DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

My Neighbor Totoro, Blu-ray (1988/2013)
Howl’s Moving Castle, Blu-ray (2004/2013)

Two of the very best Miyazaki animated features, with English soundtracks by leading actors and on Blu-ray.

Published on June 16, 2013

My Neighbor Totoro, Blu-ray (1988/2013)

Howl’s Moving Castle, Blu-ray (2004/2013)

Voices: Dakota & Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer, Billy Crystal
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Music: Joe Hisaishi
Studio: Studio Ghibli/ Disney Home Entertainment 111374, 11354 (2-disc combo packs) [5/21/13]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: Choice of Japanese, English, or French DTS-HD MA 2.0 [Howl’s: 5/1], also DD 2.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
Extras: Japanese storyboards, Japanese trailer, Behind the Microphone, Behind the Studio [Totoro] (the creation, the experience, characters, creating Ghibli, locations, scoring), [Howl’s:] Interview with English track director Pete Docter, Miyazaki Visits Pixar Animation Studios
Length: 88 minutes; 119 minutes
Ratings: *****

First, I‘ve covered both of these films in their earlier standard DVD incarnations: Here, and Here.  Second, if you don’t know about Miyazaki, you must be part of that minority of movie-goers who doesn’t like animation. Miyazaki is I think by far the best animator in the world today, and his Studio Ghibli films are a total antidote to the typical Disney animated feature. My Neighbor Totoro, for example, presents a wonderful story that makes it perhaps the best family animation feature ever, and it does it without resorting to any evil villains, side kicks with witty comments, or noise and explosions. He uses amazing images to advance the story line, not just dialog. Miyazaki won the oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2002 for Spirited Away, and in theaters at this moment is the latest Studio Ghibli film, Up on Poppy Hill, made by his son.  Howl’s Moving Castle was the No. 3 film in Japan, after Spirited Away and Titanic.

There’s little in the contemplative, nature-centered My Neighbor Totoro that might upset even the smallest child, while Howl’s Moving Castle does have some upsetting scenes of war and devastation. The plot of the latter becomes a bit complex and confusing towards the end. It seems to be about personal freedom, with the point that the wizard Howl has somehow lost his heart and must get it back to avoid getting stuck in his hawk persona, unable to return to being a human.

Miyazaki’s art is so gorgeous that having these Blu-ray transfers makes it even more delicious. He uses strong colors and hues, with striking primary colors and the darkest blacks, which all comes thru beautifully on the Blu-rays. There seem to be no visual anomalies of any kind, and the detail and resolution is right on. The DVD transfers were very good, but these are perfect.

The jump from the plain stereo track of Totoro to the 5.1 lossless DTS surround of Howl’ s Moving Castle is noticeable. And there are plenty of opportunities to make good use of the surround track on the odd airships that pass overhead, the battles that go on, and the bombs that are dropped.  Also the peculiar sounds for the moving castle are a treat, making plenty use of the subwoofer channel. When combined with the magnificently messy and falling-apart castle (which at one point does fall apart), the sounds make for a magical experience.

The second Blu-ray carries the same extra bonus feature as the standard DVD version, titled “Behind the Microphone.” And Pete Docter talks about the efforts that went into the creation of the English-language soundtrack for the film. He observes that he usually selects the original language on the soundtrack and uses the English subtitles, which I also usually do. Of course then with this one you would miss the hilarious characterizations Billy Crystal does for Calcifer, and Lauren Bacall for The Witch of the Wastes. They mention the difficult work to match the English to the Japanese mouth movements of the characters on the screen, since sometimes the English version ran longer and at other times shorter. All the voices in the English version are reproduced with the greatest clarity, and no lines lost. But the English subtitles are also well done, with no noticeable errors.

—John Sunier

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