BLU-RAY REVIEW: Disney's Recent Studio Ghibli Releases
Castle in the Sky, Whisper of the Heart, and The Secret World of Arrietty on hi-def home video...
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Critically acclaimed film director/writer/producer Hayao Miyazaki began his animation career when he joined Toei Animation in 1961 and worked on various films until his directorial debut in 1979. Upon the success of his second film, Miyazaki left Toei to co-found Studio Ghibli and the rest, they say, is history.
Miyazaki was largely unknown in the USA until 1997, when Miramax Films brought Princess Mononoke over from Japan. From then on, anime fans have continued to flock to theaters to enjoy Miyazaki and other Studio Ghibili films on the big screen and home video. This last week, Disney Studios released three Studio Ghibli films on Blu-ray+DVD two-disc combo packs, including 1986's Castle in the Sky, 1995's Whisper of the Heart, and 2010's The Secret World of Arrietty.
Castle in the Sky
Sheeta, a young girl with a magical blue crystal necklace, soon finds herself the being chased by both pirates and secret agents who seek to find out more about this magical necklace. Of course, Sheeta soon finds herself a beau in the guise of Pazu, a brave young man who, together with Sheeta, sets out to find out what makes her blue necklace so special. Of course, on the way, the pair find themselves seeking Laputa, the "castle in the sky," a mythological place unlike any other.
Sheeta and Pazu's characterization drives the story, which sees the pair forced to overcome insurmountable odds. So what, you ask, might save them when facing opposition? The power, strength, and integrity of childhood innocence, a reoccurring theme in a number of Studio Ghibli films which makes the film both relateable to young children as well as engaging for adults. The conceit, selfishness, and greed of the adults portrayed in the film helps set up the aged versus youth dynamic, which, when presented within an animated film like this, captures the previously mentioned theme.
This two-disc combo pack includes the film on DVD as well as on blu-ray, which features an impressive and newly made 1080p hi-def digital video transfer remastered from the original film stock. The grain and all of the minor issues seen in the original are present, making this a comfortable and impressive copy which doesn't look doctored. Likewise, the film's audio is captured her wonderfully in both an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 ES surround track and the film's original Japanese-language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track. Unfortunately, a 5.1 Japanese track isn't included and the English subtitles feature discrepancies when compared to the English audio, though these are minor complaints.
As for special features, the disc includes a variety. The original Japanese storyboards are included which provide an interesting look at the film as it was originally drawn and designed. Also included are a number of short featurettes which cover everything from the creation of the film to the score. These shorts include the 4-minute "Creating Castle in the Sky," the 3-minute "Character Sketches," the very brief 2-minute "The World of Laputa," the 3-minute "The Producer's Perspective: Meeting Miyazaki," the 4-minute "Behind the Microphone," and the 7-minute "Scoring Miyazaki." While some are more interesting and informative than the others, when combined together, the 6 shorts make for an interesting 20+ minutes of behind-the-scenes footage on the production of the film. The disc also includes the film's original 4-minute Japanese trailer.
Whisper of the Heart
Shizuku - a quite, bright young lady who thinks she needs to plan for her future - is searching for her place in the world. Always reading and allowing herself to explore these imaginary worlds, Shizuku soon finds herself exploring new realities thanks to an encounter with a cat named Moon, a boy named Seiji, and a cat statue known as The Baron.
Like Castle in the Sky, 1995's Whisper of the Heart reveals again the strength and power of the childhood imagination and innocence. Again utilizing a strong, young female lead character, Studio Ghibli's tale relates to the youthful seeker in all of us. All too often, we lose sight of what it means to be human, to be unique, and to not know what the future holds. Whisper of the Heart explores this voyage as well as forces us to consider our dreams...and how we may have forgotten what it means to truly seek the unimaginable and unexpected.
This two-disc combo pack includes the film both on DVD and in beautiful 1080p picture on blu-ray. The blu-ray video has been digitally remastered from the original stock, helping bring to life the film as it was intended to be seen. The colors are all bright, the animation is smooth and gorgeous, and there is little blurring or softness to the picture. Likewise, the disc includes three audio tracks: an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, a French 2.0 Dolby Digital Language Track, and a Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio from the original film. The English and Japanese tracks are clear and provide solid audio (I did not listen to the French track as I don't speak French).
As for special features, the disc includes a few: four "Masterpieces of Naohisa Inoue," which allows fans to see the creation and evolution of four different scenes by the film's master artist, Naohisa Inoue; the film's original Japanese storyboards, a "Behind the Microphone" featurette which chats with the voice actors, and the film's original Japanese trailers and TV spots.
The Secret World of Arrietty
Based on Mary Norton's 1952 children's fantasy book The Borrowers, The Secret World of Arrietty is a modern masterpiece of film fantasy which will appeal to children and adults. The film begins when a sick young boy named Shō discovers a family of 4-inch tall "Borrowers" who live in his home. Normal as normal can be, the Borrowers are the same as you and me...except they're 4 inches tall. This of course makes everyday an adventure for the Borrowers, and especially Arrietty, a young Borrower girl who befriend Shō and attempts to help her family realize he's kind. Of course, when Shō's housekeeper Haru accidentally learns of the Borrowers, the adventure soon becomes dangerous and things change drastically.
Reemphasizing the theme that age and size matter not, writers Miyizaki and Yonebayashi's use of Arrietty and her family of Borrowers, when compared to the humans and world as a whole, help the story appeal to the younger, the weaker, and the smaller by ensuring we the viewer understand strength comes not from stature, but from relationship, commitment, trust, and heart.
This two-disc combo pack includes the film both on DVD and in beautiful 1080p picture on blu-ray, which comes to life beautifully. It's flawless, with no blurring, compression, banding - nothing. The video is simply perfect. The two audio tracks - English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround - both flawlessly present the film's dialogue, sound effects, and CÚcile Corbel's masterful musical score. Anyone with a quality home theater will enjoy this audio presentation, which includes plenty of dynamic flare throughout the sound stage.
As for special features, The Secret World of Arrietty includes, like the previous two movies, the original Japanese storyboards for the entire film, 7-minutes of music videos, including Cecile Corbel's "Arrietty's Song" and Bridgit Mendler's "Summertime;" a very short 2-minute "The Making of 'Summertime'", a look at the production of the music video; and 14 minutes worth of trailers and TV spots.
Overall and together, these three films - 1986's Castle in the Sky, 1995's Whisper of the Heart, and 2010's The Secret World of Arrietty - show an amazing progression of Studio Ghibli's storytelling and animation style and technique over the last 25 years. Maybe most impressive, the consistency and quality in everything from the engaging themes, three-dimensional characters, and emotional stories to the elegant musical scores, talented voice acting, and attractive animation puts these films (as well as those other Studio Ghibli films not reviewed here) on the list of "must see" animation.
Castle in the Sky, Whisper of the Heart, and The Secret World of Arrietty are all available now from Disney Home Entertainment on Blu-ray + DVD Combo Packs wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley