Princess Mononoke | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Princess Mononoke 

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This folkloric animated epic (1997)--set in the 14th century but with ecological trimmings and occasional anachronisms such as hand grenades--was Japan's all-time box office champ before Titanic. Hayao Miyazaki, who's often referred to as the Japanese Walt Disney, directed, and what seems most fascinating about his two-hour movie as an alternative to American animation is the relative absence of anthropomorphism. Even when animals speak, lip sync is avoided; they seem to be communicating almost telepathically, and one seldom feels that they're contradicting their animal natures. The animation works special kinds of wonders with clouds and mists (particular signifiers in Asian art) as well as moving water, while the violence--featuring blood, amputations, and beheadings--is quite different from what one would expect from a Disney cartoon. Predictably, Miramax's English dubbing not only alters the plot but features such regional conceits as Billy Bob Thornton as a wily monk and a wolf girl (Claire Danes) who sounds like a Valley girl, but if you can swallow such crudities, the film's storytelling and heartfelt pantheism are both impressive. Many of Miyazaki's films are being screened by the Film Center as part of a retrospective on Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio; showing this week is My Neighbor Totoro (see separate listing). McClurg Court. --Jonathan Rosenbaum

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