Release Date(s)1997 (October 17, 2017)
Studio(s)Studio Ghibli/Nippon Television (GKids/Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B+
While saving his village from an attack by the mad boar god Nago, the young prince Ashitaka is infected with its curse and must travel west in search of a cure. There he finds a forest filled with animal gods at war with the people of Irontown, led by Lady Eboshi, who wish to clear the trees for mining. Ashitaka attempts to make peace between them and encounters a girl named San, who was raised by wolves and so is fighting on the animal gods’ side. Together, Ashitaka and San try to save the forest even as Eboshi plots to kill the Great Forest Spirit that protects it.
Many fans and film critics consider Princess Mononoke to be Hayao Miyazaki’s finest work, and they certainly have a powerful argument. The director’s goal here was to make a non-traditional period drama, one without the usual lords and samurai that were typically the subject matter of such films in Japan. But he was also trying to show that, even in our complicated modern times, the priorities of society – and especially of individuals – should still be clear: We must live in harmony with each other and with the natural world, taking pleasure in the simple joys those things offer us if we look for them. And if we must fight, let it be to preserve those things for all time. As such, this film represents Miyazaki’s stubborn idealism in its purest form. Enhanced by a stunning and deeply moving orchestral score by composer Joe Hisaishi, Princess Mononoke is a genuine hand-drawn animated masterpiece.
GKids’ new Blu-ray presents the film in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio in 1080p HD. The source for this presentation is the original Ghibli animation master and the compression is stable at an average of 33 Mbps (very similar to the Disney BD). Comparing this GKids presentation to the Disney disc, you’d be hard-pressed to tell any difference between at all. This image is clean, stable, and absolutely gorgeous, with bold colors. Note that when you choose either English or Japanese audio, the opening titles and credits appear in that language too, via seamless branching.
In terms of sound, the previous Disney Blu-ray smartly included both dubbed English and the original Japanese in lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, along with French 5.1 Dolby Digital. Thankfully, the GKids disc includes these options as well. Both lossless audio tracks are lovely, with smooth panning, a great sense of atmospherics, and excellent clarity. The problem with the Disney Blu-ray, however, was that it included subtitle tracks in English SDH, English, and French… and both of the English tracks were “dubtitles” based on the English dubbing script. Neither was a proper English translation of the original Japanese language dialogue, so all of the original cultural context was lost. Thankfully, GKids has once again corrected Disney’s mistake. The English SDH for the hearing impaired (“dubtitles”) are still available here, as are the French subs. But you also get English subtitles for the Original Language Version (aka proper Japanese-to-English translation of the original script). Thank you, GKids! (For the record, it’s the Aura translation from the original Ghibli Japanese Blu-ray, with dialogue adaptation by Jim Hubbert.)
As with other GKids Ghibli discs, the menus are incredibly simple – there are no promos, no extended BD Java load times, none of the junk Disney clogged their discs up with. You get just a static film-themed menu that allows you to get right to the content quickly and easily. The GKids’ Blu-ray includes over two hours worth of extras, some in HD and some in SD. Most of it is in the original Japanese with English subtitles (though there is also some English material carried over from the Disney Blu-ray). The best news here is that content from the original Studio Ghibli Japanese Blu-ray is included too (indicated by * below), some of which may be new to you. The full list is as follows:
- Feature-Length Storyboards (133:28)*
- Princess Mononoke in USA (19:55)*
- Behind the Microphone (5:13 – from the Disney BD and original Miramax DVD)
- Original Theatrical Trailers (8 Japanese and English trailers – 16:36 in all)*
- TV Spots (13 Japanese and International TV spots – 13:32 in all)*
There’s nothing missing from the Disney Blu-ray; it’s all here. The only thing missing from the Japanese Blu-ray were teasers for other Ghibli titles and an image gallery that allows you to read the original Japanese script for the film – of course, that was all in Japanese, so there’s not much point in including it here. This is not a huge batch of extras compared to some other Ghibli BD titles, but it’s all there is for this film, so there’s little reason to complain. The package also includes a DVD disc that offers the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen SD, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (but not lossless) in dubbed English, the original Japanese, and French, with optional English SDH dubtitles, English translation for the original Japanese version, and French. It features some, but not all, of the same extras as the Blu-ray. There’s no Digital Copy code, but the package does include a nice booklet featuring statements on the film by producer Toshio Suzuki and director Hayao Miyazaki.
If you’re a fan of Princess Mononoke and Studio Ghibli, the important thing to know here is that this is certainly the definitive English-language edition of this film on Blu-ray. It combines all of the key extras from both the Ghibli and Disney Blu-rays, while offering superior A/V quality, and correcting the Disney Blu-ray’s subtitle mistake. Unless you’ve already imported the Japanese Blu-ray, the GKids disc is a must-have release. As of the time of this review, it’s just $17 on Amazon. So it’s highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt