NOTE: Blogger is finally cooperating again. Oy vey, they've been nothing but trouble all month long! Somebody tell Google to get on the ball!
Some time ago, there once was a Ghibli fan site that compared and ranked the different releases of the Studio Ghibli DVDs around the world. It's no longer available, sadly, and it's a shame, because it was an excellent resource. It was probably this site that inspired me to seriously consider importing to build my movie library.
I wanted to continue along with our running thread, this time by looking a little closer at the American and Japanese DVDs for Laputa: Castle in the Sky. For those of you who have had to settle for the Disney version here in the States, this will feel like the final, unkindest insult of them all.
As a general rule, the Japanese Region 2 discs offer the best picture quality of all. This gap has been narrowed considerably with the later Ghibli DVDs in the US, with My Neighbor Totoro and Whisper of the Heart being excellent examples. The newer DVDs look terrific. The earlier Disney DVDs? Bloody awful. Mononoke and Castle in the Sky are the biggest offenders by far, and both are bad enough to make the entire purchase worthless.
Here are some comparisons from Castle in the Sky. The first picture is from the Region 2 disc; the second is from the Region 1. This is from the movie's opening scene. While you can appreciate the smooth detail of the artwork in the Japanese disc, the American disc is plagued with specks, dust, and an over-reliance on edge enhancement. It's a lot like watching a movie on an old, worn-down film print, and it's more obvious in motion than in still photos.
Here is another example, one of my favorite shots from the film. On the Region 2, you can appreciate the brilliant color and texture of the clouds and sky at sunset. It's very painterly and wonderfully composed. The Region 1? Again, it's splotchy and over-enhanced. Apparantly, the powers-that-be decided that everything was too soft and needed to be sharpened. This is a problem throughout the movie, and it just looks bloody cheap.
Our final example shows Sheeta and Dora in the mess hall. A great collage of texture and color and details. Again, you can see how the Japanese DVD is far superior to the American one. It's more than a little shocking when you put the two side-by-side. These are the sort of comparisons you'll see on Criterion Collection DVDs when they want to demonstrate their restorations. If you put these in the opposite order, you'd believe the original Laputa film negative was destroyed by fire. You'd never imagine that this was a movie from 1986.
And the final insult of all? Most of the extras from the Region 2 DVD were removed for Region 1. The only extra to make the transition was the e-konte (a latter version of storyboards that serve as a "shooting script"). The Japanese Castle in the Sky includes the opening and closing title credits, without any text; 2:30 worth of trailers for theatres and television; and a 17-minute production video made during the making of the movie.
Hmm. Actually, that's not the final offense. Disney actually put the production video onto the US DVD. They just buried it on the disc, without any access from the menus or any subtitles. You see, children, there's a good reason why I have such disdain for Disney's treatment of the Studio Ghibli catalog; they've earned it.