Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Miyazaki Film Fest!

With the release of Ponyo on Blu-ray and DVD, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment is also releasing Special Edition DVDs of three of Hayao Miyazaki's most adored films.

After watching Spirited Away for the first time in 2001, my family was hooked on Miyazaki's films. We quickly added My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, Whisper of the Heart and his other films to our personal library. We fell in love with the rich storytelling, the amazing animation and the focus on children and families.

The three films presented here are Miyazaki's more family-friendly films. Notably absent is Spirited Away; I hope that it gets the Blu-ray treatment very soon. And Howl's Moving Castle.

All three films represent different styles of storytelling for Miyazaki. My Neighbor Totoro is my favorite of the group and is the more family-focused film.
Follow the adventures of Satsuki and her four year-old sister Mei when they move into a new home in the countryside. To their delight, they discover that their new neighbor is a mysterious forest spirit called Totoro—who can be seen only through the eyes of a child. Totoro introduces them to extraordinary characters—including a cat that doubles as a bus!—and takes them on an incredible journey.
This is a movie that everyone in the family will enjoy. It is a touching and sweet film full of charm, curiosity and laughs. You will fall deeply in love with Totoro and wish that you could have adventures with your own forest spirit. Even after repeated viewings, I am still amazed at the brilliance of the filmmakers. There are many scenes in the film that American animation studios would bypass or ignore due to the labor and costs. Miyazaki shines in these areas.

Kiki's Delivery Service is less whimsical than My Neighbor Totoro, but still works in a world of fantasy.
Kiki is an enterprising young girl who must follow tradition to become a full-fledged witch. Venturing out with only her black cat, Jiji, Kiki flies off for the adventure of a lifetime. Landing in a far-off city, she sets up a high-flying delivery service and begins a wonderful experience of independence and responsibility as she finds her place in the world.
Although everyone will enjoy Kiki, I feel like it will be accepted more by tween girls and boys. Miyazaki excels at creating strong female leads and Kiki is no exception. The late Paul Hartman does a wonderful job as the voice of Jiji and adds a lot of depth to the film.

Castle In the Sky will appeal more to the teens and young boys (and us grown-up boys). Miyazaki has crafted an incredibly beautful world that is dominated by flying machines and would make any steampunk or Victorian-era fan very happy. Castle is far more action-packed than the other films, but it is still an amazing story.
This high-flying adventure begins when Pazu, an engineer’s apprentice, finds a young girl, Sheeta, floating down from the sky, wearing a glowing pendant. Together, they discover both are searching for a legendary floating castle, Laputa, and vow to unravel the mystery of the luminous crystal around Sheeta’s neck. Their quest won’t be easy, however. There are greedy air pirates, secret government agents and astounding obstacles to keep them from the truth—and from each other.
Disney has taken the opportunity to re-release these films in order to capitalize on the popularity of Ponyo. I am very glad that they have. These are fantastic animated films and deserve to be seen by Disney and animation fans everywhere.

Cory at Voyages Extraordinaire had the wonderful opportunity to experience the Studio Ghibli Museum on his recent trip to Japan. He asked me if the Special Editions were worth picking up if you already own the original releases. The extras on each disc are similar. Each one has the Japanese Storyboards and a large collection of shorts detailing the production of the film.I have to admit that I really enjoyed all of the featurettes, especially the interviews with Hayao Miyazaki and director Toshio Suzuki. Being able to hear the words of these talented authors (and read them in English subtitles) was fascinating. It truly gave you a sense that they love their work and that they put their heart and soul into these films. It is especially endearing to hear Miyazaki profess how he created the characters based on children that he knew. I would have like to have seen more, but they are a great introduction to the characters, the films and the world of Ghibli.

These films are wonderful and need to be in your DVD library. With the addition of Ponyo, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, you have an unbelievable animation collection. My Neighbor Totoro is a frequent request at our house. If only we could find our own stuffed Totoro!

I do feel like I gush a little too much about the Miyazaki films, but most people do, once they see them. And I urge you to see them!




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