Since we're only a few months away from Ponyo's arrival on Blu-Ray in Japan and France (December), I think this is a great time to take a short look at Studio Ghibli's first forays into BD. These discs will no doubt become forgotten once the feature films begin arriving (I presume, with no official news yet) in 2010.
All of these Blu-Rays are available only in Japan, and thanks to currency exchange rates, are quite expensive to import to the US. So these are definitely for the diehard Ghibli Freaks. Score one of these and you'll be the envy of your friends for a long time.
Iblard Jikan: I've posted about Iblard Jikan here, here, and here. This is less an animated short film than a stroll through an art gallery, with short animations scattered about for flavor. Naohisa Inoue's talents are remarkable, and being an artist myself, I love seeing his work on a big high-definition screen. I also love the idea of throwing your paintings onto BD. Hopefully, once prices come down, we'll be able to do the same with our work. This was the first Blu-Ray disc published by Ghibli, so there's definitely a collector's value. This disc is also available in standard DVD.
The Scenery in Ghibli: Japan in Miyazaki's Work/European Journey to Meet Miyazaki's Work: This Blu-Ray disc was released earlier this year, very recently, in fact. It's a pair of television programs from 2006 and 2008 that follow the real-life locations around the globe that influence Hayao Miyazaki's films. One documentary goes to Europe in search of Stockholm and Gotland, which were the inspiration for Kiki's Delivery Service, and the Alsace region of France where Howl's Moving Castle was based. The second documentary explores Japan, discovering places that have inspired My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea.
I don't believe too many Westerners are aware just how much Miyazaki relies upon actual locations in the real world. Both he and Isao Takahata are firmly rooted in the style of Italian Neo-Realism, and many of the locations in their movies are in fact real places. The surburban Tokyo district where Mimi wo Sumaseba was set is now a popular tourist destination. Signs prominently display the locations from the movie, where you can follow in Shizuku's footsteps across the streets and up the long winding hills. If I travelled to Japan, I would most definitely make my pilgrimmage.
Joe Hisaishi in Bodukan: The concert performance by Miyazaki's longtime composer, who has scored all his directoral works since Nausicaa. These concerts were held on August 4 and 5, 2008, and featured songs from his vast catalog, with the help of 200-person orchestra, an 800-person chorus, and a giant screen playing the Miyazaki films.
There has been some confusion on whether the Ghibli footage from the concert is in true hi-definition. It's not, sadly; the movie footage is simply upscaled DVD. It would have been fantastic, of course, to see Miyazaki's movies in 1080p resolution, but I'm afraid we're going to have to wait for that.
Thanks to Asian Blu-Ray Guide for supplying this cover. It's well appreciated.
Kazuo Oga Exhibition: The One Who Painted Totoro's Forest: Now here is my favorite one of the bunch. It's easily the best of the Ghibli BD's so far; not only is this a fantastic showcase for your HDTV, it's a great insight into one of Studio Ghibli's master painters. This art collection of Kazuo Oga's background and production paintings appeared in the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art on July 21 - September 10, 2007. Over 600 works were on display, and unless I am very sorely mistaken, every one of these paintings are included on the DVD and BD.
The extra features include interviews with Oga's friends and peers, and all of these are subtitled into English. This is the only Ghibli Blu-Ray of the four to include subtitles, in fact. That alone makes it a must-have for Western fans. If you want to score one of the Ghibli BD's, make it this one. If I can scrounge the money, I am definitely picking this one up.