The Amazon exclusive set features Miyazaki’s 11 animated feature films, including Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, and The Wind Rises.
The world of animation lost a true innovator when Hayao Miyazaki called it quits. Miyazaki, along with the talented animators and storytellers of Ghibli Animation Studios, crafted unique fantastical tales that pushed the genre.
When Disney was playing it safe with familiar stories and catchy songs, Miyazaki was pushing boundaries, experimenting with tone and characters. He stayed true to hand-drawn animation, providing a two-dimensional world that usually had more depth than many so-called 3D movies.
Perhaps his most endearing aspect was how he relentlessly focused on strong heroines to lead his stories. Whether they were children, teenagers, or adults, the women of Miyazaki's films are astounding in that they break stereotypes and refuse to conform to what Hollywood might deem acceptable for prime box office earnings.
He also understood kids. Many of his movie feature strong-willed children who possess both innocence and intelligence. It's a balancing act that can be witnessed in films like 'Ponyo' and 'My Neighbor Totoro.'
This box set represents a life work of one of the consummate visionaries of our time. It's a collection of adventure, love, childhood, fear, environmentalism, dreams, magic, fairy tales, horror, sadness, and humor. It's safe to say that these eleven films cover the entire gamut in terms of genres and storytelling. It's a lovely collection.
Miyazaki will personally remain one of my favorite filmmakers. His films constantly explored the human condition, while transporting us to far flung worlds, other dimensions, or magical places in our own backyard.
For reviews on the individual movies themselves please refer to the links below:
'Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro'
'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind'
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
So this is where we get into the main differences of this collection compared to the single releases. First off, the collection – all 12 discs – are packaged in a book similar to the packaging found in the 'Star Wars: The Complete Saga' collection. It's a book where each disc slips into a horizontal carboard slit on the side of the page. While it does provide a nice canvas for some stellar full-page artwork from the films, these slide-in sleeves are not nearly as secure as individual disc hubs found inside Blu-ray keepcases.
The book slips inside a well-made outer shell that is complete with embossed details. A band of film cells – my favorite detail of this set – slips around the outer shell. Each cell has a memorable scene from each of the eleven films.
The final keepsake in this collection is a wonderful little 37-page notebook full of all sorts of information from the master himself. At the beginning is a Criterion-like essay entitled "The Great Dichotomy: Looking at the Works of Hayao Miyazaki" by Tomohiro Machiyama. Machiyama begins from a thesis that all of Miyazaki's films are constant struggles between radical opposites. Enlightening stuff.
After the essay the booklet gives way to film-specific sections. These sections harbor film proposals, backstory, detailed character outlines, target audiences, musical intentions, and so on. All of these notes are submitted by Miyazaki himself. They provide deeper insight into the production and intention of each film from the director's own written word. It's a wealth of information.
As far as the video presentations go, I spent a considerable amount of time comparing each disc to its original release and discerned no noticeable difference. Each film appears to be using the same or similar transfer of the original single release. If visuals were updated or upgraded, it's a negligible difference. The original reviews for these films will suffice.
'Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro'
'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind'
First and foremost, this collection upgrades one major thing. It finally gives 'Ponyo' that lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that we were all clamoring about. It was a headscratcher to say the least when Disney first released 'Ponyo' with a lossy Japanese mix. Now it's lossless.
Ponyo's newly minted Japanese track blows its Dolby Digital counterpart out of the water. It's every bit as engaging and thrilling as the lossless English track has been all this time. The sound is clearer, the action more intense, the surrounds more active, the bass more unforgiving. This new track is one of the highlights of this set.
Also, there's the issue about subtitles being updated. 'Castle in the Sky' and 'Princess Mononoke' have fixed subtitles. 'Kiki's Delivery Service' has new subtitles taken from an earlier version released by Streamline Pictures. This is apparently a more accurate set of subtitles according to Studio Ghibli.
There were plenty of opportunities for Disney to upgrade this package further, but they didn't. While 'The Wind Rises' is meant to be heard on a lossless mono mix, there were some films where Disney could've upgraded to surround sound mixes. First there's 'Castle in the Sky' that features a 5.1 English mix but only a 2.0 Japanese mix. This is something that should've been upgraded to match the English track, but wasn't. Second there are the films that don't feature surround sound options (these all have lossless 2.0 mixes) like 'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,' 'My Neighbor Totoro,' 'Kiki's Delivery Service,' and 'Porco Rosso' which could've benefited from newly realized multi-channel soundscape.
Below is a list of the sound options offered on each film, and links to the original reviews.
'Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro' – English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
'Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind' – English DTS-Master Audio 2.0, Japanese DTS-Master Audio 2.0, French DTS-Master Audio 2.0
'Castle in the Sky' – English DTS-Master Audio 5.1, Japanese DTS-Master Audio 2.0, French Dolby Digital 2.0
'My Neighbor Totoro' – English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, and French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
'Kiki's Delivery Service' – English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
'Porco Rosso' – English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, French Dolby Digital 2.0
'Princess Mononoke' – English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
'Spirited Away' – English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
'Howl's Moving Castle' – English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
'Ponyo' – English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
'The Wind Rises' – English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0, English Descriptive Audio
Now, this is a strange one. All of these discs have been stripped of their original special features. So, when you put in a disc all you're greeted with on the menu is the options Play Movie, Scene Selection, and Setup. That's it. What a strange move to take away all the original features from the previous discs. Sure this new set has its own bonus disc, but it doesn't attempt to replace any of the lost special features. These are brand new ones, which are described in the section below.
Suffice it to say, this is the biggest disappointment of this set. Why lose all the original special features? Doesn't make much sense.
A collection like this is both exhilarating and frustrating. On one hand we have a beautifully packaged collection of films from one of cinema's rare talents that comes complete with a well-informed booklet and some new special features. On the other hand we have original special features stripped for no discernible reason, and missed opportunities to upgrade certain audio presentations. Fortunately, they made right with the 'Ponyo' snafu, but there are a few films that would benefit greatly from a 5.1 upgrade. At the very least bring 'Castle in the Sky's Japanese track in line with its English track, sadly most everything stayed the same.
I'm a huge fan of Miyazaki, but it's difficult to recommend a box set like this. Removing features isn't great, especially when you're looking at over $200 for this baby. Hardcore fans might not be able to resist the allure of the fancy packaging. However, most who already have the single releases will want to keep watching those instead.