PicturePonyo on the Cliff by the Sea comes to HK Blu-ray with a 1080i resolution, encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The disc is region free.
Now if there was one little letter that probably struck you in that first sentence it was probably the “i” after the numbers “1080”. It has taken many by surprise, especially considering both the Japanese and American iterations of this title on Blu-ray have had progressive scan images. The good news though is that it doesn't appear to affect the quality of the visuals to any great degree.
The broad strokes and finer detail of Myazaki's inimitable artistic style are still maintained, but the ability of the presented image to vary in line width and the lack of consistent edges make for a troubling time when appraising the quality of the Blu-ray presentation. To my eyes it became harder and harder to believe this was an interlaced disc and apart from a few instances of aliasing there is little to fault here.
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. 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. It may be an interlaced image, but apart from a few edge issues, which can be seen as equally attributable to the artistic style, it appears to perfectly represent this Ghibli fairy tale.
SoundAudio options on the disc are Japanese linear PCM 2.0, Japanese DTS-HD master Audio 6.1, Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0.
To begin with I flitted between the two lossless original Japanese language tracks. The two channel option seemed remarkably wide and when switching instantly between the pair it also appeared to have a good deal more grunt to it, at least in terms of initially representing the score. However, once the action gets going and we start to enjoy the adventure, both on land and underwater, it quickly becomes clear that the 6.1 Master Audio track is the only fitting way to bring this fairy tale to life.
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.
ExtrasThere are nine extra features in total, but I'm afraid listing them individually is beyond me as I have no idea what they are titled, being that they are all written and subtitled in Chinese. I can make a rough approximation of what they appear to be though. There are numerous TV adverts, alongside a trailer, interviews with Myazaki, producer Toshio Suzuki, a behind-the-scenes featurette, a glimpse of the première and a special edition of a TV show dedicated to the film. There are some nice shots of the working process that lay behind the casting of the various voice actors, but the only thing that non Chinese speaking fans will likely gain any real benefit from is the feature length artwork/storyboard accompaniment. This plays the film in its entirety, but with the image being that of Miyazaki's early hand drawn watercolour artwork. This not only works as a chance to see how the finished piece varied from the initial concepts, but also gives fans a much sought after glimpse of Miyakzaki's artistic style and how he hones his ideas.
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 region free disc itself is strong in both image and audio departments, even though the former is of the interlaced variety. 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. The extras are strong, but in Chinese, so scoring is a little hard to judge. The option of watching the feature film accompanied by Miyazaki's early artwork though raises this incomprehensible set to a decent level as it is an extra all Ghibli aficionado's will likely view as a must-see.
As a set this is sure to hit all the right notes with those keen to see the first Ghibli Blu-ray. It may not have the progressive image of the Japanese release, but it is less than half the price and still gives viewers two lossless Japanese language tracks to choose from, which were so painfully missing from the US disc.
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