Laputa: Castle in the Sky comes to UK Blu-ray courtesy of Optimum Home Entertainment with a 1080p resolution encoded using the
AVCcodec and framed within a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to Region B.
The first shots are a great litmus test for the visuals on this disc, the opening credits with their multitude of browns and moving mine machinery show off the crisp line detail and subtle colour palette. Once up into the heavens things stay at a similarly flawless level, and the level of depth this 1080p transfer is capable of evoking is brought to the fore. The clouds and sky behind – so often a stumbling block of animation – show no signs of banding. The subtle gradation and shadowing on the great cumulous puffs is positively exquisite to behold and the gentle shift in tone of the pastel blues across the horizon that could easily have highlighted banding remains without a hint of such blights.
Enthusiasts will likely cry foul that
DNRhas been applied and the grain largely taken away (evoking comments that it looks too Disney), but as ever in the age old argument of whether a restored animation should be closer to the 35mm source or push for cel-like authenticity it’s really a matter of taste. Some high frequency detail has been lost, but it is nowhere near as pronounced as some screencaps doing the rounds might indicate and it hasn't smothered the finer edges. The upside is that the filter applied to keep the grain under control on the Japanese release, that resulted in some less than even grain structure, is obviously not a problem. I’d call it clean, others might say DNR-ed to death.
The change from the pastel and saturated backgrounds to the key figures in the foreground also helps emphasize just how stable the reproduction of colour is. Primaries such as red have a healthy punch to them, but even when the artwork gets more complex and the bold colours overlay fine linework and delicate backgrounds there are no indications of colour bleed. It would have been easy for such a combination of foreground and background styles to have ended up with a less than strong contrast ratio but quite the opposite is true – blacks are nigh on flawless, with the outer frame from Dola’s telescope merging nicely with the 1.85:1 border.
It is hard to find fault with such a uniformly capable display, perhaps if splitting hairs one might argue that a couple of pans aren’t as smooth as butter, but that would be unnecessarily picky. Laputa: Castle in the Sky on Blu-ray is an absolute feast for the eyes, sharp, clean, full of detail and, providing you weren't excessively attached to the grain, a great visualisation of a Ghibli classic on a home format.
There are two audio options – English LPCM 5.1 and Japanese LPCM 2.0.
As mentioned in the main review, there are numerous differences between the Japanese and English tracks besides the extra channels and translated dialogue. The question of which is better is therefore somewhat harder to answer given Joe Hisaishi’s score morphs into an altogether different beast depending upon which language is chosen, but I shall endeavour to pick apart some of the areas of strength and weakness in both.
The 2.0 track proves fairly wide, far more so than many similar stereo offerings, which benefits the score. Obviously with there being more silence in this track and only two channels there is less to mull over, but the key area of dynamic range – something all Hisaishi scores demand – is particularly strong in this case. The surprising aspect is that even without the LFE channel this track is potent, able to fill the room and reach the lower frequencies nicely without distortion, there is a rich timbre to the drums and the higher frequencies, though not as dominant as perhaps they should be when employed for wind instruments, benefit greatly from this.
The 5.1 variant, putting aside the acting, is just about as clear as it could possibly be. The centre channel picks up every intentional waver in James Van Der Beek’s voice and Cloris Leachman’s interpretation of Dola is perfectly represented in all its warbley, gravelly glory. This crystal clarity extends to every channel, with the higher frequencies of Hisaishi’s score gaining that wonderful fresh quality that they demand to arouse the gentility of the more wistful moments. Surprisingly the LFE isn’t utilised as well as one would expect, and the difference in oomph between 2.0 and 5.1 is not the chasm it perhaps should have been. There’s a bit of punch to some explosions, but it doesn’t resonate through the drums and gunfire – arguably a missed opportunity.
The real bonus of this track is the use of rear channels, with the extra orchestrations and sound effects added into the mix, giving that vital ingredient of immersion with aplomb. Whether drip feeding the score or throwing in some extra mechanical noises of the airships, their presence is instantly noticeable.
If you’re fine with the voice acting, the English 5.1 track is a joy – the areas of annoyance for fans will likely be tied to the new arrangements, such as the lack of environmental effects in Pazu’s dawn trumpet chorus or the fewer instances of synth. The Japanese 2.0 variant reproduces Hisaishi’s score as well as could be expected without an LFE channel and the dialogue remains warm and naturalistic. Both tracks are top drawer but fall marginally short of reference quality, however as a pairing they will doubtless please fans.
Storyboards for the whole film shown in the bottom right corner as a picture-in-picture. A must for all fans interested in the early sketch-works.
Promotional Video – 1080i – 12:38
A short promotional piece from the time with some wonderful footage of Mikyazaki-san explaining how the idea for Laputa came about and what his views are regarding the necessary ingredients for a good adventure yarn.
Behind the Microphone – 720p – 4:09
The cast of the Disney dub discuss the process of adding voices to the animation and their views on the various characters.
Behind the Studio
Four featurettes: The World of Laputa (1080p – 2:18) is a short piece where Miyazaki discusses his visit to Walesand Englandto gain inspiration and reference for the film. In Creating Castle in the Sky (1080p – 3:40) Miyazaki takes us through the process that created the flying island and the themes surrounding it. Character Sketches (1080p –2:39) is an explanation of where the characters of Pazu and Sheeta came from as well as a few actual sketches we get to see. The final featurette in the series, Producer’s Perspective: Meeting Miyazaki (1080p – 3:14), has producer and long time collaborator Toshio Suzuki detailing his first meeting with Miyazaki and the strange series of events that led to them finally speaking.
Textless Opening and Ending Credits – 1080p – 4:45
A pleasant addition for any fan wishing to see the eye catching sequences, particularly the opening, without writing obscuring the striking imagery.
Original Japanese Trailers – 1080p – 4:05
Some nice, but fairly ordinary period trailers, but they certainly show the improved quality of the Blu-ray transfer.
Studio Ghibli Collection Trailer – 1080p – 9:50
Trailers for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind(Japanese), Ponyo(US), Howl’s Moving Castle(US), Tales From Earthsea (US), My Neighbours the Yamadas (Japanese) and Spirited Away(US).
Laputa: Castle in the Sky harks back to an age when animation didn’t strive to be sassy, didn’t aim to catch the market of the day and certainly didn’t grasp desperately to draw in children and adults alike with a bifurcated script intended to split its appeal. It is simple at its core yet in its eco themes was ahead of its time and with the central premise of a magical childhood discovery, ensured its status as a timeless classic.
The disc wonderfully displays all the great elements of a Studio Ghibli animation, with the finesse of the backgrounds and bold linework of foreground characters blending seamlessly. The Joe Hisaishi score and the sound arrangement whether they be 2.0 or 5.1 benefit from the lossless treatment and provide a great listening experience for fans no matter what their preference. Extras aren’t bountiful but the period clips of Miyazaki and the complete storyboards certainly suffice.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky is not only a wonderful slice of Japanese cartoonery, but deserves to be seen as a welcome respite for all animation fans dismayed at the decline in Disney’s output and the lack of soul in the current market. Few capture the magic of childhood innocence and the wonder of adventure so well.
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