Bluray review by Neil Gardner
Let me confess at the very start of this review, that I am an unashamed Studio Ghibli fanboy. It was Spirited Away that began my relationship with anime and manga, and I’ve been ravenously devouring every Ghibli morsel as soon as it becomes available.
Laputa was the second Ghibli movie I saw, and on that first viewing I truly fell in love with the studio, and Hiyao Miyazaki’s work. It is easy to see why he is referred to as the Walt Disney of the East, but I think he is much more than that. He is certainly Disney, but also Lassiter, Lang, Tolkien, Blighton, Rowling, and so many others. It is a very Western thing to try and pigeon hole someone or liken them to one other person, but what Miyazaki and his team do is more akin to whole swathes of Western talent.
So…on to the review of the 2011 Bluray release of Laputa. Unlike previous Ghibli bluray releases, I wasn’t blown away immediately by the transfer. While it is definitely an improvement on the DVD, it doesn’t feel like the sea change we got with Nausicaa or Ponyo. The colours are vibrant and well defined, the sound is clean with a decent mix, but somehow, for some reason, I just didn’t get the wow factor as I sat down to view the disc.
Now, this isn’t a reflection on the brilliance of the film or the plot. Laputa holds up to multiple viewings easily…and this must have been the 14th or 15th time I’d watched it. I’ve only ever had one beef with this Ghibli masterpiece, and that is that I find it a little too long. It is made up of a large number of set pieces, all of which are exciting, character driven and necessary for he plot. But by the time our heroes finally reach the mysterious Laputa, I feel like I need a break for five minutes to get my second wind.
If you don’t know the film, it is the story of two kids searching for the mystical land of Laputa, a city said to be floating in the clouds. The army are also searching for the city in order to learn it’s many secrets, while a pirate gang are looking for it to loot the rumoured treasure vaults. On their adventure the kids meet miners and friendly pirates, evil secret agents, greedy soldiers and destructive yet kindly robots. It is all set in a European, industrial landscape…similar to other Ghibli films, and as with much of Miyazaki’s work, flying and the sky are key themes.
I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet…but if you’ve seen Howl’s Moving Castle or Ponyo you will immediately feel at home with this movie. It is hand painted and hand animated and has that unique Ghibli feel of warmth and friendship, fantasy and reality…all mixed together to tell a tale that will resonate with children and adults. If the only Ghibli film you’ve seen is Spirited Away then you may find this one a little more basic in it’s style and pacing, but give it a try and soon you’ll come to appreciate Miyazaki’s tone and approach to story telling. This is a lovely entry into the world of Ghibli, from which you can move on to some truly wonderful films.
As for whether this makes for a good bluray purchase…well, as a fanboy I have to say yes, it does, as it is certainly the best version of the film you can own. The English dub is superb, but you also get the original Japanese audio (well worth listening to). While the disc isn’t overly burdened by extras, there are a couple of nice documentaries and some behind the scenes material, as well as the usual Ghibli previews. But I wonder if now is the time for Ghibli to release one or two of it’s big hitters. I think we need to see My Neighbour Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away…something to really show off what Ghibli can do in High Definition. It is wonderful to own this film in a definitive edition, but I can’t say it is as exciting a release or improvement in picture quality as Nausicaa was. I would love to see what Spirited Away can look and sound like on Bluray disc…so come on Optimum, stop making us wait, let’s see those big films!
Laputa – Castle In The Sky is a must have for all Ghibli fans, and a definite good investment for any anime fan, and especially for anyone looking for an exciting adventure film for the kids (of all ages!). Let’s hope it is soon joined by a few more of it’s stablemates.