Castle in the Sky: How to Stiff the Competition's Loyal Fans

Some time ago, there once was a Ghibli fan site that compared and ranked the different releases of the Studio Ghibli DVDs around the world. It's no longer available, sadly, and it's a shame, because it was an excellent resource. It was probably this site that inspired me to seriously consider importing to build my movie library.

I wanted to continue along with our running thread, this time by looking a little closer at the American and Japanese DVDs for Laputa: Castle in the Sky. For those of you who have had to settle for the Disney version here in the States, this will feel like the final, unkindest insult of them all.

As a general rule, the Japanese Region 2 discs offer the best picture quality of all. This gap has been narrowed considerably with the later Ghibli DVDs in the US, with My Neighbor Totoro and Whisper of the Heart being excellent examples. The newer DVDs look terrific. The earlier Disney DVDs? Bloody awful. Mononoke and Castle in the Sky are the biggest offenders by far, and both are bad enough to make the entire purchase worthless.

Castle in the Sky
Castle in the SkyHere are some comparisons from Castle in the Sky. The first picture is from the Region 2 disc; the second is from the Region 1. This is from the movie's opening scene. While you can appreciate the smooth detail of the artwork in the Japanese disc, the American disc is plagued with specks, dust, and an over-reliance on edge enhancement. It's a lot like watching a movie on an old, worn-down film print, and it's more obvious in motion than in still photos.

Castle in the Sky
Castle in the SkyHere is another example, one of my favorite shots from the film. On the Region 2, you can appreciate the brilliant color and texture of the clouds and sky at sunset. It's very painterly and wonderfully composed. The Region 1? Again, it's splotchy and over-enhanced. Apparantly, the powers-that-be decided that everything was too soft and needed to be sharpened. This is a problem throughout the movie, and it just looks bloody cheap.

Castle in the Sky
Castle in the SkyOur final example shows Sheeta and Dora in the mess hall. A great collage of texture and color and details. Again, you can see how the Japanese DVD is far superior to the American one. It's more than a little shocking when you put the two side-by-side. These are the sort of comparisons you'll see on Criterion Collection DVDs when they want to demonstrate their restorations. If you put these in the opposite order, you'd believe the original Laputa film negative was destroyed by fire. You'd never imagine that this was a movie from 1986.

And the final insult of all? Most of the extras from the Region 2 DVD were removed for Region 1. The only extra to make the transition was the e-konte (a latter version of storyboards that serve as a "shooting script"). The Japanese Castle in the Sky includes the opening and closing title credits, without any text; 2:30 worth of trailers for theatres and television; and a 17-minute production video made during the making of the movie.

Hmm. Actually, that's not the final offense. Disney actually put the production video onto the US DVD. They just buried it on the disc, without any access from the menus or any subtitles. You see, children, there's a good reason why I have such disdain for Disney's treatment of the Studio Ghibli catalog; they've earned it.


Anonymous said...

You may have already discovered them, but if not, is an absolutely invaluable resource for comparisons of DVD releases across the globe. They've done many of the Ghibli's, though not all of them.

Anonymous said...

I understand that some folks, like this guy, have problems with Disney's handling of the Ghibli movies, but I don't. But while the earlier DVD releases aren't perfect, they don't deserve to be bashed as mercilessly as this guy does. The picture quality on MONONKE and LAPUTA are for the most part very good, and the audio tracks--both Japanese and English are very well done. (I especially enjoyed Dola and Muska's VAs in the dub, of course anything with Mark Hamill or Cloris Leachman in it is awesome.) And for all the issues this guy raises here, few will actually pay attention to them.

Anonymous said...

Also, I think Daniel Thomas is the absolute worst critic of Miyazaki's movies of all time. He spends most of his time blasting American animated movies while praising the Ghibli movies to no end. While I do not deny that there have been some clunker animated movies here in America, the same is true in Japan as well. Plus, keep in mind that NOTHING that Disney does is done without the permission of Miyazaki or Ghibli. Thomas here seems more interested in bashing the hell out of Disney for whatever reason, and these issues that he raises about the DVD's transfer are just trivial issues. The quality isn't as terrible as he made them out to be, and the dubs certainly aren't bad at all--check out several other sites, and you'll find that most people like these dubs, yes, LAPUTA and MONONOKE included. Fans, don't waste your time reading Daniel Thomas' articles. His words are full of crap and unfair bigotry.

Chris Sobieniak said...

At November 22, 2006 9:53 PM, Anonymous said…
Also, I think Daniel Thomas is the absolute worst critic of Miyazaki's movies of all time. He spends most of his time blasting American animated movies while praising the Ghibli movies to no end.

You must get this all the time.

Anyway, reading about the differences between the Laputa R2 and R1 DVDs, I often wonder why I bothered to pick the disc up at all one Easter Sunday when I was at grandma's and needed an excuse to go down to Meijer's (a discount dept. store/supermarket combo in the area) where I picked up the first of the Ghibli DVD's that Disney bothered to release in those 2-disc sets (Kiki's as well), instead of waiting until a R2 version came on (regardless of having seen the film already from a multi-generational copy of the old fansub). Things like edge enhancement and digital video noise reduction (or "DVNR") are the worst enemies in the sort of digital restoration of many films.

Unknown said...

Wow. That may explain why I wasn't quite as blown away with Laputa's visuals as I was with Totoro on up.

Anonymous said...

Hey anon:

Quit being a hater. This blog is awesome, and Thomas usually has a damn good point.

--Trench Kamen

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@trenchkamen: Thanks, you're very kind. I don't have the heart to tell ya this....but those comments were written back in 2006. To be honest, I've completely forgotten about them. But, in all fairness, if I am going to be pointed in my opinions, I have to take my share of punches in return. It's only fair.

I think, back in 2006, I was just happy to have some comments. I really didn't mind the criticism. I should have saved all the hate mail I received over my review of Boondock Saints, hah hah.

And, I should note, I am trying to be kinder and less confrontational as time goes by. All a part of growing older, I would guess.

Again, I do appreciate your standing up for me. That's very kind of you.

Anonymous said...

I know it's old. I just felt like making a comment.

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