2012-07-29

Photos - My Neighbor Totoro (Japan BD)


Of course, I couldn't post photos from Grave of the Fireflies without giving Totoro his due.  This BD really looks terrific.  The painterly quality of this movie shines as never before.  Observe the rust in the bucket, which looks ragged, or the lush background paintings, or the clean lines on the characters.

I think what makes My Neighbor Totoro work is that it's not really about the magical forest creatures.  It's really a movie about a child's sense of wonder, that special way in which the natural world sparks youthful imaginations.  Adults tend to take everything literally, and the value of myth and symbolism becomes lost.  Children have not yet been conditioned to this way of thinking, and so they view a world full of mystery and discovery, a world where a giant cat-bus makes the wind blow, and a single seed can grow into a mighty tree in a single moment.

Japanese masters like Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata understand the inherently symbolic nature of animation.  "All animation," Paku-san once described, "is a lie."  These are not real people and places, but drawings and icons of people and places.  To a skilled artist, this offers limitless freedom and possibility.  To an unskilled hack, well...have you seen Dreamworks' version of The Lorax?  Ack!  Truly, that movie is the anti-Totoro.

More My Neighbor Totoro Blu-Ray screenshots after the jump:


Photos - Grave of the Fireflies (Japan BD)


Some screenshots from the newly-released Japanese Blu-Ray of Isao Takahata's 1988 movie, Grave of the Fireflies.  As always, the high-def version easily trounces the earlier DVD versions.  Details are far sharper, more detailed, with a far richer color palette.  A poetic, tragic movie that remains, frustratingly, overlooked.  If you haven't watched Fireflies, then you need to do so.

Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray - Coming November 12


Update: Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray will be released in the US on November 12.

Sentai Filmworks revealed this morning at Otakon 2012 that they have acquired the rights to Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray.  They have not yet revealed the release date, or which extras from Studio Ghibli's Japanese release will be included, but those details will be coming soon.

Grave of the Fireflies is going to look spectacular.  I can't wait.  Hurry up and take my money!

Oh, BTW, how much money you wanna bet that Fireflies BD arrives on American store shelves before Disney releases Totoro? We'll start an office pool right away. (/grin)

2012-07-22

Anime on Laserdisc



And now for something completely different...a look at anime on LaserDisc!

This month, I finally succeeded in getting rid of my 26" Sony HD-CRT, a super-massive battle tank that weighed 230lbs.  It was an interesting compromise between traditional picture tubes and 21st Century HDTV, and while it had its strengths, the compromises were too much to bear.  And did I mention the weight thing?  So having sold it, I upgraded...to a traditional 24" Sony Trinitron.  Ya know, standard def.

This new situation gave me an opportunity to explore a form of media for the first time - Laserdisc.  The original optical storage media, the ancestor to CD, DVD and Blu-Ray, the humble Laserdisc only succeeded among the hard-core cinephiles and home theater buffs of the 1980s and 1990s.  In Japan, however, the format was much more popular, and it proved to be the destination of choice for anime lovers.

Yes, I'm getting old and nostalgic for outdated media.  I accept that.  It's why I collect vinyl records, cassette tapes, and classic video game systems.  These are pieces of my youth.  But there's something more, a dissatisfaction with modern digital media.  I'm not that fond of CDs, and I'm not that fond of DVDs, either.  Blu-Ray?  Well, strange as it sounds...I'm really not that big on it.  I can't quite explain why, after owning an HDTV and BD player for two years, I have only a handful of movies to show for it.  2001 and The Searchers look fantastic.  So why haven't built a large BD movie library?

I've noticed that curiosity about Laserdiscs have risen in recent years.  It might just be that, curiosity, and nothing else.  It might also be a yearning for alternatives in this ultra-slick digital world.  I can't say just yet.  But there is something to the LD format, the way it delivers the complete experience.  The Experience - there's that phrase I used in an earlier post. Hmm.

Have a look at this YouTube video, which shows off a number of anime LDs and looks quite good.  SD quality animation that rivals DVD, but without the pixelation, digital artifacts, or compressed audio?  More to the package than a plastic case, or worse yet, nothing but a digital file?  This could be interesting. Share your thoughts and memories if you're so inclined.

From Up on Poppy Hill - France Deluxe Blu-Ray


See, folks, this is how you handle a Blu-Ray movie.  This is the French deluxe Blu-Ray package for Goro Miyazaki's 2010 film, From Up on Poppy Hill.  This massive set includes the movie, postcards, a collection of playing cards, a poster, stickers, and a 50-page mini-magazine.

I think this is the future of physical media.  When digital distribution becomes easier and easier, and the visual difference between disc and download erases, publishers will need to employ more creative means of attracting customers, of offering something tangible that downloads can't match.

Personally, I think this is also necessary for video games, especially for classic and retro games from years past.  Why isn't there a Criterion Collection for video games?  Why couldn't there be one?  There should be one for animation, especially anime.  Our recently-released Lupin III Series One DVD set is a good example of this (ahem, cough).  Don't just offer the game, the television show, the movie - Offer the complete experience.  And offer it at a reasonable price.

More photos after the jump:


Grave of the Fireflies DVD - Sentai vs CPM


Ah, now this is interesting.  I hadn't paid much attention when Sentai Filmworks reissued Grave of the Fireflies on DVD.  The film was shortly obtained by ADV Films when Central Park Media went bankrupt, and it was essentially the exact same disc.  I had assumed Sentai's release would be the same.  I was wrong.

Sentai's Fireflies DVD may be bare-bones, but the picture quality is far clearer and more balanced than the CPM disc.  Was Studio Ghibli's DVD used as the source?  I can't make a direct comparison to be sure, but on first glance, it appears so.  Let's take a look at a couple comparison screenshots so you can judge for yourselves.

The Sentai photos are far more balanced with color and contrast, and I'm reminded of the strangely "bleached" look to Miramax's Princess Mononoke DVD, which didn't hold a candle to the Japanese version.  The slight black border is typical of Ghibli's Region-2 Japanese DVDs, which strongly suggests they are the Sentai's source.  That's certainly good news for any potention Blu-Ray release in the US, although my vote remains "Not Likely" until we hear otherwise.  I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Until that happens, we have a most excellent DVD to enjoy.  Kudos to Sentai...maybe you guys could spend a little more on marketing next time, please?  If you have a better DVD, tell somebody about it!



Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray Screenshots


In 1988, Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies took the top billing on a double feature with Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro, and this week both movies made their long-awaited debut on Blu-Ray disc.  The previous post showed off the Totoro disc, and now we'll look at Fireflies.

This movie looks absolutely stunning.  I hadn't before realized that the Central Park Media DVD had the colors completely wrong.  They were using a master sent by Warner Bros in Japan, who had the home video rights for a time.  For some reason, they decided to give the colors a warmer, NTSC balance.  Fortunately, Ghibli recaptured the home video rights, and released Fireflies on DVD a couple years ago, no doubt based on the same 6K master (!!) used on this new Blu-Ray release.  Here is the Ghibli BD, followed by the CPM DVD.  This is a revelation:



Notice the cooler and more balanced color tones, and the lack of contrast or edge enhancement.  We can see the interior of the cave more easily, and details are far sharper (this will be obvious on larger screens).  It's like watching this movie for the first time.

The big question for Western anime fans is, "Will Grave of the Fireflies BD be released here?"  It should be released in France, the UK, and Australia, but the US is far less likely.  Disney does not have domestic rights to the movie, and it's clearly not one they would want on their hands.  The home video rights have changed hands many times over the years, from US Manga Corps to Central Park Media, to ADV Films, and now Sentai Entertainment.  Sentai's DVD is a bare-bones affair, a clear step below CPM's excellent release.  They clearly don't have the resources for Studio Ghibli's Blu-Ray disc.

Sadly, we must conclude that the chances of Fireflies BD arriving in the United States are slim.  The US anime market has struggled with the Blu-Ray format; the 1988 anime masterpiece Akira - Akira! - is out-of-print.  You can blame economics, you can blame online streaming, you can blame piracy (ironic, since "piracy" is what created anime fandom in this country), it doesn't matter.  Without a major benefactor, a Disney or a Criterion, Fireflies BD has little chance of seeing release on American shores.

Sorry to bring everyone down.  But Grave of the Fireflies is a "downer" movie, after all.  What did you expect at an opera, a happy ending?

Here are some more excellent screenshots from Grave of the Fireflies Blu-Ray, after the fold.  Much thanks to DVD Beaver for their excellent comparison page.  Enjoy the photos:


My Neighbor Totoro Blu-Ray Screenshots


Studio Ghibli's latest Blu-Ray discs, My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, has been released this week in Japan.  Each movie is available in a separate package, or joined together in a deluxe set (mirroring the films' double billing in 1988).  The retail prices are, unfortunately, slightly horrifying, at over $80 apiece, but worth it to diehard collectors who want the very best Ghibli BDs.

The cases continue Ghibli's cover design, with thick cardboard with magnet lock.  A small booklet is included which includes short notes and the Japanese movie posters.  The striking green looks wonderful; I really enjoy the rainbow style of these Blu-Ray covers, much nicer than the standard blue plastic casing.

Now to the screenshots/  Let's take a look and see how Totoro BD compares to its DVD cousin.  I think you'll be impressed by the results:



As you can see, My Neighbor Totoro looks stunning on BD.  It's a significant improvement on the DVD release.  After years of study, I don't think DVD was a very good medium for animation.  The digital artifacts, pixelation, over-use of edge enhancement, and MPEG-2 colors are all notable distractions.  All of these compromises are thankfully no longer necessary, as Blu-Ray delivers stunning clarity, detail and smoothness.  The painterly quality of the artwork shines as never before.  Now if I could only get my hands on the LaserDisc... :P

Much thanks to Hayao Miyazaki for insisting on the preservation of film grain for these movies.  I'm really not a fan of Disney's style of hyper-smooth digital look to their animated films on DVD and BD.  I know it's largely a matter of personal taste and differing goals (Disney aims to recapture the look of the animation cels, while Ghibli aims for the look of 35mm film), so I don't expect everyone to share my love of film grain.  I'm happily retro-tech these days.

In any case, My Neighbor Totoro on Blu-Ray looks stunning.  I'll leave more DVD/Blu-Ray comparisons below the fold: