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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animation > Anime > Action > Adventure > Animals > Magic > Fantasy > Japan > Pom Poko + Porco Rosso + Tales From Earthsea (1992 - 2006/Disney/Studio Ghibli Blu-rays w/DVDs)

Pom Poko + Porco Rosso + Tales From Earthsea (1992 - 2006/Disney/Studio Ghibli Blu-rays w/DVDs)

Overall Picture: A-/B Sound: B/B- Extras: C Films: B

Studio Ghibli is the Japanese animation studio responsible for such hits as their first feature film Castle in the Sky, to their mega hit Spirited Away. Spirited Away went onto to gross over 270 million dollars and nabbed the 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. With a mega hits under its belt and an ever growing catalog of creative, popular films Disney Studios took notice and joined forces with Studio Ghibli to bring quality, high definition presentations of their feature films to the masses. Under the heading of Disney Presents a Studio Ghibli Film, Disney home video has begun to release Blu-rays/DVDs such as Pom Poko, Porco Rosso, and Tales from Earthsea that are of the same high quality the studio has become synonymous with from their own catalog.

Pom Poko (1994)

Picture: A-/B Sound: B/B- Extras: C Film: B

The film follows a group of 'raccoon-like' animals known as Tanuki. These are creatures that in Japanese mythology are known for being mischievous and having the uncanny ability to transform into anything. Many may remember the use of Tanuki in the popular Nintendo Super Mario Bros series when Mario himself adorns the Tanooki Mario suit, in which he can transform into stone. Here in Pom Poko acclaimed director Isao Takahata brings audiences a world in which modern society and the mystical, natural realms collide. For years the world of the Tanuki has been threatened by the man; cutting down their forests to build factories and homes. Having reached a boiling point, no longer able to find food or shelter, the Tanuki join together to fight back and reclaim their land. With possessing the ability to transform, the Tanuki train to the point of being able to appear as humans; often times in odd and funny ways. Their ultimate goal is to scare off the advancement of mankind into their territory, but is it too late? Will the Tanuki save their world or lose it all together? Only time can tell.

Pom Poko is insanely imaginative, not only displaying beautiful animation but a fully engrossing story. The tale of Pom Poko is certainly odd with the Tanuki having certain (ummm) anatomic features, central to the plot, that may be taboo for Western audiences; and even though I did not find it too distracting, it may be hard to explain to the kids. Whereas the film may be a tad long (119 minutes) and could stand a bit of editing, it pays off in the end. What the film does well is it manages to get a message of conservation across without being preachy, like many films often are, and delivers a brilliant winding tale with ultimate and worthy climax.


  • Original Japanese Film Trailer

  • Original Japanese Storyboards

Porco Rosso (1992)

Picture: A-/B Sound: B/B- Extras: C Film: B+

Who is Porco Rosso? The title character of the film, Porco Rosso (voiced by Michael Keaton), is an ex World War I flying ace who has taken on the task of bringing down 'air pirates.' Created by master animator Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso blends together comedy, beautiful art, and a classic/charismatic war tale.

Porco Rosso appears as an anthropomorphic pig, having been cursed to that form. Taking place around the Adriatic Sea (in the Italian Peninsula) this high flying adventure takes a more 'realistic' straight forward approach than other Studio Ghibli films. Sure there is an anthropomorphic swine, but outside of that charming element that plays on the saying 'when pigs fly,' then film at heart is a post-WWI film with a linear storyline that leaves much of the fantasy and whimsy of Studio Ghibli films behind, while retaining the same quality.

After taking down some air pirates the audience is introduced to a love triangle between Porco Rosso, a girl named Gina, and fellow fighter pilot Curtis. Gina pines for Porco Rosso, while Curtis (a young American hotshot) strives to win Gina's affections. The pirates of the Adriatic Sea are tired of Porco Rosso's peacekeeping ways and hires the young Curtis to take down the big pig; which is a double win for Curtis. In an effort to better fight the pirates, Porco Rosso flies to Milan to up the capabilities of his plane; unfortunately Curtis is hot on his tail and shoots him down. Fortunately Porco Rosso survives to carry on to Milan to meet up with his mechanic friend, Mr. Piccolo.

The story of Porco Rosso is a fast paced, twisting tale that feels all so real. The air battles are mesmerizing and coupled with a stellar voice cast (Keaton, Elwes, Garrett, etc.), great story, and touch of history the film stands on its own as an often forgotten Studio Ghibli gem.


  • Behind the Microphone

  • Original Japanese Storyboards

  • Original Japanese Trailers

  • Interview with Toshio Suzuki

Tales from Earthsea (2006)

Picture: A-/B Sound: B/B- Extras: C Film: B-

Talent must run in the family as director Gorro Miyazaki (son of Hayao Miyazaki) creates a captivating and memorable tale with Tales from Earthsea. The newest film of the bunch reviewed here (debuting in 2006) is an adaptation of a series of fantasy novels by Ursula K. Le Guin; chock full of wizards, dragons, magic, and everything in between.

Lord Archmage Sparrowhawk is the main character and wizard in this tale as he sets out to make his world whole again. Dragons have become a destructive nuisances, farms have become barren and unproductive, and the utopia this wizard has once known is all but gone. As he sets out on his journey Sparrowhawk meets a special young man named Arren. Arren is a prince who has abandoned his kingdom after killing his father. Since killing his father Arren has been trailed by a shadow-like creature; making him no ordinary prince. Joining forces Arren and Sparrowhawk are on a quest to find the powerful witch Tenar; Tenar who is accompanied by her young, female, apprentice Therru. Together the four join together to right the wrongs of the world. Unfortunately and unbeknownst to the crew, an evil villain named Lord Cobb is out to cut their adventure short; seeking to kill both Sparrowhawk and Arren. In doing this he hopes to gain the power of eternal life. What ensues is a battle between good and evil, not all too different than the basic framework of The Lord of the Rings as Tales from Earthsea is full of action, adventure, fantasy, and mystical creatures.

Whereas the world of Earthsea is beautiful and firmly rooted in fantasy, my main gripe is not with the world or side creatures, but the main characters themselves. Overall, Sparrowhawk, Arren, Tenar, and Therru are quite formulaic and bland; being a collective of predictable, fantasy archetypes without much depth. Studio Ghibli is known for its ability to flesh out characters (even too much at times) and create a backstory that gives each character relatable, if not intriguing depth. That is lost here in Tales of Earthsea as each character is the good guy or bad guy without much explanation of their motives or mentality.

The artistic vision, peripheral characters and backgrounds are (again) mesmerizing, but overall I expected more. Combined with a brilliant soundtrack I still thoroughly enjoyed the film. By no means a bad film, just not Ghibli's best.


  • Original Japanese Storyboards

  • Original Japanese TV Spots and Trailers

  • The Birth Story of the Film Soundtrack

  • Behind the Studio: Origins of Earthsea

All three films display wonderfully and certainly received 'the Disney treatment' for these new Blu-ray releases. The picture for each film is a 1.85 x 1, 1080p, AVC Encoded, MPEG-4 high definition remaster that boasts of insanely sharp, crisp, clean, and clear imagery. There are no light, dark issues to speak of and for some of these films being nearly 20 years old, it appears as if they were made yesterday. Whereas there is no debris, dirt, or grime in the image there are occasions in all three films where little white specs can be seen, but a minor gripe certainly. Most impressive may be the backdrops for each scene, as they are hand drawn/painted giving the films a beautifully life like quality. The sound on all 3 films is a 2.0 DTS-HD (MA) Master Audio lossless Stereo track that is overall good and gets the job done; though a 5.1 mix would have been better in all cases. The audio track on all three films remains somewhat subdued throughout, with the dialogue at times being soft (though clear), especially when Tanuki are singing. The audio is properly prioritized and balanced; dialogue and action being strong in even chaotic sequences.

The DVDs included are a nice supplement, but are clear downgrades of the Blu-ray.

Extras are as stated above in each individual film review.

Overall Impression:

The joint venture of Disney with Ghibli Studios is amazing. Finally audiences are delivered these classic Japanese films in beautiful Blu-ray, looking and sounding better than they have ever before on home video. The arrival of these Blu-rays will give a new generation (and those who missed them the first time around) the chance to enjoy and appreciate these animated classics.

- Michael P. Dougherty II


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