In case you’ve only experienced American animation -Disney, Warner Brothers, DreamWorks – this is an invitation to explore the wonderful world of Japanese animation through the films from Studio Ghibli, Japan’s answer to Walt Disney. Some years ago Studio Ghibli formed an alliance with Disney to release its films in versions dubbed in English by well-known actors like Timothy Dalton, Mariska Hargitay, and Willem Dafoe. Most of these have made it to DVD and many to Blu-ray. The latter format is the way you want to see Studio Ghibli films so you can enjoy every wonderful detail. For February, 2015, Disney has released some lesser Studio Ghibli films on Blu-ray: Tales From Earthsea [PG-13], Pom Poko [PG], and Porco Rosso[PG]. All contain both a
Blu-ray disc and a DVD. Tales from Earthsea is based loosely on Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels and tells the story of a mythical land of magic that has become unbalanced. Crops wither, dragons reappear and an evil sorcerer is to blame. Heroes are needed. Pom Poko tells the story of a band of tanuki, small bodied Japanese dogs that are masked and thus resemble raccoons, who are trying to save their forest outside Tokyo from development. They learn to transform into almost anything, including humans. Some of the best Studio Ghibli visuals ever are included in this movie, but beware, its environmental message is a bit preachy, even for a tree huger like me. There’s a lot of narration; I found that this was the one release that worked better in English. For the others I preferred the original Japanese with English subtitles.
Porco Rosso is a stirring adventure about an aviation hero who is under a curse that causes him to have a pig’s face. In thrilling sequences, he battles sky pirates to get the girl and maintain his honor. Directed by Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, this is the best of the three releases. The most interesting supplement I found is almost hidden. It’s on Tales from Earthsea and is called “The Birth Story of the Film Soundtrack.” At first you might think it is short, but let it run past what initially looks like an ending and it’s an hour long documentary on film composer Tamiya Terashima and his quest to find the right medieval and baroque instruments to play the score when contrasted with a full symphony orchestra. There are some really neat sounds from all the instruments considered. In closing, parents note that Studio Ghibli films are not always G rated. I’ve put the ratings alongside the titles above. As an introduction to Studio Ghibli I urge you to start out with the best: Spirited Away [PG] and Howl’s Moving Castle [PG]. Then you will want to see them all!