At the start of a new year, it's time to take stock and see where we stand for Studio Ghibli movies on Japanese Blu-Ray. Thankfully, at long last, we are close to completing the studio's feature film library. When Marnie Was There, Hiromasa Yonebayashi's 2014 movie, will arrive this March. Each package is expensive, roughly $80USD for importers, but worth the expense if you want the absolute best picture quality and glorious packaging, which includes cardboard covers, small booklets, and miniaturized movie posters.
In addition to the studio's own films, Ghibli has also released Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, with a new and spectacular high-definiton transfer over the disappointing 2008 VAP release (which featured a 1080i picture and no subtitles). Ghibli had previously released Cagliostro on DVD in Japan in the year 2000, but subtitles were strangely omitted, so this new release is more than welcome.
Also, as Ghibli Freaks (yes, I'm trying to push that meme once more) are aware, Ghibli released a massive BD box set of Hayao Miyazaki's directorial feature films, from Castle of Cagliostro to The Wind Rises. On Your Mark, his 1995 music video for the Japanese pop duo Chage and Aska, was originally planned for inclusion, then dropped when the singers became ensnared in a drug scandal, then re-included as a separate package, only available via mail order. It is not yet known whether future pressings of the BD set will include On Your Mark. Miyazaki's short was previously released on Studio Ghibli's 2005 Short Short DVD, which is now, sadly, out of print.
Isao Takahata also has a BD box set, featuring his directorial feature films, and that set has me even more excited, because it includes his 1968 animation masterpiece, The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun. Other films include Jarinko Chie, Gauche the Cellist, and The Story of Yanagawa Canals, in addition to Paku-san's five Studio Ghibli features. What a spectacular collection of animated movies! I would kill to have these movies released here in the USA.
But back to Studio Ghibli's Blu-Rays. There's one glaring omission from the libraray, and it greatly puzzles me: 1993's Umi ga Kikoeru ("I Can Hear the Sea," aka "Ocean Waves"). Where is Umi, and why hasn't it been released? Has it somehow been demoted from the "official" canon? I can't understand any reason why; the movie was released on DVD, and it's a very nice package that includes a 45-minute documentary that reunites the production team to talk gossip. Here was the first Studio Ghibli film directed by a director other than Miyazaki or Takahata, and run by the young animators who were trained by the studio's in-house school. Ghibli was already keeping an eye on its future, beyond its founders, and their struggles to find suitable successors has become an epic melodrama in itself. Studio Ghibli just can't find future kings to wear the crown.
And, besides all that, Umi ga Kikoeru is a highly entertaining teenage drama, part of Ghibli's "neo-realist" style as seen in Omohide Poro Poro and Mimi wo Sumaseba (my two favorite Studio Ghibli feature films). I think it's an important part of the canon, and shouldn't become "lost." I do hope this movie comes to BD sometime this year.
For Western fans, rest assured that all Studio Ghibli feature film BDs include English subtitles, and many include the English-language soundtracks. Bitrate and picture quality is the highest quality of any global releases, and Americans who feel frustrated by the occassional Disney goof (dubtitles on Princess Mononoke and Castle in the Sky, hard-coded credits on Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind). Again, if you want the best, you'll get the best. You'll just have to pay for it.
But look on the bright side: Just look at how much the Heidi and Anne BD box sets cost. You'll have to take out a bank loan to buy those...and, of course, they don't include English subtitles. I really ought to send our US fan translated subs to Japan...
(Credit: Much thanks to Reddit user Svefnpurka for the photo of his Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray collection. I forgot to credit him earlier. My mistake.)