PRINCESS MONONOKE

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki

One of anime's main contributions to modern animation has been its willingness to experiment visually, which has helped open up the language of the art. Yet Miyazaki's visual style here is far from radical; if anything, it's strikingly conservative, even stodgy at times. There are occasional backgrounds and panoramic establishing shots that take your breath away, but, perhaps to stay within the traditional style of period epics, Miyazaki has "staged" and "shot" -- if those terms can be applied to animation -- the action with straight-on master shots and conventional angles and cutting. The extreme camera angles and lighting that distinguish anime from its American counterparts are nowhere to be seen.

If anything, Miyazaki is more interesting in his use of sound than his visuals. Rather than fill the soundtrack with wall-to-wall bombast, he acknowledges the effectiveness of moments of silence, both for contrast and to convey foreboding. When epic music is employed, composer Joe Hisaishi's score contributes greatly to the action.

Finally, Miyazaki cannot be faulted for some missteps in the casting. Danes is a fine young actress, but her voice is horribly out of place: Mononoke sounds like a whiny suburban teenager. And Thornton's mountain twang seems a bit odd in the context. Crudup and Driver fare better, with the latter actually providing Eboshi with the sense of character that the visuals sadly lack.

Princess Mononoke is often gorgeous to look at and has a far more sophisticated story than most Japanese animated features, but it still feels overlong and dramatically unengaging.
Princess Mononoke is often gorgeous to look at and has a far more sophisticated story than most Japanese animated features, but it still feels overlong and dramatically unengaging.

Opens Nov. 5 at the Plaza Frontenac.

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