Anime Blu-ray Review: Princess Mononoke Collector’s Edition

Princess Mononoke Collector’s Edition includes a Blu-ray Disc of the film, the CD soundtrack, and a booklet.

Princess Mononoke Collector’s Edition
English Publisher: GKIDS
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: May 14, 2019

After Disney lost the rights to the Studio Ghibli films, GKIDS acquired the rights and began releasing the films theatrically and on home video. This review is for the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of Princess Mononoke.

The film is set during the late Muromachi period of Japan, and it includes a number of fantastical elements. The story of the film focuses on the struggle between the supernatural guardians of the forest and the humans that try to consume the resources of the forest.

The main character of Princess Mononoke is Ashitaka, the last Emishi prince. The film opens with Ashitaka saving his village when he kills the demon form of Nago, the boar god, who goes on a rampage and threatens the village. Unfortunately for Ashitaka, he receives a demon mark on his arm during the battle and is cursed by the pain and hatred of the Boar God. When Nago’s corpse is examined, a ball of iron is discovered, and it is believed that the ball of iron is connected to Nago’s curse. Because of the curse, Ashitaka is destined for death, so he decides to leave the village and search for a cure for the curse.

During his travels, Ashitaka arrives in a forest that is inhabited by animal gods and the Forest Spirit. A human settlement called Irontown is nearby, which is a refuge for social outcasts, former brothel workers and lepers. Lady Eboshi, the head of Irontown, hires the citizens to manufacture firearms to defend the settlement against the forest gods. As part of their job, the people in the settlement clear the forest to get more iron ore. The actions of the settlement anger the animal gods, and both groups battle each other. It was during one of these battles that Lady Eboshi shot the iron ball into Nago the Boar God.

The Irontown settlement is attacked by San, a human girl who has been adopted by wolves. Ashitaka intervenes to stop the fighting and takes San back to the forest. However, Ashitaka is injured during this effort. With San’s help, the Forest Spirit heals Ashitaka’s wounds, but not his curse. Ashitaka travels between Irontown and the forest attempting to make peace between the two sides. Lady Eboshi, however, decides to hunt the head of the Forest Spirit. The remainder of the film shows what happens during Lady Eboshi’s attempt to get the Forest Spirit’s head.

Princess Mononoke tells a compelling story, and it focuses on two ideas: the environment and the fact that no one is necessarily either good or evil. What I really appreciate about the storytelling in the film is the fact that Miyazaki was able to tell this story without falling into the trap of “the forest animals and the animal spirits are the ‘good guys,’ and that Lady Eboshi and the citizens of Irontown are the ‘bad guys’.” And I also thought there was a realistic ending for Ashitaka and San’s relationship. While the two of them care about each other, there was no way San would realistically be willing to live among humans after what they had done to the forest. And while Ashitaka cares about San, nature, and the animals in the forest, he feels he needs to stay with the humans in Irontown in order to help keep the peace between the two sides. They had to ultimately make a sacrifice and look beyond their own feelings for the greater good of the forest and for those who inhabit it.

The animation in Princess Mononoke is breathtaking, and perfectly conveys the feelings and emotions Miyazaki wants the viewer to experience while watching the film. This was also one of the first Studio Ghibli films to truly begin utilizing computer animation. On the one hand, the computer animation does noticeably stand out from the rest of the animation in the film. However, since the computer animation was generally used for some of the more “fantastical” sequences in the film, the blatant difference in animation actually helps to enhance those sequences.

On the Blu-ray in this release, there are a total of five bonus features included, which is more than what was included on Disney’s original DVD release of Princess Mononoke. First is “Feature-Length Storyboards,” which is the entire film except in storyboard form. This is one of those bonus features that’s going to have limited interest to viewers who purchase this Blu-ray release. Next is the “Behind the Microphone” documentary about the recording of the English dub for Princess Mononoke, and it includes interviews with some of the English voice actors as well as with Neil Gaiman (who translated the film for the dub). This is the exact same feature that appeared on the original Disney DVD pressing of the film. There is also the “Princess Mononoke in USA” featurette, which was made for Japanese television, and is included here with English subtitles. It chronicles Hayao Miyazaki as he travels to Toronto, Los Angeles, and New York to attend film festivals and promote Princess Mononoke in America. This was a nice inclusion, and it was something I had never seen before since it wasn’t included on Disney’s DVD release of the film. This is followed by “Original Theatrical Trailers,” which runs for about 17 minutes, and it includes both the Japanese and American trailers for the film. On Disney’s original DVD release of Princess Mononoke, it only included one English language theatrical trailer. The final bonus feature is “TV Spots,” which runs for about 16 minutes and includes both Japanese and American television spots. I can’t remember if it was in the “Original Theatrical Trailers” or in the “TV Spots,” but one of these also had a piece in French. Overall, these bonus features are a step up from what Disney released on their DVD pressing of Princess Mononoke.

This Collector’s Edition also comes with a CD that includes music for the film, which was composed by Joe Hisaishi. There are a total of 33 tracks on the CD, and three of the tracks have vocals: “The Tatara Women Work Song,” which is sung by the women in Irontown as they work, “Princess Mononoke With Vocals,” and “Princess Mononoke Ending Theme Song With Vocals.” It should be noted that on the pressing of the CD soundtrack that is included with this release, the vocals on “Princess Mononoke Ending Theme Song With Vocals” is the original Japanese version and not the English language version by Sasha Lazard that was included on the original American release of the Princess Mononoke soundtrack.

Listening to the score pieces on their own without hearing the dialogue and sound effects from the film, I can hear just how powerful and well done they are. I especially like how some of the songs have such a sweeping feel to them. Musically, there’s also quite a variety of sounds spread throughout the disc, which helps to make this CD an enjoyable listening experience. Not only that, but many of the tracks are enjoyable to listen to in their own right.

The Collector’s Edition also comes with a 40-page booklet that includes pictures from the film, as well as essays written by various people (including Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki, Hayao Miyazaki, and film critic Glenn Kenny) and English-translated versions of the poems written by Miyazaki to covey his vision of the film to Joe Hisaishi.

I’m very happy with GKIDS’ release of Princess Mononoke Collector’s Edition. Unfortunately, as of this writing, it’s no longer easy to find a new copy of this release. If, for some reason, you actually come across a new copy of this release and you are a fan of Princess Mononoke and its soundtrack, then I would highly suggest picking it up.

Additional reviews of Studio Ghibli films:

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