Viz Media to Release "The Art of Princess Mononoke" - Is a Disney Blu-Ray Coming Soon?

Viz Media announced this week that, in addition to publishing Hayao Miyazaki's 1980 Mononoke Hime (based on a series of image boards for an unrealized animation project), they will be publishing "The Art of Princess Mononoke," as part of the continuing Studio Ghibli art book series.  The book will arrive in bookstores this October.

This release will officially replace the long out-of-print edition published by Miramax, "Princess Mononoke: The Art and Making of Japan's Most Popular Film of All Time."  That book was also based on Ghibli's official art book.  I haven't seen that edition in many years, so I cannot remember if there were any exclusive pages or essays that won't appear in Viz Media's edition.  We'll just have to wait and see.

And now for the larger question: Does the publication of two Mononoke Hime-themed books mean Disney is planning to release the Blu-Ray edition of the film?  It was released in Japan just in time for Christmas last year (along with The Cat Returns the Favor/Ghiblies Episode 2), and should be arriving around the world in due course.  Unfortunately, as we all know, the relationship between Studio Ghibli and Disney over this film was rocky and contentious.  It's never a good sign when the studio boss wakes up to find a loaded weapon in his mailbox.

When Miramax split from Disney, they took Princess Mononoke with them, as they were the official distributor in the US.  It appeared the rights would be lost in legal limbo; fortunately, Disney quietly reacquired those rights a couple years ago, and reissued the DVD, with the blue-and-gold label.  This was done with almost no fanfare, and, probably don't even know this release even exists.  Heck, I didn't know about it until I saw a copy at Barnes & Noble's last year.

When Disney signed a distribution deal with Studio Ghibli, they were interested in Hayao Miyazaki's children's movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service.  The last thing they ever expected from the Japanese filmmaker was a bloody and brutally violent Ford-Kurosawa epic.  In a society where animation exists almost solely as "the electric babysitter," Princess Mononoke came as a shock, and relations between the two parties were notably damaged, until Pixar's John Lasseter came to the rescue in 2002.

On the Blu-Ray front, Disney in the US has fallen so far behind Japan and the rest of the world, I've all but given up hope.  They have little interest in selling movies that don't sell in this country, especially when Disney holds no merchandising or character rights ("where the real money from the movie is made.")  And the box office returns for The Wind Rises are absolutely dreadful.  And so there is very little demand, or interest, by either Disney or the general public.

The two new Mononoke books give hope that we'll see the Blu-Ray on our shores.  On that topic, I'll move the dial from "Never in a Million Years" to "Maybe."  For our side, I'll count that as a win.


I Make Comments said...

Despite it's steep price tag, I've been thinking about picking up an imported copy of Only Yesterday on Blu-ray.

But I really don't want to do the same for Princess Mononoke if there's a chance that we'll see a Blu-ray release out here. I don't think I've heard anything about Disney saying that they won't release any more Studio Ghibli films on Blu-ray in North America. It just seems like they're releasing them really, really late. Well get them all (except for Only Yesterday) eventually, right?

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Disney has a perfectly good reason for being so reluctant to release Studio Ghibli DVDs and Blu-Rays: they don't sell.

Look at the box office numbers. The Wind Rises, hailed as Hayao Miyazaki's "final masterpiece," covered in a flurry of press and anticipation, only barely earns $3 million in three weekends. Mr. Peabody and Sherman made 10x that amount in its opening weekend, and it's being trashed as a failure.

There was some upward momentum with Ponyo ($15mm) and Arrietty ($20mm), but this is chump change for Hollywood. Poppy Hill barely eaned a million; Tales From Earthsea made less money than most panhandlers. And the "final Miyazaki movie" is DOA.

And I hate to sound like a broken record, but the major sticking point with Disney is probably merchandising rights. They're not in the movie business; they're in the toy business. They create their animated movies in order to move mountains of toys. And they can't do that with Studio Ghibli.

So why bother with these movies at all? Nobody goes to the theaters, nobody buys the home videos, and there's no merchandise to sell. The American public is still terrified of "Japanimation" cartoons, despite their best efforts to turn that around, and the man they've hailed as the "Walt Disney of Japan" is retiring.

What do you think is going to happen? For Blu-Ray, I'll place my bets on The Wind Rises and Spirited Away, and Disney will keep their eyes on Yonebayashi's Marnie. Beyond that, nothing.

I'll be happy to be proven wrong, but one would have to be blind not to see something is very wrong with the Ghibli-Disney relationship. Ah, well. These are only my personal theorizing, nothing more.

Anonymous said...

You could always get the Hong Kong Blu Ray, which is much cheaper, only around 37$ on average. The Hong Kong Blu Ray is Region A and is virtually identical to the Japanese editions in terms of video and audio quality; I own several of the Ghibli Blu Ray's in both forms so I can confirm this. And yes they do have English subtitles.

I don't know if Mononoke will recieve a Blu Ray release here, but I already ordered mine from Japan because I didn't want to wait for the Hong Kong Blu Ray and let me tell you it sure does look amazing. There are a few places were it doesn't look as good as it could be, but that doesn't take away the fact that sharpness and especially the color blows all the DVD versions I've seen right out of the water. Watching it in Blu Ray was like watching it for the first time(and for the amount of times I've seen it, that's saying something).

Thomas said...

Mononoke and The Cat Returns are available in the UK on Blu-ray from Studiocanal.

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