July 12, 2009

My favourite movie on the planet, I mean the absolute best film ever made, in my eyes is Tonari No Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro) by Hayao Miyazaki. Damn near cinematic perfection in animation. And Miyazaki's best work, by far. Even compared to his wonderful, most recent film, Ponyo, which has just been released on DVD in Japan.

How can you get Ponyo or Totoro on Blu-ray? Well, you can't. Not yet anyway.

Read more after the jump:

Studio Ghibli is Miyazaki and his partner Isao Takahata. They've each produced a ton of films since the studio's debut in the mid 80s, with most having been released on DVD here in North America and in Europe since Ghibli's distribution deal with Disney/Buena Vista some years back. To date, however none of these films have been released on Blu-ray. But don't fret. There's hope!

ponyo dvd bluray

Gake no ue no Ponyo, though released on DVD last week in Japan (region coded to work in Japanese players only, of course) has been announced for a December release on Blu-ray! No details of the disc itself are available yet but this bodes well for those of us outside of the land of the rising sun. You see, with the film opening in theatres here on August 14, and North America sharing a region code with Japan, I think this is Disney's sneaky little way of letting us know that we'll be seeing Ponyo on Blu-ray in North America at the same time. No point releasing it in one place alone when the disc is programmed to work in the other. So, my best guess is that Ponyo will hit the USA and Canada on Blu-ray in December, to be followed slowly in the coming months by the rest of the Ghibli catalogue. Mark my words!

One thing we sadly won't see on our shores is Ponyo wa Kousite Umareta (This Is How Ponyo Was Born), the recently delayed 2-disc, 12 hour long Making-of-Ponyo release (pushed back to December to clear music rights, according to Studio Ghibli executive producer Suzuki Toshio). Even when it does hit the shops, this Blu-ray won't feature an English dub or any subtitles whatsoever. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we might see a fan-sub pop up on the internets.

In the meantime, to sate your Ghibli pallet, there are a handful of related releases on Blu (Hint - Snap up the Hisaishi in Budokan disc to see a bonus feature of music videos with Miyazaki's animation set to music. The first Ghibli animation available for home video consumption in HD!):

Joe Hisaishi in Budokan - Miyazaki Anime to Tomo ni Ayunda 25 Nenkan Blu-ray

Joe Hisaishi in Budokan - Miyazaki Anime to Tomo ni Ayunda 25 Nenkan: "To commemorate the release of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, master composer and Miyazaki's longtime collaborator Hisaishi Joe held special concerts at the Budokan on August 4 and 5, 2008. Joe Hisaishi in Budokan - Miyazaki Anime to Tomo ni Ayunda 25 Nenkan fondly revisits the award-winning composer's 25 years of musical collaboration with Miyazaki. Featuring a 200-person orchestra, an 800-person choir, and guest appearances from vocalists Hirahara Ayaka, Masako Hayashi, Fujioka Fujimaki, and Ohashi Nozumi, this concert DVD captures a night filled with music from Ponyo, My Neighbor Totoro, Laputa, Princess Mononoke, and other beloved Ghibli classics. Comes with making of and screen animation footage."

Oga Kazuo Exhibition: Ghibli No Eshokunin - The One Who Painted Totoro's Forest Blu-ray + DVD

Oga Kazuo Exhibition: Ghibli No Eshokunin - The One Who Painted Totoro's Forest (English Subs): "From July 21 through September 10th, 2007, the Museum for Contemporary Art Tokyo held an exhibition honoring Oga Kazuo, the art director and background artist for many famed works from Japan's Studio Ghibli. Over 600 works from the artist were on display, and numerous fans flocked to the one-of-a-kind exhibition celebrating the lush, gorgeous background artwork typifying many a work from Miyazaki Hayao and other Ghibli filmmakers. International fans of Oga and Studio Ghibli have not been left out, however. The Oga Kazuo Exhibition: Ghibli No Eshokunin - The One Who Painted Totoro's Forest (Blu-ray + DVD) allows fans the opportunity to attend the exhibition, as well as watch interviews and testimonials with Oga's contemporaries and collaborators, all subtitled in English."

The Scenery In Ghibli : Japan in Miyazaki's Work / European Journey To Meet Miyazaki's Work  Blu-ray

The Scenery In Ghibli : Japan in Miyazaki's Work / European Journey To Meet Miyazaki's Work : "With the use of Miyazaki's ekonte (storyboards) 3 travellers, actress Tsuruta Mayu, Natsukawa Yui and actor Sugimoto Tetsuta, visit the places and towns related to the images from Miyazaki's animated works. BS-Nippon re-edited the European part that aired on their TV channel back in 2006, as well as the Japanese part which aired in 2008 on BS-Nittere. In The Japan Miyazaki depicted (95 minutes), Tsuruta Mayu visits the places of "good old Japan" and discovers profound attractions like Totoro and Spirited Away and also shows the charm of Ponyo. In A Trip of the Europe Encountered in Miyazaki's Works (85 minutes) Natsukawa Yui visits Stockholm and Gotland to seek Koriko town from Kiki's Delivery Service. Sugimoto Tetsuta visits Alsace region to seek the town where Sophie lives in in Howl's Moving Castle." (via GhibliWorld.com)

Hayao Miyazaki will be making a rare appearance and speaking at the San Diego Comic-Con on July 24, in Hollywood for the US premiere of Ponyo on the 27 and in Beverly Hills, Calif., to be honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences the following evening, July 28.

Read more about Blu-ray at The Blu-ray Blog.com

Read about the new Studio Ghibli DVDs: Studio Ghibli Collection

And play those discs on the PS3, the best Blu-ray player on the market today!

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May 26, 2009

The Sky Crawlers (122 mins, 2008 - Blu-ray released May 26, 2009)

I would never count myself among the legion of Mamoru Oshii fans. In fact, I find Ghost in the Shell a hard slog, tough to sit through. Like watching water boil.

All right, I’m exaggerating here. Oshii never fails to deliver beautiful moments and thrilling action in his films but in order to uncover the candy he forces you to suffer the interminable plastic wrapping of verbose philosophical monologues, pretentious classical quotations and ham-fisted expository detail. I’m happy to say that his latest animated film, The Sky Crawlers manages to side step these complications. For the most part.

Read more after the jump:

The Sky Crawlers paints itself as a story about war. It leads you to believe you’re in for one hell of an airplane ride but while director Oshii delivers the occasional immaculately rendered, viscerally engaging dogfight - single and dual propeller CGI vehicles tearing through the computer-rendered sky and each other with dizzying speed and intensity - he’s less interested in action and more keen on theme and concepts. Adapted from Hiroshi Mori’s novels of the same name, The Sky Crawlers follows a group of eternally adolescent pilots into the skies as they struggle to understand the meaning of the corporate war they wage. The mysteries of the other-dimensional Europe of the film are revealed through the eyes of Yuichi, a ‘Kildren’ pilot with a missing past and a deepening relationship with the girl who holds the key to it - his self-destructive young airbase commander, Suito. As is par for the course with Oshii, we come to know the characters less through action or dialogue and more through their expression of the thematic concepts at hand - in this case, broadly, youth and war. But for once, this doesn’t get in the way of the film. Though moving at the pace of fanciful poetry, The Sky Crawlers remains inventive and engaging throughout, punctuating long stretches of haunting silence or ponderous exchanges with breathtaking images, lightning flashes of action and stirring music by Kenji Kawai.

The Blu-ray disc looks and sounds tremendous. I can’t heap enough praise on Sony for their work with animated features. These guys really seem to know what they’re doing. The transfer is immaculate, three-dimensional and electric on the screen, with the 2-D, cell animated scenes on the ground as clean and vibrant as the CGI aerial dogfights. The intense audio work by Skywalker Sound is some of the most realistic and present I’ve ever experienced in an animated film and immaculately represented here in Dolby TrueHD 5.1.

The Sky Crawlers Blu-ray disc includes three documentary shorts, each a candid look at the creation of the film and each worth your time. “Animation Research for The Sky Crawlers” (30:52) follows Oshii and his team all over the world as they photoggraph, sketch and record all the visual details required to build the alternate-universe European setting of the film. “The Sound Design and Animation of the Sky Crawlers” (32:16) takes Oshii to San Francisco and Skywalker Sound, giving insight into the critical nature of the film’s sound effects and music to the overall experience. Exclusive to the Blu-ray disc is the 15 minute featurette, “Sky’s the Limit: An Interview with Director Mamoru Oshii”, a sit-down conversation with the director that reveals his intentions for the film and the thought process that ushered the book to script and finally to screen.

Read more about The Sky Crawlers in Madeline Ashby's excellent review of the film for fps: TIFF 08: The Sky Crawlers

The Sky Crawlers is available for $22.99 on Amazon.com - 34% off the MSRP of $34.95

Via: The Blu-ray Blog

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March 19, 2009
This release makes me so sad. I'm not even sure where to start commenting on it. I had decided previously that all reviews I submitted would fit a format, with portions devoted to story, video and disc features at the very least. That format just won't work for what I have to say about Koch's release of Gulliver's Travels.

Read more after the jump:

It's pointless to review the story here. It's a classic book (or chapter of a book, as the case may be) adapted into a classic animated film. It would be like critiquing Wizard of Oz. There's no point. It is what it is - a 1939 animated feature film produced by the Fleischer Brothers in answer to Disney's success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It's far from perfect but the animation, rushed as it was, stands the test of time.

At issue here is the quality of the Blu-ray disc versus the claims made by the distribution company, Koch and the people from Cartoon Crazys who are responsible for the restoration. I think it's fantastic that they've attacked Gulliver's Travels with such enthusiasm, doing what they perceive to be the best they could with the materials at hand. Also, I'm incredibly thankful that they made a screener copy available to us, enabling me to write this review and inform you of the contents of the Blu-ray. What makes me sad is the result of their efforts and the fact that they don't see what a travesty they've created, that what they've released is such a misrepresentation of the original film print and the artists' intent.

Let me put it in bold, certain terms: Gulliver's Travels has been stretched and cropped to fit your 16:9 widescreen display. This is unacceptable under any circumstances. Need proof? Here you go. I took a trip into Photoshop and merged a couple of screen-grabs - one from an old 4:3 public domain copy I downloaded and another from Koch's 16:9 Blu-ray disc presentation.

In the first image you can clearly see that these two frames don't line up (I tried to match them by keeping the facial area parallel, having lowered the opacity on the Blu-ray screen-grab to make it slightly see-through). The 16:9 version from Koch has clearly been stretched, despite their claims to the contrary. Note how the faces line up for the most part, but the further you move from them the further from congruent the images become. That stretching has also made the Blu-ray frame slightly more squat. Observe the water line in both images.

This second image sees me distorting the 16:9 of the Blu-ray frame to match the 4:3 of the older release. They line up almost perfectly, with slightly more information on the left side of the screen, less on the right and tons cropped off of the top and bottom of the Blu-ray frame.

Koch claims in their press info that the remaster process was performed,
"...frame-by-frame without stretching characters or losing any image beyond standard vertical safe areas - and the use of proprietary techniques actually enables more picture to be visible on the left and right sides of the frame than ever before"
I cry foul. This is either the press folks completely unaware of what was happening in the lab or an out-and-out untruth. There's the evidence, staring us in the face in the images above.

I'm further disturbed by the claims made by Peter Rosenberg of Cartoon Crazys, the company responsible for the restoration, in comments over at Cartoon Brew. He asserts,
"It wasn’t a 4:3 movie on the film print, it was 35 mm. and the 4:3 version seen on TV was panned and scanned and had image removed for the tv safe area’s."
"The original was in 35mm and cut to fit TV screens in the 60’s but we restored all the lost images and safe area’s and it really looks terrific. We took over 12 months to do it and make sure it was right and as i said Tom discussed doing a wide screen version on film with Richard (Max Fleischer's son) and he thought since the Fleischers were innovators in their own time Max would be delighted by our innovations and he trusted only us to do it right."
Not only is it ridiculous to contend that the 35mm print was anything but 1.37:1, essentially a 4:3 aspect ratio, but it's further insulting to maintain that the Fleischer's would have appreciated an alteration of their work that would include the cutting and distortion of the film frame. If I could, I would direct Rosenberg and his entire crew to read the transcript from the Home Theatre Forum's discussion with the restoration team responsible for the current release of Fox's The Robe. Now, there's restoration done right and with respect for the filmmakers' original intent! If Cartoon Crazys and Koch truly care for this film and have a desire to bring a properly restored version to the home video market, they'll have to cut a deal with Viacom who currently own the rights and have the original nitrate successive exposure negatives, backup positives, optical soundtrack negatives, and isolated Main Title elements in the vaults of the UCLA Film & Television Archives in Hollywood. Now that would be impressive indeed!

Allow me to qualify the above criticisms of Koch's Gulliver's Travels by saying that I would have little to no problem with this release had the studio and the "restoration" team not made claims that didn't hold true. The disc still wouldn't have won a purchase recommendation from me but I wouldn't have taken issue with their interpretation of a public domain film. It's out there for anyone to do with as they please. This version is just as valid as any other. It's the contentions made by Koch and Cartoon Crazys regarding the transfer and restoration of Gulliver's Travels that make this Blu-ray a questionable release.

Aside from aspect ratio/stretching issues, the image on the Blu-ray disc is a bit of a mixed bag. It appears equivalent to a poor standard definition transfer on screen: hazy with severe colour bleed and lack of detail, leaving the impression that most of the clean up was rendered with heavy-handed use of digital noise reduction tools, affecting the look of a dirty, old still taken into Photoshop and posterized, with some Gaussian blur added for good effect. On a positive note, the colours are quite vivid here, possibly even more accurate than ever before, creating what might be the brightest and most brilliant presentation of Gulliver's Travels seen in years.

Without going too deeply into the rest of the issues plaguing the feature on the Blu-ray disc (film judder, jerky movement, poorly assembled and static menus, thin and unnecessary 5.1 surround mix) I'm forced to recommend giving Koch's Gulliver's Travels a pass. If you must own a copy of the film now, you would be better served tracking down the long out-of-print Hal Roach studios Image Entertainment DVD release.

PS: There are two bonus cartoons and a brief vintage documentary on the Blu-ray as well as the feature. Not that these additions alter my opinion in the least.

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August 4, 2008

They pretty much have me hooked until the dialogue at the end. Felicity just doesn't sound like an ass-kicking Amazon to me...

Click the image to pop over to Yahoo Movies and watch the trailer.

Previously on fps:
Wonder Woman Animation Director, Lauren Montgomery's Blog

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July 17, 2008

If you haven't heard about the new Wonder Woman animated film, then you clearly haven't picked up the fantastic Batman: Gotham Knight DVD or Blu-ray and fired up the sneak peek included as one of the multitudinous special features. Lauren Montgomery (Ben 10, Justice League, Legion of Super Heroes) is the lady in the captain's chair of the upcoming DTV feature, sharing credit for the updated design of DC Comics' amazon princess with Mister Animated Super-Hero, Bruce Timm.

Check out her blog, This Sucks for some production and design insights, along with some fantastic art.

Via ComicsToFilm.com

Previously on fps:
Batman: Gotham Knight

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July 15, 2008

- The classic Speed Racer animated series will finally be available as a box set on October 7th from Lionsgate. There is a mysterious 6th disc included in the collection which we're hoping will contain the bonus features sorely lacking on the individual DVDs. Via tvshowsondvd.com

- BET Networks and Marvel Animation have announced the impending arrival of a Black Panther animated series. A sneak preview will be screened at the San Diego Comic Con on July 26th. Via marketwatch.com

- Sony Pictures Animation is preparing to release it's premiere stereoscopic 3-D digital effort: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Via hollywoodreporter.com

- Live-action/animation hybrid, Go Girl has been greenlit for Canadian animation channel, Teletoon. Casting will take place via a Facebook events page and YouTube submissions. Via vfxworld.com

- Directing animator, Angus Lane shares insight into the animation process behind the film, Wall-E. via ign.com

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July 11, 2008

Home Media Magazine makes it sound like the bell has tolled for Anime on home video in North America. Their visit to the Anime Expo, July 3-6 at the Los Angeles Convention Center found them confronted by a veritable ghost-town of Anime vendors on the convention floor.

"While ADV’s set-up was bare bones, anime powerhouse VIZ Media wasn’t on the show floor at all. Neither was The Right Stuff International. All three companies held panels to discuss their plans for the rest of the year and beyond, but their absence from the show floor was reflective of the slow-down of domestic anime DVD."


Bandai, home of popular titles like Dragonball-Z and Naruto is prepared to fight the decline in sales tooth-and-nail by appealing to average otaku with video downloads and anime cinephiles with high-def Blu-ray releases. The company's first Blu-ray effort will be Mamoru Oshii's, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. Bandai has committed to a brand-new English dub and support materials for the domestic release. If you can't wait for domestic, the Japanese disc will happily play in your PS3.

via Home Media Magazine

Further Reading:
DVDTalk.com reviews the Japanese Innocence Blu-ray

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Well, what do you know? Looks like Britain loves Pixar more than Keira Knightley after all. Variety is reporting that despite the recent economic downturn, Her Majesty's loyal subjects have been shelling out for home entertainment discs in record amounts, with Ratatouille trouncing Atonement as the biggest seller to date.

“History has shown that in times of economic hardship, consumers find even more value in home entertainment when the leisure pound is stretched as it is,” commented Lavinia Carey, director general, BVA.

“As video is one of the most cost-effective forms of entertainment we would expect to see continued volume growth in our market as consumers tighten their belts in response to increasing economic uncertainty,” she added.

It seems, according to the article that the Blu-ray format has a lot to do with the recent gains in the market, citing a 506% growth, year to date.

via Variety.com

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