Akira (1988/Japan/Animated/Honneamise/Bandai Visual Blu-ray)
Sound: A- Extras: C Film: A-
NOTE: We previous covered the film in its best of many
DVD versions, the basic and now out-of-print basic Pioneer DTS DVD, which you
can read more about along with many details about the film at this link:
The idea that Tokyo, Japan blows up again from another
nuclear explosion, only to rebuild and face something apocalyptic even worse
than the first two times is a great idea that still works all these years
later. Now, the world animation classic
returns in a very impressive Blu-ray High Definition presentation.
The 1080p windowboxed 1.85 X 1 (though the aspect
ratio has also been reported as 1.66 X 1 and we could not confirm either by
this posting) digital High Definition image has been scanned for the format,
but it unknown at what level the digital HD master (2K, 4K, 6K, 8K) is was
rendered. However, it could not be more
than 2K because of some limits in Video Red and though this easily outdoes the
2001 Pioneer version that was presented in weak older High Definition DLP
(Digital Light Projection) in theaters, there is work to still be done to
upgrade it despite al the money that was spent to fix this. There is more color quality to be gained from
the original camera materials, but the range here is impressive and has
demonstration quality moments.
We do get cel dust, some minor instances of print
wear and a few other minor flaws throughout.
Versus the DTS DVD and all the previous footage I have seen of the film
(including the still-prized Criterion Collection 12” LaserDisc that offered the
film in a frame-by-frame version you could still/step at any time), this new
transfer is still a revelation. Turns
out Pioneer’s transfer was too dark (it even got complaints from Roger Ebert,
who rightly preferred the film presentations) and too much detail was lost that
only someone very close to the film would know of. It also shows us how far High Definition has
come and how far it has to go.
As for the framing, note again that the 70mm prints
were 2.20 X 1, but here, you do not loose as much of the picture. Still, the detail in the drawing would be
incredible in a 70mm blow-up and remains one of the all-time peaks of hand
I was hoping for DTS-HD MA lossless on this
release, but instead, the upgrade has been one of the most ambitious Dolby
TrueHD tracks on Blu-ray to date. There
is a simple and less-impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for those without newer
equipment and Japanese PCM 2.0 Stereo mix with Pro Logic surrounds that is a
little richer, while the newer English dub fans are not happy with is a Dolby
TrueHD 16/48 5.1 mix for those who cannot handle subtitles, have a limited home
theater set-up not up to 192/24 sound or the Japanese language.
It is the Japanese 192/24 Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that
is the best performer and preferred choice for playback to really enjoy the
sound design and music. As compared to
the DTS on the DVD, the DTS might as well be basic Dolby Digital. This is one of the best TrueHD mixes I have
heard, even in the English 16/48 version, but it is still missing the fine
detail of the Japanese 192/24 TrueHD.
To call the 16-bit English TrueHD lossless is using
the term very loosely, especially as 16-nits is the ceiling of a CD, but still
sounds better and offers more detail than the DTS on the defunct DVD. In the 192/24 version, we get the full impact
of what the makers intended all along. We
noted the spilt between “Musical Director” Shoji Yamashiro and “Sound Recording
Director” Susumu Aketagawa in our previous review, but it is Yamashiro who also
designed the sound on the film and he personally upgraded it to the 192/24
level (the same level the new Beatles album upgrades are done at) we have here,
done at Yamashiro’s private home studio since no facility (even in Japan!)
existed at the time to take the original audio master materials in what the
booklet included in early volumes of the Blu-ray calls “the hypersonic effect”
by Yamashiro. It turns out the composer
is also a scholar and expert on sonics.
On the DTS DVD, the dialogue sounded so dated that
the music was the sonic highlight of the 5.1 soundstage. It seemed that the dialogue would always be
that way, but now, that gap has been narrowed significantly and sound effects
details are more present than ever. In
its Hypersonic playback, the sound is a revelation and even the Dolby Stereo
magnetic 6-track, 4.1 sound mix could not sound as big and expansive as this,
making it one of those rare classic films always know as a sonic gem to (like
Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) return
sounding so outstanding that you realize the sound design intent was far ahead
of the reproduction technology of the time.
Unfortunately, the audio recording of the dialogue
is still the most dated aspect of the film and it holds back the film by its
age, but the sound effects are more on par with the music and when you get only
sound effects and/or music at its height, you get sonic demo moments worthy of Dark Knight and the best Blu-rays
around. The High Definition image/TrueHD
192/24 combination is so rich and involving here that the makers ought to
consider an IMAX blow-up release (letterboxed at that) when they inevitably go
back and find a way to thoroughly clean the images the way Disney has on Snow White and Pinocchio. Having
collaborated with Dolby Labs on this release, there will be little room for
improvement on Blu-ray, though.
The only extras are storyboards and five trailers,
so the loaded DVD sets are still keepers, but then there are fans still holding
on to that hard-to-get Criterion Collection 12” LaserDisc set which is the best
version to include the older English dub not on this Blu-ray or available any
more, so you can bet the fans will only add to their collections instead of
replacing one copy for another.
Now we’ll see how the planned live-action Akira, set for 2011, compares.