Those of you who are fans of movies from Studio Ghibli will be pleased to know that two films spotlighting the debut Ghibli works of two generations of Miyazakis will bow on home video on Tuesday — and one of them is actually worth buying.
If you can buy only one film, by all means make it "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind," directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the man who would go on to make the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away," as well as "My Neighbor Totoro," "Princess Mononoke" and a good number of other films that make Ghibli such a cherished treasure in anime today.
In "Nausicaa," Princess Nausicaa’s beloved valley is caught between warring kingdoms and the poisoned miasma covering much of the world, and she becomes key to healing the planet and the tattered remnants of humanity.
Granted, Miyazaki’s story is more fully realized in the manga that he drew (a seven-volume series released stateside by Viz that may be tricky to collect because it’s out of print). Any manga that takes 12 years to complete had better have a more fleshed-out story, after all. (In Miyazaki’s defense, he was working on the "Nausicaa" film, "Totoro," Kiki’s Delivery Service," "Castle in the Sky" and "Porco Rosso" during that time as well.)
Though "Nausicaa" was released before on DVD in 2005, Tuesday’s release marks the first time it’ll be released in spiffy high definition on Blu-ray. The retail package, which contains the film on both Blu-ray and DVD, brings back the original storyboards and the "Behind the Microphone" and "Birth Story of Studio Ghibli" special features from the 2005 release. New features include a trivia challenge; "The World of Ghibli," touted as a visit to Nausicaa’s world in an "enchanted interactive experience"; "Behind the Studio," a feature about the origins of "Nausicaa" with an interview with Miyazaki; and "Enter the Lands," a look at the various worlds featured in Ghibli’s films.
And then there’s "Tales From Earthsea," the debut effort of Miyazaki’s son, Goro, and a film that seems to be destined to be cast into the darkest, dustiest corner of the Ghibli catalog. The film has been criticized by Ursula K. Le Guin, author of the "Earthsea" books, as incoherent, unnecessarily violent and untrue to the spirit of her work. It won the Japanese equivalent of a Razzie for worst film and worst director of 1996. Disney’s "nationwide" theatrical release amounted to blink-and-you-missed-them screenings in a handful of cities (including Honolulu) last summer.
"Pacing and plot prove to be the dual downfalls of ‘Earthsea,’ a by-the-numbers Ghibli production that has the looks but lacks a soul," I wrote in a review in August. It’s supposed to be the story of how troubled Prince Arren meets Lord Archmage Sparrowhawk and how they try to discover what’s upsetting the balance of a force called The Balance in the world, but what it ends up being is a pretty mess — lovely watercolor landscapes interspersed with a mishmash of barely explained concepts from Le Guin’s novels.
"Earthsea" is being released only on DVD, with special features similar to those offered with "Nausicaa" — "World of Ghibli" and "Behind the Studio" features tailored toward "Earthsea," along with "Enter the Lands" and the trivia challenge.
If you’re a Ghibli collection completist (like me), you’ll probably pick up "Earthsea" anyway. But if you want a pretty movie with a substantive story to back it up, I’d recommend looking elsewhere.