PictureHaving already reviewed the Hong Kong release, I feel that most of the points I made regarding that disc are equally apportioned to this, thus the following appraisal contains comments some of which were previously published in that review
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea comes Blu-ray courtesy of Optimum Home Entertainment with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to region B
The broad strokes and finer detail of Myazaki's inimitable artistic style are well maintained, with delineation consistent with the fluidity of the hand drawn cels. A few extremely minor instances where the HK disc perhaps betrayed its interlaced visuals are never an issue with this progressive UK release.
Colour consistency is high and the backgrounds, full of their pastel shades and delicate finery, never waver. The painted tones of the sky and the lighting effects utilised towards the end of the film show no signs of troublesome banding other than one instance, which may be equally attributable to the artistic style as to the transfer. Central characters and those parts of the image which are overlaid against these scenes are bright and vivid. This could have led to an imbalance in the palette and I fully expected at least a few instances of blooming or colour bleed but thankfully they never arose.
The HK interlaced image still scored highly, but thanks to the progressive picture this has to rank even further up the list. A solid picture all round and other than one instance of minor banding, can be considered amongst the ranks of reference material.
SoundAudio options on the disc are English linear PCM 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0, Japanese DTS-HD master Audio 6.1 and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0
For the sake of this review I tended to focus on the English and Japanese lossless tracks. The voice acting is lauded as one of the better English adaptations, but I'm afraid I still found the younger Cyrus and Jonas siblings a touch annoying. The English language track is very capable though, with perhaps a slight degree less potency to it than the Japanese DTS-HD option, it remains strong in all the same areas. The only department that to my ears showed a mismatch was that of the centre channel, with the English version having a slight wavering level that sometimes fell slightly below/above that of the other channels.
The use of the surrounds is perfectly balanced, with propeller blades of ships feeling almost tangibly close to the listener. The score is split over both front and surrounds, allowing for distinct instrumental placement that envelops you. This mini concerto that accompanies the on screen action is perfectly underpinned by some extremely effective use of the LFE channel. The string sections reverberate and swell into the room, whilst the higher frequencies remain tight and crisp against them.
Dialogue stays centred and is as close to pitch perfect as I could imagine. Not speaking Japanese I can't vouch for the fact that no delicacies of the language are lost, but it certainly seemed like the minutiae of inflections and the like were all present and correct. Against the backdrop of such a monumental musical barrage there was the real possibility that speech could have been swallowed by the roar of the ocean, but once again this track proves this not to be the case. It is an extremely well balanced and finely orchestrated aural offering that ticks all the right boxes for an engaging experience, with no real flaws to speak of.
ExtrasMeet Ponyo (introduction by Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall) - 1080p - 3:20
The two executive producers (of the English language version) mentioned in the title wax lyrical about the film as well as giving us a few titbits of information about Pixar's (and thus John Lasseter's) involvement and the translation process.
A conversation with Hayao Miyazaki and John Lasseter - 1080p - 3:30
The Pixar bigwig sits down for a chat with Miyazaki-san at Studio Ghibli in Tokyo. As with the previous feature, this is only a bite-sized morsel, but any interviews with the animation auteur that are accompanied by an English translation are likely to be greatly received.
Behind the microphone: The voices of Ponyo - 1080p - 6:02
Kathleen Kennedy pops up to take us through the stellar cast that lined up to voice the English language version of the film, though the phrase that their adaptation is “allowing the North American audience to experience this great film maker” might grate with some.
Creating Ponyo - 1080p - 3:56
Miyazaki-san describes various aspects of the genesis of the idea, including the audience it's aimed at and the lessons it tries to teach us.
Ponyo and Fujimoto - 1080p - 2:58
A little background detailing the conception of the Fujimoto character as well as outlining his motives.
The nursery - 1080p - 1:57
Producer Toshio Suzuki lets us in on why the story featured a nursery as well as an interesting lifelong dream of the director's.
Scoring Miyazaki - 1080p - 7:17
Music composer Joe Hisaishi goes into a little depth describing his scores on some of Miyazaki's films as well as his working relationship with the director.
The producer's perspective: Telling the story - 1080p - 2:25
Suzuki takes us through a few of the key steps in fleshing out a story and bringing it to the screen.
The locations in Ponyo - 1080i - 9:43
An excerpt from “The scenery in Ghibli”, a Japanese documentary that profiles the real world locations Hayao Miyazaki used for inspiration to create his amazing worlds. A nice visit to Seto Inland Sea, the port town that became the main influence for the look and feel of the community in Ponyo. We get to retrace a few of the journeys the director made every day whilst staying there and learn a little about his working process.
The five geniuses who created Ponyo - 1080i - 48:57
A Japanese television special for “News Zero”. The five geniuses profiled are; Katsuya Kondo (supervising animator), Noboru Yoshida (art director), Michio Yasuda (colour design), Shuji Inoue (recording and sound mixing) and Joe Hisaihsi (music composer). This has a lot of behind-the-scenes shots of the working of Studio Ghibli and its personnel, but unfortunately it is a children's show and as such tends to focus more on explaining simple concepts. It is also quite hard to read as the English translated text is overlaying large amounts of original Japanese wording.
Hayao Miyazaki interview - 1080i - 14:51
An interview with Makoto Kanazawa from June 2008. A nice light hearted chat that allows us to see the more jovial side of the director whilst he explains various influences that helped form the basis of many aspects of Ponyo. It is nice to see a less structured and open format that allows for elaboration and meandering with ideas and answers. The only minor annoyance is some heavy flash photography towards the start.
Toshio Suzuki interview - 1080i - 29:41
Hardly surprising that one of the longest features is the most interesting. The extremely personable Suzuki gives great insight into his working relationship with Miyazaki as well as giving his thoughts about the direction Studio Ghibli has been headed in and why.
Dubbing session and interview with the Japanese cast - 1080i - 24:54
A behind-the-scenes featurette that shows the process of matching the voices to the animations and what kind of feedback Miyazaki-san gave the actors.
Theme song music video - 1080p - 3:32
Japanese trailers and TV spots
Comprising two trailers (both 1080p - 1:28 and 1:46 in length), a TV spot (1080i - 0:16), a tie-in promotion with Lawson (1080i - 0:16), a tie-in promotion with the Ponyo exhibition (1080i - 0:16) and finally a tie-in promotion with a layout design exhibition (1080i - 0:16).
VerdictPonyo on the Cliff by the Sea is unmistakably a Studio Ghibli film. It is good humoured, joyous and centres around the sort of quintessentially human issues that make it instantly accessible to all ages. It may be seen as a children's story, but that very much depends on whether you consider fairy tales the domain of infants or as parables that can appeal to a wider audience. It may not be as multi-layered as Miyazaki's most critically acclaimed works, but it has an aura of child-like enthusiasm that is hard not to warm to.
The disc itself is strong in both image and audio departments - both do an exceptional job when combined to draw the viewer into this fantastical world, with the sound in particular evoking all the necessary emotions with an extremely well orchestrated score. This is complemented by a strong set of extras that at times may be all too brief but contain some absolute gems of interviews with Miyazaki and Suzuki.
This has to be considered the best version of this disc yet for UK Ghibli fans. Without the prohibitively high price point of importing the Japanese Blu-ray, whilst eschewing the interlaced image of the Hong Kong release and the lack of a lossless Japanese language option that so hindered the US version. For UK Miyazaki aficionados this is a must buy.
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