ANIME REVIEW: “Studio Ghibli Collection” on blu-ray – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEW: “Studio Ghibli Collection” on blu-ray

Hayao Miyazaki’s brilliant animated features have already been released on disc several times, but this new series from GKids includes additional extras about the making of the films. Each two-disc set comes with a small booklet of statements by Miyazaki, producer Toshio Suzuki, and/or producer/director Isao Takahata. The sets of Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind include video features from Japanese television, opening day events, etc.

Some of the material in the booklets is reprinted from the Ghibli “Art of” volumes, but some of it has not been presented before. When they began to prepare for the initial Blu-ray release of Nausicaä, Suzuki recalls that Miyazaki denounced the pumped-up colors in many Blu-rays. “He asserted that masterpieces from the past had been turned into tasteless films with gaudy colors. That wasn’t what the creators had intended. This is sacrilege toward the people who made the films. As years have gone by, it is natural for films to look old.” For the transfer of Nausicaä, dirt and scratches were removed, but coloring mistakes remained. Many animators wish American films had such a powerful advocate.

Some of the video features are upbeat fluff from Japanese TV. Miyazaki and the voice actors give brief speeches to the opening day audience for Ponyo, thanking them for coming out in the summer heat. The live action music video for the Ponyo theme song includes a cameo by Suzuki as a chauffeur. Others, including Miyazaki’s press conference at the foreign press club in Tokyo, have more substance.

British juvenile novelist Diane Wynne Jones, the author of the “Howl’s Moving Castle,” notes that the castle she imagined was tall and thin and probably made of blocks of coal, but she likes Miyazaki’s wonderfully ramshackle creation. She explains that as a young woman, an undiagnosed food allergy temporarily forced her to walk with a cane—and gave her the idea for Sophie, the young heroine who’s turned into a 90-year-old woman (“I was young, then suddenly I was old”). She’s also surprised that Miyazaki’s design for the Witch of the Waste looks a lot like the “formidable” aunt on whom she based the character—down to the fur-trimmed hat.

The most unusual of these features is an informal radio discussion between Suzuki and Hideaki Anno, who animated the deadly God Monster in Nausicaä as a young artist. He went on to create the watershed series Neon Genesis Evangelion, which included cyborgs with even more terrible powers. It’s entertaining to hear them reminisce—Anno was so broke, he had no fixed address and slept under his desk–but it would have been more interesting if they had discussed Miyazaki’s influence on Anno’s later work.

After watching these discussions, the viewer inevitably turns to the features themselves, and rediscovers just how brilliant a filmmaker Miyazaki is. If a major American studio were to remake Castle in the Sky, a character voiced by Jeff Bridges or Sam Elliott would look at the massive ruins of Laputa and comment, “By cutting themselves off from nature, they cut themselves off from life and perished.” Miyazaki eschews words, presenting the idea visually with far greater eloquence: A gigantic robot, encrusted with moss and lichens, solemnly lays a delicate flower on the grave of its former masters.

In many recent CG features, the artists have taken pains to render every blade of grass moving in the wind; in Spirited Away, Miyazaki just moves a line of color over a green hillside, but the audience feels the breeze wash over the landscape. Miyazaki’s films remind viewers of the difference between poetry and prose.

In his writings, Miyazaki often returns to his key belief: The need to make films that are uplifting, inspiring, and meaningful to young people growing up in a world he regards as debased and stultifying, divorced from the natural world and the values of traditional Japanese culture. At a time when many Western features juxtapose increasingly elaborate visuals with stories that are superficial at best, his position feels more admirable than ever.

Any serious student (or fan) of animation will want this new series. Porco Rosso and The Secret World of Arietty are scheduled to be released November 1st. Let’s hope G Kids will also release Whisper of the Heart (1995), the underappreciated Ghibli feature by Miyazaki and Yoshifumi Kondo.

Castle in the Sky [link]
Howl’s Moving Castle [link]
Kiki’s Delivery Service [link]
My Neighbor Totoro [link]
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind [link]
Ponyo [link]
Princess Mononoke [link]
Spirited Away
[link]
GKids: $29.95, each two discs, DVD & Blu-ray)

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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