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.