Spirited Away


Viewed – 26 November 2014  Blu-ray

How long has this acclaimed, Academy Award winning entry in the Studio Ghibli cannon taken to reach Blu-ray?  It feels like an age since I first watched it, my very first introduction to the mind and talent of famed director Hayao Miyazaki – but sitting down to it’s immediate charm, I was transported back to a fantastical world, part Alice In Wonderland, part The Wizard of Oz, but woven together from a rich tapestry of Japanese mythology and sheer uninhibited imagination.

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Chihiro is a young girl moving to a new house with her parents.  Forced to go to a new school, the prospect fills her with uncertainty and dread as she sits disgruntled and winey in the back seat of the family car.  However on route to their destination, the small family come across a mysterious tunnel in the woods, and venturing inside soon stumble upon an abandoned village.  Yet this is no ordinary village and when Chihiro’s parents are transformed into greedy pigs after eating from a banquet, the frightened young girl begins a journey of self discovery and finding strength she never knew she had, by working in a bath house, meeting a magical boy who can turn into a dragon and bumping into all manor of spirits, monsters and witches.  This is a stunning achievement in ideas and wonder … Miyazaki really out did himself and the world we are treated to is rich in detail with spooky, weird and creepy inhabitants and locations … the boiler man and his many legs, the giant baby, the ‘no-face’ monster, the stink spirit, the witch and so much more.  On first seeing this the sheer wealth of creations and extremely bonkers ideas was overwhelming, but done with such style and skill – the experience stayed with me.  Now with more familiarity with the world of Studio Ghibli, I found it easier to get to grips with, not as strange as I recalled and just enjoyed it for what it was.  Traditional hand-drawn animation at it’s best, borrowing from some of the most memorable stories ever written but adding a vibe all it’s own, that makes it stand proud.   One of the most magical movies ever made.

This Blu-ray release from Studio Canal is really impressive.  The image quality looks sharp and is bursting with colour and vibrancy.  Shimmer and softness that has marred some other Ghibli releases is absent here thankfully, and I was also pleased to see a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that truly brings this classic to life.  That orchestral soundtrack is amazing and with a decent English dub with clear voice work as well as some great use of the surrounds (the boiler room sounds amazing) – this really can’t be faulted.  The disc itself isn’t exactly brimming with extras with an archive introduction from John Lasseter (who was still at Pixar when it was filmed apparently), yet an interview with Hayao Miyazaki and a making of are both good additions.  We also get the usual Studio Ghibli story-boards to watch as the movie plays, which can be worth a look for enthusiasts.

Verdict:

The Blu-ray:  4 /5

The Movie:  5 /5

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Ramblings…


Well it’s a bit of a lazy Sunday so thought I’d write something on here.  This past year has had a few ups and downs … personally I’ve gone through some depression.  However I think I have overcome most of it, and looking to a future where such a thing isn’t at the forefront of my thoughts (at least not as much).  I’m concentrating on more positive things, like friends, family and my job, hobbies etc … things that make me happy.  I suppose it’s all about appreciating the good things in life, rather than focusing on what’s missing from it.

In the coming months, as far as this blog is concerned, I have some stuff to look forward to.  On the gaming front Destiny is just around the corner … preloaded it on my Xbox One last week, and well it’s been agonizing waiting for it to unlock but it will finally be available on Tuesday.  I’ll report back on this long awaited, much anticipated game next week.  Also got Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare pre-ordered, along with Sunset Overdrive.  Both look amazing.

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The Netflix challenge has hit the skids a bit, as I was feeling like it was less about movies I wanted to see, and more about doing the challenge, so not sure if I will go back to it.  An interesting ‘experiment’ none the less.    Some movie’s on the horizon include reviews of the Blu-ray release of Spirited Away, one of my favourite Studio Ghibli movies … add to that Hayao Myazaki’s swansong The Wind Rises.  I also have the 15th Anniversary of The Green Mile pre-ordered, so will finally give my opinion on this much loved prison drama. 

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Towards the end of the year, it’s possible I may own a PS4.  Can see that happening.

In other news:  I have been closely following the news on my favourite band Garbage and looking forward to what they have planned for next year.  They intend to re-release their debut album to mark it’s 20th anniversary, as well as their sixth studio album that they have been working on for the past year or so.  Also a tour has been hinted at and if they make it back to the UK I have, to name one of their best tunes, made a ‘vow’ to see them this time around.  Exciting times to be into this band who seem to really be in their element these days.

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Well enough from me for the time being.  Please remember to check back often for movie reviews and general ramblings and I’ll make sure to keep the content coming.  I appreciate all my visitors and subscribers, those that press ‘like’ or offer their comments etc.  Makes this little blog really mean a lot to me.

Craig.

Laputa: Castle In The Sky


Viewed – 29 January 2012  Blu-ray

It goes almost without saying, that Studio Ghibli, the animation house that brought us the Oscar-winning Spirited Away has become one of the most respected animation studios in the world, and taking just a glance at their back catalogue reveals a wealth of magical and endearing movies.  Back in 1986, the famed studio was formed to make its first feature-length movie, and so we have this, a magical Jules Vern inspired adventure that proves even over twenty years ago, director and studio founder Hayao Miyazaki was a true talent.

Pazu is a hard-working young boy in a mining community, who one day witnesses a young girl fall from the sky.  Hurrying to her rescue, he soon discovers she is on the run from a group of pirates and the army, who seek the magical properties of her necklace.  Before long a spectacular adventure ensues as Pazu tries to help the girl unravel the mystery of the necklace’s origin and its connection to a fabled city floating in the sky.  Clearly the imagination and artistic style Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have become known for, was their from the start.  The animation and character on display here is quite breathtaking.  The story borrows from the aviation-mixed-with-science-fiction of Jules Vern, but also reminded me of the Brit fantasy Stardust, which this could easily have been the inspiration for.  The two young characters are easy to like and get caught up in their adventure (voiced well by James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin), and the mother pirate is a classic Ghibli creation, as is the shady villain, all smart suit and sunglasses.  The action, when it comes is also very exciting (the robot encounter, the various sky battles) and the final act is pretty damn magical.

At over two hours, the movie is quite lengthy for an animation, but doesn’t drag.  I would have liked more revealed about the floating city, and sometimes the comedy was laid on a bit thick.  Yet this doesn’t really spoil what is essentially a well made and enjoyable movie, surely worthy of any animation fans viewing list.

For an older movie, this Blu-ray release from Optimum is difficult to fault.  The colours are vibrant and the detail is very sharp.  It looks like the whole movie has been remastered to show off the format, including a decent soundtrack and some good effects with booming explosions, as well as clear voice work.  Extras include brief behind the scenes featurettes, story boards and trailers, as well as the movie on DVD.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5

Arrietty


Viewed – 13 January 2012  Blu-ray

I have to admit, I am a great admirer of the movies from acclaimed Japanese animation masters Studio Ghibli, with Spirited Away and Ponyo being two of my favourites.  This latest entry tells the tale of a tiny girl, who along with her mother and father, live under the floor boards of a huge house, unbeknownst to the humans occupying it.  At night they creep out to scavenge for supplies in order to survive … but it’s not stealing, they are Borrowers, as in the classic children’s books by Mary Norton.  Stepping into the shoes of recently retired studio head Hayao Miyzaki is Hiromasa Yonebayashi in his directing debut, and let’s just say, the studio is in good hands.

From the start, this is magical stuff.  The way the world of Arrietty and her family is captured, from their perspective is stunning, with as expected from Ghibli, wonderfully detailed animation and gorgeous art, making you feel like you are right there with them in a huge world.  The sound design is also exceptional and greatly adds to the atmosphere.  Arrietty’s story, that of a little girl who befriends a human boy suffering from a heart disease, is touching and well observed.  The voice casting is generally good, especially from The Lovely Bones’ Saoirse Ronan in the lead, although the boy proves less interesting, with a very bland, wooden performance … which does lessen the movie’s emotional impact.  The story also lacks the sort of peril you might expect, and it’s not all that exciting either.  Even when the house keeper makes an alarming discovery, and a rescue is set into motion – you never feel anyone is in particular danger.

Don’t get me wrong however, this is a movie that despite such gripes, is still filled with wonderful imagination and bags of personality, as well as beautiful animation and a very memorable theme tune.  I found the ending to be a bit of a let down, but overall … this still enchanted the hell out of me.

Verdict:  3.5 /5