Porco Rosso, Pom Poko, and Tales From Earthsea (Blu-ray)
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided NewTechReview with a NFR unit of this product for review.
Reviewed by Scott R. Garrigus
As with most of the other titles in its catalog, Disney is continuing the Blu-ray conversion of its Studio Ghibli roster with the release of Porco Rosso, Pom Poko, and Tales From Earthsea. These titles were originally released in 1992, 1994, and 2006, respectively and fans can now enjoy them in high-definition. Released as Blu-ray combo packs, fans also get the films on DVD. While Porco Rosso, Pom Poko, and Tales From Earthsea share the same fantastic, hand-drawn animation as all the Studio Ghibli titles, they are quite different when it comes to story and content.
In English, Porco Rosso translates to Crimson Pig. It is a story about a fighter pilot who becomes a bounty hunter that tracks down sea pirates and brings them to justice. But this isnít just any old fighter pilot... he is a walking, talking pig. More accurately, he is a pig who was once a man that was cursed by his past. During the war, his squadron was ambushed and he was the sole survivor. This event made him feel so ashamed, that he felt that he no longer deserved to be human, and because his belief was so strong, he was magically transformed and destined to live the rest of his life as a pig. During the course of the film, Porco Rosso experiences a series of events that lead him on a journey of self-discovery and to the possibility of reclaiming his humanity.
Although itís portrayed as a fantasy story about raccoons with magical powers who rebel against the modern world, if you pay attention to the overall story, youíll find itís actually about environmentalists versus developers and the government. The story takes place during the developmental years in Japan when huge areas of forests were being torn down to make way for apartment complexes. Of course, this destroyed the homes of the raccoons, so they decide to fight the humans and stop the development. With their magical powers of transformation, the raccoons changed their appearance and controlled the elements (earth, wind, fire and water). They tried scare tactics, sabotage, and even making themselves look human. One scene even showed the raccoons appearing as environmentalists chained to the trees and defying the police. Youíll have to watch the film to see whether or not they won the fight.
Tales From Earthsea
Tales From Earthsea is more traditional in its storytelling (similar to a Sword In The Stone type tale) with the inclusion of knights, magic, dragons, and wizards. Itís based on the Earthsea fantasy book series by Ursula K. Le Guin, so if youíve read the books, then you know what the film is about. Itís similar to most mythical stories in which the world (in this case Earthsea) is in danger. An evil wizard is interfering with the balance of nature and a master wizard must find and guide the chosen one (in this case a prince named Arren), to face and defeat the evil wizard.
Traditional Studio Ghibli Sights and Sounds
While most of todayís animated films are computer-generated, Studio Ghibli has stuck with the traditional hand-drawn animation. Itís true that they have used computers for enhancement in some of their more recent titles, but hand-drawn animation is still their main focus. Theyíve also built up a reputation of doing quality work and these three titles are no exception.
In Porco Rosso, itís the airplane combat scenes that really stand out and provide some great action scenes with an artistic rendering of the European countryside. In Pom Poko, itís the racoon characters themselves that showcase all the creative qualities of the Studio Ghibli animation style, especially during the magical transformation scenes. In Tales From Earthsea, thereís a more storybook look to the film, which stands to reason since the film is based on a book series about fantasy and adventure. All three films provide the wonderful colors and fluid movement associated with hand-drawn animation.
The music, dialogue, and sound fx in all three films is also excellent, although, Tales From Earthsea stands out because of its DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 Surround Sound. The surround track really enhances the film and allows you to become more immersed in the world of Earthsea. Porco Rosso and Pom Poko provide only stereo sound, probably because they are older titles. But both films still provide wonderful sounds and music that support the stories and animation.
For Studio Ghibli Fans and Animation Enthusiasts
Pom Poko was my least favorite of the three films mainly because the story didnít appeal to me as much and it also included the least amount of bonus features with only Original Japanese Storyboards and Original Japanese Trailers included. I enjoyed Porco Rosso, although at first the voice of Michel Keaton coming out of the mouth of the main character was kind of annoying and distracting. His voice was just too recognizable to me, but luckily I got used to it as the film went on. Porco Rosso bonus features include Behind The Microphone; Original Japanese Storyboards; Original Japanese Trailers; and Interview With Toshio Suzuki.
Although I havenít read the book series, my favorite of the three films was Tales From Earthsea. I really enjoy fantasy and adventure stories, especially those that include dragons, magic, and wizards, etc. In addition, the surround sound track really helped bring the story and animation to life and it includes some nice bonus features, such as Original Japanese Storyboards; Original Japanese TV Spots and Trailers; The Birth Story Of The Film Soundtrack; and Behind The Studio: Origins Of Earthsea.
So if youíre a fan of Studio Ghibli, youíll probably want to pick up all three titles. If youíre a fan of animation, I can definitely recommend Porco Rosso and Tales From Earthsea. As for Pom Poko, youíll have to decide if that type of story appeals to you. Either way, all three films provide some wonderful hand-drawn animation that lives up to the reputation of Studio Ghibli.
For more information, visit movies.disney.com.