We Want a Better Mononoke DVD!

C'mon, Disney!  Get with the program and give us a better Princess Mononoke DVD, already!

My big Christmas present this year is a Sony Trinitron HDTV, a 36" CRT model that looks absolutely terrific (it's as big as an elephant and just as heavy), so now I'll be working on rebuilding my DVD collection.  Naturally, this includes Studio Ghibli, especially the newly-released Blu-Rays in Japan, but it also includes a few region-1 discs that I'm trying to hunt down, like Grave of the Fireflies, Puss in Boots, and Animal Treasure Island.

Which brings me to Princess Mononoke.  I have the region-2 DVD from Japan, and the picture quality is terrific.  Color tones are richly painted in green and brown, light and shadows are nicely balanced, and the screen is always popping with detail.  If you want the best home version of Miyazaki's 1997 blockbuster, this is the one to get.

Meanwhile, we in the States are still stuck with the crummy Miramax DVD that was released a decade ago.  For reasons I have never understood, the picture quality is terrible, just bloody awful.  Contrasts have been boosted to maximum, colors are bleached out, and the overall picture has been overly smoothed out.  One could almost mistake it for a late-generation VHS.

I've probably touched upon this subject before in the past, but it bears repeating again, as we patiently needle and encourage Disney to import more Ghibli DVDs.  Mononoke remains the first Ghibli film to be released to disc here in the States, and fans have waited long enough.  It's time for a proper re-release.  Take a look at the above screenshots and see for yourself.  The first photo comes from the Japanese region-2 DVD; the second photo is the region-1 Miramax disc.

I am aware of the challenges of reissuing the very adult Mononoke Hime on the Flanders-family Disney label (and I mean that in a kind way).  I still remember seeing this movie at the Oak Stree Cinema some years ago, and marveled at all the parents who arrived with very small children in tow.  It was pretty obvious they signed up for another children's film like My Neighbor Totoro...and were handed a bloody, violent Kirosawa epic.  Odds are those children are now among the 25% of American kids hooked on prescription drugs.

This is precisely why I believe the wisest decision is to place the Studio Ghibli films under their own label, as a subset of Disney.  "The Complete Studio Ghibli Collection" is the label used for these DVDs and Blu-Rays around the world, and I think it offers a degree of separation from the Disney moniker.  This would make it possible for the more adult-oriented Ghibli films - Grave of the Fireflies, Omohide Poro Poro, I Can Hear the Sea, and Princess Mononoke - to see a commercial release without fear of backlash.  Unfortunately, the more fundamentalist elements of American society will always make business difficult.  And we don't want to see Disney become an easy target for cynical politics.

I would also love to see Disney release the Ghibli ga Ippai Collection, which includes films crafted before Ghibli's founding (Panda Kopanda, Jarinko Chie, Gauche the Cellist), as well as the studio's other films, like the Short Short DVD, Ghiblies Episode 2 (package it with The Cat Returns!), the Yasuo Otsuka documentary, or Isao Takahata's masterful 1987 documentary, The Story of Yanagawa Waterways.  I'm very fortunate that I've been able to see these movies, and your family should enjoy them, too.

Bottom line: there's a whole side of Studio Ghibli that Americans have yet to discover.  Oh, and get with the program, Disney.


notfadeaway said...

The Japanese DVD is indeed very good, but it features some of the worst edge enhancement I have ever seen on an anime DVD. I can't imagine what this looks like on a 36" screen.

I agree with the rest of your post, but Ghibli fans have been crying out for this for over a decade. Other countries see a similar thing - Optimum have releases all Ghibli content and some early pre-Ghilbi content on DVD here in the UK, but I can't see Disney pushing these films in the 'States anymore other than re-releasing them on Blu-ray. The market for the recent and future Ghibli features will be very small, and I will be surprised if they even see theatrical releases.


Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Edge enhancement is a common problem with the DVD format, and it's just one of those things you learn to make your peace with. Thankfully, the R2 Ghibli DVDs look terrific, even Mononoke. I threw it on a few nights ago, and I might play it again tonight in full.

The last couple nights, I've been watching Story of Yanagawa Waterways, which features stunning color-saturated photography. I can't tell you how nice it looks on the Sony TV. I would kill to see this documentary released on BluRay.

Also, here's hoping we'll get a Mononoke BluRay, but I'm guessing that we'll have to import. Disney no longer has an adult label like Miramax to use, and there's no way in hell they will put out a bloddy, violent movie with their name on the box. Parents would be calling and writing about how Mickey Mouse is severing heads and killing animals, and wondering why Buzz Lightyear doesn't show up.

notfadeaway said...

I agree the Japanese DVD's are quite good but most of them are not without fault, edge enhancement being a hack to make up for the low resolution. TBH the DVD's now look poor in comparison to the Blu-Ray releases despite looking superb when they first came out, such is the progress.

Here's hoping BV resist the urge to fiddle too much as they release each film on Blu-Ray - I've heard that the release of Laputa has had the grain filtered slightly, probably in response to complaints from some buyers of the Nausicaa release.

I don't think you're giving BV/Disney enough credit. They spent time and money bringing the Ghibli releases to the USA and invested in them in terms of recording English language dubs. I'm sure they will release the entire Ghibli back catalogue in time, either directly or indirectly, even Omohide.

I don't think you will see the pre and non animated Ghibli films released by BV/Disney though, they do not currently, and most likely will not want to spend money to, own the rights to release these in the USA.


Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Since you mentioned the edge enhancement, I played my R2 Mononoke disc last night. I was really surprised to see just how much edge enhancement there is on the screen (the contrast between that and the Shorts DVD is striking). Having that big screen really brings these details out.

That said, the picture is still superior to the 2000 Miramax disc, but as I was writing, I am sympathetic to Disney's concerns. Remember that they never wanted that movie in the first place. When they signed their distribution deal with Tokuma Shoten and Studio Ghibli, they thought they were getting children's movies like My Neighbor Totoro, not a brooding and bloody violent Kurosawa opera.

It would be nice if a healthy compromise could be reached. A degree of tension has always existed between the two film studios, and like any relationship, Disney and Ghibli have to learn to live with one another.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Miramax gave the US DVD for Mononoke the same treatment they gave to their US Blu-ray release of Takeshi Kitano's 2003 re-telling of Zatouichi - OK, but the colors and edges have been punched up.

I'm very happy with the Japanese Ghibli BDs so far (especially the NHK doc Joe Hisaishi in Budoukan, but that's another post sometime), but I will be supporting the US Ghibli BD releases as they come along. Ghibli anything at this level of picture and sound quality in the US is a dream-come-true.


Anonymous said...

Meh, it ain't that bad. You should see the edge enhancement on Criterion's Ran, now theres some awful edge enhancement.

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