Mononoke Hime ("The Princess Mononoke") began as a picture book back in 1980. It was a simple, sweet story of a boy who was turned into a beast, and his love for a princess. However, when Hayao Miyazaki actually started making the movie, it took a radically different form. The open hatred, the savage god-beasts, and the especially graphic violence make it unlike any other movie that he has directed. Miyazaki stated that he made it this way partly because he didn't want the label as the creator of cute, happy movies, and partly because the times have changed. "I'm not trying to solve all the problems in the world," Miyazaki said, "A happy ending is not possible in a battle of humans and rampaging gods. However, even amidst the hatred and the carnage, there are things worth living for. It is possible for wonderful encounters and beautiful things to exist."
One of those beautiful things may be San, the girl raised by mountain dogs. Yuriko Ishida, her voice actress, said that there is no better way to describe her than the beauty she embodies as a living creature. Yet her existence is tragic. She is born a human, but she despises them as the destroyer of the forest where she grew up. She tries to deny the fact that she is a human by wearing furs, having tattoos on her face, and wearing a mask at times of battle. She refuses to direct her speech toward any man -- except Ashitaka.
Ashitaka, the prince of an ancient Japanese clan (and one of the coolest guys in anime history), is driven from his village due to a fatal curse. (Voice actor Youji Matsuda, a.k.a. Asbel from Nausicaš, sounds more mature than when he did that part 13 years earlier -- when he was 17. The voice of Nausicaš, Sumi "Kyoko" Shimamoto, comes back as well, as Toki.) Because of this, he understands San's solitude, shadowed by her hatred. San, on the other hand, is unable to understand why he tries to save both the forest and civilization.
As expected, Miyazaki pulled out all the stops; total production costs for the movie totaled 2.4 billion yen (the only film coming close to that was Akira with 1 billion yen) and totals about 144,000 cels (for reference, Laputa was 124,000 frames).
On another note, this is the first real film in which Miyazaki tried his hand at using computer graphics to aid in the animation. Many agree that the CG contained in this movie was beautifully done, almost always unnoticeable. Most of the moving landscapes (the view of the landscape from a moving camera), most of the "curse", and a whole lot of detailed animation was created with the use of computer graphics. There are 100 cuts in total containing CG; 10 minutes of the movie was digitally painted.
But don't think Mononoke Hime is yet another CG gallery. Besides a wonderful story, impressive animation, and talented voices, Mononoke Hime also sports another awesome soundtrack by "Joe" Hisaishi (Nausicaš, Laputa, Totoro, etc.).
Mononoke Hime grossed over 18.5 billion yen in the Japanese box office, taking the title of the highest-grossing film to hit Japan (beating E.T.), but it has since lost to that really big boat movie (Titanic).
Although it probably won't reach the amount of popularity in the U.S. that it did in Japan, many Americans will be able to see Mononoke Hime on the big screen this coming year. Dreamworks, a subsidiary of the oh-so-big-and-wonderful Disney Corporation, will be releasing a dubbed version of Mononoke Hime "soon" to theaters "world-wide". Mononoke Hime is one of ten Studio Ghibli films for which Disney bought the rights last year.