C'mon, Disney! Get with the program and give us a better Princess Mononoke DVD, already!
My big Christmas present this year is a Sony Trinitron HDTV, a 36" CRT model that looks absolutely terrific (it's as big as an elephant and just as heavy), so now I'll be working on rebuilding my DVD collection. Naturally, this includes Studio Ghibli, especially the newly-released Blu-Rays in Japan, but it also includes a few region-1 discs that I'm trying to hunt down, like Grave of the Fireflies, Puss in Boots, and Animal Treasure Island.
Which brings me to Princess Mononoke. I have the region-2 DVD from Japan, and the picture quality is terrific. Color tones are richly painted in green and brown, light and shadows are nicely balanced, and the screen is always popping with detail. If you want the best home version of Miyazaki's 1997 blockbuster, this is the one to get.
Meanwhile, we in the States are still stuck with the crummy Miramax DVD that was released a decade ago. For reasons I have never understood, the picture quality is terrible, just bloody awful. Contrasts have been boosted to maximum, colors are bleached out, and the overall picture has been overly smoothed out. One could almost mistake it for a late-generation VHS.
I've probably touched upon this subject before in the past, but it bears repeating again, as we patiently needle and encourage Disney to import more Ghibli DVDs. Mononoke remains the first Ghibli film to be released to disc here in the States, and fans have waited long enough. It's time for a proper re-release. Take a look at the above screenshots and see for yourself. The first photo comes from the Japanese region-2 DVD; the second photo is the region-1 Miramax disc.
I am aware of the challenges of reissuing the very adult Mononoke Hime on the Flanders-family Disney label (and I mean that in a kind way). I still remember seeing this movie at the Oak Stree Cinema some years ago, and marveled at all the parents who arrived with very small children in tow. It was pretty obvious they signed up for another children's film like My Neighbor Totoro...and were handed a bloody, violent Kirosawa epic. Odds are those children are now among the 25% of American kids hooked on prescription drugs.
This is precisely why I believe the wisest decision is to place the Studio Ghibli films under their own label, as a subset of Disney. "The Complete Studio Ghibli Collection" is the label used for these DVDs and Blu-Rays around the world, and I think it offers a degree of separation from the Disney moniker. This would make it possible for the more adult-oriented Ghibli films - Grave of the Fireflies, Omohide Poro Poro, I Can Hear the Sea, and Princess Mononoke - to see a commercial release without fear of backlash. Unfortunately, the more fundamentalist elements of American society will always make business difficult. And we don't want to see Disney become an easy target for cynical politics.
I would also love to see Disney release the Ghibli ga Ippai Collection, which includes films crafted before Ghibli's founding (Panda Kopanda, Jarinko Chie, Gauche the Cellist), as well as the studio's other films, like the Short Short DVD, Ghiblies Episode 2 (package it with The Cat Returns!), the Yasuo Otsuka documentary, or Isao Takahata's masterful 1987 documentary, The Story of Yanagawa Waterways. I'm very fortunate that I've been able to see these movies, and your family should enjoy them, too.
Bottom line: there's a whole side of Studio Ghibli that Americans have yet to discover. Oh, and get with the program, Disney.