Japanese animation is more than cute monsters and teenage girls in short skirts. Anime (ah-nee-may), as the genre is known, sent a wake up call to mainstream adult audiences last fall with the North American release of Princess Mononoke.
The tale portrays an exiled prince who must find a cure to the fatal curse that has been cast upon him. In the course of his search, he finds himself caught in a war between forest spirits and human civilization.
Critics and animators fawned over its epic storyline, and were pleasantly surprised by the film’s mature content. Ricardo Rodrigues, a computer animation graduate from the Center for Digital Imaging and Sound in Burnaby said, “I soon came to realize I wasn’t watching a Disney cartoon where things are sugar-coated and certain subject matter is restricted.” He was also impressed by the quality of the work’s hand-drawn imagery and noted that, “to smoothly animate all those creatures of the forest spirit by traditional methods would have been extremely tedious and time consuming.”
The film’s writer-director, Hayao Miyazaki, is considered a master of the art form in Japan. He began his career writing and illustrating manga (man-gah), which are black and white comic books, before striking his first anime success, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The revenue from that hit enabled him to found Studio Ghibli, one of the hottest animation companies in Japan.
Miyazaki, who draws inspiration from a variety of historical periods, including 14th century Japan and 19th century England, does not normally make violent films. Mononoke, however, contains enough blood that he insisted on a no-cut clause from Disney, his American distributor. They released it via Miramax.
Tons of anime films are released annually in Japan, but very few cross the Pacific for wide release. Given Mononoke’s phenomenal success in Japan (it finished second at the box office behind the much more expensive Titanic) and the warm reception Mononoke received in North America (Roger Ebert considers it one of 1999s best films), Canadian audiences can expect to see more of this sophisticated animation.
An American distributor has already scheduled the release of another anime feature this year, Neon Genesis Evangelion, a story about 14-year-olds who defend the world against gigantic monsters known as “angels.”