It’s time to build up your collection of a couple geek-favorite directors with the release of three films by the Master of Anime and two under-appreciated gems from horror’s King of the Zombies. We’ve also got a couple of sequels, some black & white classics, and a claymation Christmas treat (not THAT one).
Disney has held the American distribution rights for Hayao Miyazaki’s films (all except The Castle of Cagliostro) for quite a while and has been meting them out on Blu-ray ever so slowly. It makes sense; the man only has ten movies and they want to make sure anticipation and demand is high. It’s been 18 months since the last two Blu-rays were released, My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle, so demand had certainly gotten quite high for people like yours truly who love his movies. With the release of The Wind Rises last year, which was later confirmed to be Miyazaki’s final feature film, and the 30th anniversary of Studio Ghibli coming up in 2015, it seemed likely that at least a couple of films would be released this year. Happily, three Blu-rays are being released in one day. It’s like the Anime gods have smiled upon us!
Kiki’s Delivery Service is the 1989 story of a young witch trying to make her way in the big city. She finds a new job doing delivery work for a local baker, who allows Kiki to stay at her home in exchange for flying parcels places. She gets into scrapes, meets some friends and some not-so-friendlies, and loses confidence in herself, making her magic begin to fade away. Ultimately, it’s her strength of will and perseverance that makes her succeed, which is a really fantastic lesson for young people, especially young girls, who think they don’t fit in or are too weird to be accepted. This movie contains no villain, but does tell a story anyone who’s ever moved to a new city can relate to, only with a magical edge.
Princess Mononoke, which was released in 1997, represents Miyazaki at his angriest and most world-conscious. After three films in a row that appealed to younger audiences and fans of upbeat adventures, he took a break for a few years and returned with his only Edo Period-set film. It was also his darkest, most violent, and most outwardly political, taking aim at those who would pollute or destroy nature for the sake of “progress.” This concept is represented by an actual black, gooey blight on the forest, which causes hatred and murder in anyone who is infected by it, and only a young man and a princess raised by wolves to hate humanity can stop the Spirit of the Forest from falling prey to the machinations of people.
The Wind Rises, as I said, came out in 2013 and is Miyazaki’s final feature. In it, Miyazaki finally puts a capper on his career- (and life)long love of aviation and flying by making an animated and fictionalized biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero, two of Japan’s famous fighter planes used during World War II, adapted from Miyazaki’s own manga on the subject, which was in turn adapted from a 1937 short story. It drew some ire from critics in Japan for making the protagonist someone who helped kill people during the War, through his inventions, but Miyazaki is just displaying the man’s love of creating human flight, and that love is palpable on screen.
All three of these Blu-rays contain a handful of special features, none all that impressive, and also contain both the Japanese and English language tracks. The transfers are absolutely gorgeous, crisp, and beautifully crisp in color. Like the other Blu-rays released, you could not ask for a more definitive version of these. And now, we wait for the last two Miyazaki movies to come to Blu-ray: Porco Rosso and the big one, Spirited Away which they’re almost assuredly saving for last.
For more about any and all of these movies, read my Miyazaki Masterclass essays, which will finish with The Wind Rises this Thursday.
George A. Romero’s name is synonymous with zombies, having basically invented the horror subgenre with Night of the Living Dead, the cementing its potency and set of rules in Dawn of the Dead. In total, he’s made six films featuring the shuffling horde, but he’s much more than that. He’s made some really interesting and effective horror films that have nothing at all to do with zombies, though not for quite awhile, thanks in no small part to the belief among producers and studios that he’s just a zombie guy. It’s a shame, because films like Martin, The Crazies, and Creepshow are some of the most entertaining and thoughtful flicks of his canon. Two of his last non-undead outings have made their way to Blu-ray this week from Shout! Factory in swank special editions.
Monkey Shines was Romero’s 1988 film about an athlete who becomes a quadriplegic following a horrible accident and his state makes him bitter, depressed, and suicidal. His scientist friend gives him an experimental monkey (yes, one of those) to help him and be his companion. The monkey and he get along great at first and a real affection develops, however, it soon becomes clear the monkey is a psychic receptacle for all of the man’s anger and bitterness and she begins lashing out at people who do him wrong, murdering in most cases, even as a chance for him to recover becomes more likely. This movie is certainly out there, conceptually, but Romero is able to give it a proper amount of gravitas and creepiness. It’s still way wacky, but it’s an enjoyable oddity.
The Dark Half, Romero’s 1993 film, was based on his friend Stephen King’s novel of the same name. Like almost all of King’s novels, the story’s main character is a writer, this one named Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton), who is trying to get rid of his pseudonym, George Stark. However, Stark has become a physical entity, through the power of the written word and people’s perception, and begins terrorizing Beaumont’s family and life. Stark, it turns out, is Thad’s “Dark Half,” the powerful negative part of his psyche and needs to be put down. The story was a reaction to King having a pseudonym of Richard Bachman. This is a pretty good movie overall, and Romero directs it like a psychological thriller, a-la Hitchcock.
Both Blu-rays feature a commentary by Romero and a half-hour making of, as well as the usual deleted scenes and trailers and what not. Well worth a look for fans of Romero who don’t know much of his non-zombie work.
22 Jump Street – The somehow even meta-er sequel to the surprise hit comedy from a couple of years ago literally has the same characters do the exact same thing they did in the first movie, only in college this time instead of high school. And that there is the point.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – To say nothing of how it should be titled, “A Dame for Whom to Kill,” Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s sequel to their 2005 graphic novel adaptation seems to have been slightly ill-judged and didn’t really connect with audiences. Click here for our Nerdist News Special about the film.
Automata – One of the weirdest and coolest low-fi sci-fi films in recent memory, Automata stars Antonio Banderas as a future investigator who checks to make sure robots aren’t thinking for themselves, which of course all goes out the window when he discovers a few of them are. A worthy successor to Blade Runner.
Robot Chicken: The Christmas Specials – All six of the Adult Swim stop-motion sketch show holiday specials in one handy, nifty DVD.
It Happened One Night – The very first film to sweep the five major categories at the Oscars (Actor, Actress, Picture, Director, Screenplay), this 1934 screwball romantic comedy from Preston Sturges stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert as two people who don’t like each other on a road trip. You can guess what happens from there.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Still one of the creepiest movies ever made, this 1921 silent shocker of German Expressionism made sleepwalkers everywhere worried they were the slave of mad doctors. Somnambulism!