself was gorgeous and refreshing. The animation is obviously stunning, and every other technical element is basically perfect.
There’s not much more to be said, at least not right now. Even after my initial watch, the enormity of the film didn’t exactly register. I got it, for the most part, but I still feel like there’s more to take in. That’s the beauty of physical media, after all. You can always revisit these staggering cinematic landscapes.