We review The Secret World of Arrietty, Castle in the Sky and Whisper of the Heart on Blu-ray!
Disney’s dedication to Studio Ghibli doesn’t extend to overshadowing its own animated features, but it deserves credit for thoughtfully delivering works from the anime powerhouse to the Western fans who love them. After a brief theatrical run, The Secret World of Arrietty arrives in a beautiful Blu-ray set, along with two older Ghibli classics. All three are cause for celebration.
Ghibli guru Hayao Miyazaki only directed one of the three films – 1986’s Castle in the Sky – but his unique touch reverberates across the other two as well. (He served as a producer and co-screenwriter on both.) All of them reflect Ghibli’s signature sensibilities: surreal fantasy cloaked in the wonder of children and gilt with an edge of unforeseen danger. They also embrace the beautiful imagery that made Miyazaki famous: almost constituting a selling point on their own. Certainly, the Blu-ray releases – remastered and restored for maximum visual clarity – make the trio an unparalleled feast for the eyes.
Of the three, Castle in the Sky is perhaps the best. It follows the adventures of a young boy, Pazu, who discovers a girl floating down from the clouds. She’s the princess of a legendary flying city, and he embarks upon a journey to return her there. All the while, they are pursued by pirates and other forces eager to possess the magical amulet she possesses.
Whisper of the Heart grounds itself in reality than the other two, with the fantasy sequences overtly presented as dreams. Once again, it involves the friendship between a boy and a girl, who in this case share a remarkable affinity for the same library books. The girl aspires to become a writer, while the boy intends to make violins. The film details their dreams, their aspirations, and their connections to the past, as evinced by the boy’s elderly grandfather. It remains one of Ghibli’s quietest films, but also one of its most affecting.
Finally, The Secret World of Arrietty entails tiny beings known as Borrowers, who live in our houses and use easily lost objects to build their homes and tools. A sick boy’s discovery of one Borrower family threatens to expose the entire world. Like Castle in the Sky, Arrietty displays Miyazaki’s keen interest in English culture (it’s based on an English children’s book) while still embodying a more Eastern outlook on the triumphs and tragedies of life.
Together, the three films aptly illustrate the development of the studio over thirty years. Castle’s visuals emphasize ink lines and a storybook illustration feel, while Arrietty emphasizes cleaner colors and a slightly more abstract look. They also show the different ways in which Miyazaki’s vision translates across different directors. (Yoshifumi Kondô helmed Whisper, Hiromasa Yonebayashi directed Arrietty.) All three films are unique, yet all maintain the common thematic and artistic threads that made this studio one of the very best in the world.
More importantly, they look gorgeous. The first two films have seen DVD releases, but Arrietty’s arrival here gives Disney a chance to spruce them up nice. The beautiful Blu-rays allow fans to soak in every moment of them, fully justifying a double-dip or a lengthy wait for those who held out. They represent some of the best animation of recent years, and Disney deserves due kudos for presenting an alternative vision with the same grace and care that they apply to their own animation stable. It’s a fitting tribute to a studio that changed the face of animation, and an ample treat for film lovers of all ages.
All three discs meet Disney’s high standard of quality. Imagery and sound take full advantage of the Blu-ray format and remain absolutely peerless throughout the discs. The special features are a bit of a let-down, with a few interviews and behind-the-scenes features complimenting some lovely storyboards from production. Most importantly for fans, however, the Blu-rays feature both Japanese and English soundtracks: giving viewers the option to see them in the original language or one more familiar to them.
At $40 apiece, it’s a steep price, but these discs are worth it. We’ll quietly chide Disney for not offering a boxed set to ease the sting for serious aficionados.
Any of the three films make a great addition to your library, especially for families and those looking for something a little different than Western animated fare.