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Featured DVD Review: Hayao Miyazaki Collection

March 2nd, 2010

Hayao Miyazaki Collection: Buy from Amazon: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service

With the release of Ponyo on Two-Disc DVD and Two-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo Disc this week, Disney is also releasing three of Hayao Miyazaki's earlier films: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service. Each is coming out on Two-Disc Special Edition DVDs starting with...

Castle in the Sky - Castle in the Sky
The film starts with air pirates leading an attack against an airship. They quickly overcome its defenses and run to their objective: a young girl named Sheeta. More specifically, the crystal pendent she wears around her neck. While she doesn't want to be kidnapped by the pirates, she also doesn't want to stay with the people protecting her. In her attempt to escape, she slips and falls to Earth. While this should be the end of her, her pendent starts to glow and she floats safely to the ground and into the arms of Pazu. Pazu is an orphan whose father discovered the legendary Laputa, a lost city floating in the sky. When no one believed he discovered it, he became obsessed with rediscovering it and he died on his quest. Sheeta has a connection to Laputa as well (her birth name is Lucita Toelle Ur Laputa). With the government, (Colonel Muska, The General), Dola and her pirates sons after them, they'll have to work together to unlock the secret of the pendent and find Laputa. Perhaps they'll even find some allies along the way.

There's something about the Steampunk look that I love. It's the H.G.Wells / Jules Verne vision of the future. The film's look is a huge selling point for me, but it's not the only one. This is a great adventure movie with plenty of equally great action scenes. But there's a solid foundation of characters and story to ground it in a realism that exists despite the fantastic elements.

The only extra on Disc One is a 30-second intro by John Lasseter. Over on Disc Two, you can watch the entire movie in storyboard form. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Storyboards are great as part of a Picture-in-Picture track, but not on their own for the entire movie. Under The World of Ghibli there are several featurettes (mostly interviews with Hayao Miyazaki) with a total running time of 24 minutes, as well as the Enter the Lands section seen on the Ponyo Two-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo Disc. This time the Castle in the Sky section has the personality test. (Depending on what questions come up, I'm either Dola or Pazu. ... I prefer Dola.)

My Neighbor Totoro - Buy from Amazon
Satsuki and Mei are moving with their father from a big city to rural Japan. However, right away the two girls notice something strange with the house. Their new neighbor, Kanta, claims their house is haunted. They've moved to the country so they can be closer to their mother, who is sick in a nearby hospital. One day while Satsuki is off at school, Mei explores her new surroundings and spots a pair of sprites (for lack of a better term). She gives chase and meets Totoro, a giant wood spirit who is in charge of watching over the forest. Satsuki wants to watch as well, but she will have to wait.

My Neighbor Totoro is essentially the coming of age story for Satsuki, complicated by her mother's illness. It's a much smaller film than Castle in the Sky, not just in length but also in the scope. However, it feels a lot more personal (or, as Hayao Miyazaki says in the special features, "peaceful and tranquil") Also, the first time Satsuki sees Totoro is an iconic image. Even if you haven't seen the movie, you have probably seen that image.

There are no extras on Disc One. Disc Two has the movie in storyboard form (again, I ask: why?) and the The World of Ghibli section with 24 minutes worth of interviews / featurettes on various subjects from the creation of the movie, its popularity, the origin of the name Totoro, the origin of the name Ghibli, etc. There is a longer featurette on the real world locations that served as inspirations for the movie. The personality test here says I'm either Satsuki or Totoro.

Kiki's Delivery Service - Buy from Amazon
Kiki is a 13-year old witch that has just left home, as is the tradition for witches of her age. She heads to the big city where she will live on her own, expect for her overly sarcastic cat, Jiji. Her new life isn't as smooth as she imaged it would be. Firstly of all, she's not a very good witch. She has no real witch skills except flying, and she can barely fly. She stumbles into the obvious career path of being a delivery person, meets some new friends along the way, and things start to look up. But a couple of setbacks shake her confidence, diminishing her magical powers. That further destroys her confidence, until at the end of this vicious cycle she loses her powers altogether. Will she be able to get her powers back? If so, what will it take?

The story itself is a rather simple coming of age tale, but this simplicity is an asset, since it allows us to concentrate on the characters and their emotional journeys rather than grand adventures. Kiki is a character you can empathize with and cheer for. Strangely, although it is about a witch, this feels like the most grounded of the four Hayao Miyazaki films that came out this week.

Extras include the usual slate, starting with an introduction by John Lasseter on Disc One. Disc two has the movie in storyboard form and 22-minutes of short featurettes on the making of the mvoie, the designs, the voice work, etc. There is also a 29-minute featurette on the real world locations that inspired the look of the movie. The extras unique to this DVD end with the personality test, which told me I was Kiki. I thought for sure I would be Jiji.

The Verdict

One could argue that Hayao Miyazaki's breakout success came in 1984 with the release of Warriors of the Wind, a.k.a. Nausicaä of the Valley, but Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service represent his three earliest films from Studio Ghibli and are therefore incredibly important within the scope of his career. All three are magnificent movies, and while there's some overlap between the three DVD releases in terms of extras, all three are absolutely worth picking up. I just wish they were being released on Blu-ray as well.

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