The Next Wave of Studio Ghibli BD's - Porco Rosso, Pom Poko, and Tales From Earthsea Starring Julian Lennon

Hot on the heels of this week's release of The Wind Rises, Princess Mononoke and Kiki's Delivery Service on Blu-Ray, Disney has announced its next wave of Studio Ghibli movies in the States for February 3, 2015.  The next movies to arrive on BD...Porco Rosso, Pom Poko, and Tales From Earthsea.  Terrific!

This is very welcome news.  I had all but given up on Disney, who are notorious for dragging their heels on releasing Studio Ghibli movies on home video.  They appear to have all but given up at this point, leaving GKids as the new de-facto face of Ghibli in America. Now this sudden rush to get everything out the door...this is a very welcome surprise.

Porco Rosso is a favorite of mine.  It's quintessential Studio Ghibli: inspired by romantic adventure movies of yore, quietly nostalgic, more interested in telling a story about people instead of mindless action or dumb violence, and filled with humanity.  This is a wonderfully rich and layered movie, one that only could be told by the middle-aged Hayao Miyazaki; the younger Miyazaki of Horus and Animal Treasure Island, Lupin and Conan, couldn't possibly have pulled it off. This story requires that bittersweet nostalgia that only comes with age and experience.  And it's also very, very funny.  For years, Porco Rosso was my go-to "Miyazaki show-off" movie.  I hope it will be the same for you.

Heisei Tanuki Gassan Pom Poko, shortened to just "Pom Poko" in the West, is a harder nut to crack. It's less accessible for those not steeped in Japanese folklore or culture, and director Isao Takahata really isn't interested in meeting us halfway.  You must do your homework and meet on his terms. I think this film is a near-masterpiece, a sprawling, densely packed epic fable that fuses a mock documentary style with cultural history lesson and social satire, all wrapped in Paku-san's trademark character melodrama. The visual style is wildly inventive, darting from neo-realism to surrealism without warning. Pom Poko is a classic rock double album of a movie, a Physical Graffiti for animation.  It may be too sprawling, too dense, too much.  But the same could be said of Graffiti, or Exile on Main Street, or The White Album, or any double album.

I think Pom Poko suffered visually from the DVD format; colors were too washed out, too bleached out. Expect the Blu-Ray to restore all that rich color and visual detail previously missing from home video. I also think this movie suffers from its US Disney dub, which is clearly a weaker effort in the Ghibli catalog.  It's a hard movie to translate and pass off as American; this movie doesn't want to be assimilated. And it needs to be said: Johnathan Taylor Thomas was a clunky choice. Maurice Lemarche was much better, but isn't he always?

Pom Poko is one of only two Takahata films - the other being his 1987 live-action documentary, The Story of Yanagawa Canals - based on an original script, and not an adaptation. Perhaps that explains the epic, rambling nature. Paku-san just keeps piling on details, episodes, topics of discussion, hurling out ideas that lead to yet more discussions about yet more topics. He seems hellbent on solving the riddle of Modern Japan, a Westernized nation in danger of dissolving its sacred past.

Finally, Tales From Earthsea, Goro Miyazaki's 2006 directorial debut.  This movie took a drubbing from fans and critics, while Goro himself was ridiculed for coming across as the Ungrateful Son. I was not very fond of Earthsea when it was released, but I am willing to give it another chance, to try and appreciate the movie on its terms, and not as a running commentary on the Miyazaki clan and Studio Ghibli's quest to find a successor to the throne.Is it possible to appreciate this movie without all that bagging hanging overhead?

Picking the middle book in Ursula K. Le Guin's fantasy saga feels odd, particularly when only a single feature film would be made and not a trilogy. A television series would probably have been wiser. The greater story needed to be fleshed out, the mythology needed room to grow.  And Goro-san needed every opportunity to develop his skills. He's a third-string quarterback thrown into the big game without even learning the entire playbook. It shows. Goro Miyazaki is the Christian Ponder of anime.

That said, I did enjoy Tales From Earthsea's rich color palette, its impressive locales and scene designs. It will look sumptuous on Blu-Ray. Fans will be thrilled and Ghibli Freaks will have another title in their movie libraries. It might not get played, but it will look great sitting there on the shelf.


Gael said...

Hi Daniel!

(Sorry for my bad english)

Just a small correction about Pom Poko's original title. It's 平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ "Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko".
Also, Takahata has also made a third original (shorter) movie with Panda Kopanda, even if it was originally designed as an adaptation of Pippi Longstocking, then cancelled.

I couldn't agree more with your vision of Porco Rosso who, 20 years later, still gives me so strong feelings every time I watch it.

In France, we already have Porco Rosso and Earthsea in Blu-Ray. Chihiro and Whisper of the Heart are going out early 2015, but Ponpoko still hasn't been announced.

Keep up the good work, your blog posts are fascinating. ;-)

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Thanks, I fixed the title so it's correct. Interesting that you say a third Panda Kopanda was considered; this is news to me. Do we have any sources on this?

Panda Kopanda is one of those Takahata/Miyazaki works that remains criminally ignored. If I ever found myself working for Discotek, or otherwise scoring the rights to the two Panda movies, a proper home video release (and certainly Blu-Ray) would be a top priority.

I Make Comments said...

If they were going to release another Takahata film, I personally would have preferred My Neighbors the Yamadas, but oh well. Maybe they'll release that alongside Spirited Away?

Out of this batch, I think Porco Rosso will probably be the only one I pick up....but I sure hope that Disney releases the literal translation subs with these movies. I feel like writing a complaint letter to Disney about this. How difficult is it to release a sub track on your disc, especially if you HAVE the translation ready to go, and own the rights to it?? It makes absolutely no sense.

Gael said...

Sorry Daniel I wasn't clear.
I didn't want to say they've considered making a third Panda Kopanda, but that it could complete your list of "Takahata films [...] based on an original script, and not an adaptation" alongside with Ponpoko and Yanagawa.

Panda Kopanda was released as a DVD here in 2011 by distributor "France Televisions", which means it could go out elsewhere anytime.
One I'm also particularly waiting for in Blu-Ray is Nagagutsu o haita neko (Puss in Boots), especially for its stunning last sequence Miyazaki worked on, about which you already wrote in several of your blog posts if I remember correctly.

Cheers to several distributors around the world who can make it possible for (pre-)Ghibli films to be released in Blu-Ray!

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Ah,yes, of course! Why do I keep forgetting Panda Kopanda? Maybe because it never had a decent home video release. I keep forgetting that Discotek reissued the DVD in 2012.

I am also looking forward to more Toei Doga movies on Blu-Ray. I really need to get in touch with Toei's contacts and discuss strategy for future releases.

Hayley Harrison said...

Hey Daniel, awesome to see you posting again. I was wondering if you had heard anything about the Japanese Miyazaki Box Set looking different than the previously released blurays. The only one I know is for sure that's different is Nausicaa, here's a comparison:

What do you think of this color difference?

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

That's a very good point, and I've read online that the BD box sets use newly-mastered versions. They're not the same as the existing single-disc releases. However, there may be some debate as to which version (single vs box) is superior. I'll see if I can find some examples to compare.

And, of course, I'd be thrilled to see the Miyazaki and Takahata box sets released here in the US, but rights issues are more complex, especially with Paku-san. But maybe 2015 will bring good news for us.

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