The Wind Rises (Disney, Blu-ray, VOD) – Hayao Miyazaki is a national treasure in Japan, the director of beloved animated features and filmmaker dedicated to preserving the art of hand-drawn animation. The Wind Rises, which was released in 2013 and earned an Oscar nomination as Best Animated Feature, was a passion project for the director and a fitting swan song. The grand old man of Japanese animation has retired and this film, not a fantasy or mythical adventure but a delicate biographical drama about an idealistic engineer devoted to making “beautiful airplanes” for a country he knows will use them as instruments of war, is his final feature. Jiro comes of age in 1920s Japan and through him we experience the 1923 earthquake, the great Tokyo fire, and the crippling depression, as well as the growing militarism that takes hold of the country and the culture; at one point, the pacifist Jiro comes close to becoming a victim of Japan’s version of the communist witch-hunt.
The film was both celebrated and criticized in Japan, where some accused the film of whitewashing the militarism that sent the country into occupying Manchuria and then into World War II. Perhaps they felt that Miyazaki wasn’t more strident in his condemnation of that culture but he does surely confront and criticize it, albeit with a tone of regret and resignation. Jiro, who works in the aviation division of Mitsubishi, is an artist who dreams of flight (his eyesight prevents him from becoming a pilot) and channels his love into creating the next generation of airplanes, but is trapped in a military culture that demands he design a fighter plane. Somehow he never loses his idealism and his humanism.
Is Jiro complicit in the war because he designed one of Japan’s most effective war machines? Is he so driven to become part of the evolution of aviation that he ignores the use to which his designs will be used? Does the beauty of his creation (and Miyazaki does indeed express the beauty of flight that Jiro feels in his imagery) justify the compromises he has made? And are they indeed compromises in a time of war, or are they duty, regardless of one’s personal feelings? These questions hang in the air, suggested but never actually stated or answered. Perhaps he leaves that us to imagine as Jiro surveys the destruction in the aftermath of the war.
There’s a love story here too and it is beautiful and tragic. The beauty who will become his wife is already ill with TB as they court and their romance is almost disconnected from the world around Jiro, taking him (and us) out of the city to the bucolic, sunny countryside, removed from the politics driving Japan to the destruction of war. The entire film is beautiful—could this be the last masterpiece of old-school hand-drawn animation? I sure hope not—and Miyazake applies his visual imagination to a realistic drama, giving it the romanticized imagery of Jiro’s hopeful perspective with the shadows of war and death around the edges. It has the feeling of remembrance, of memory elevating the experience to romantic ideal and shuttling the rest aside. And when we take flight the experience is exhilarating. Miyazaki is a master of both the delicate and the awesome and applies both to this lovely work.
Features the original Japanese soundtrack and a well-produced English language version featuring the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, and William H. Macy, plus the short featurette “The Wind Rises: Behind the Microphone,” Miyazaki’s complete original storyboards (set to the movie soundtrack), press conference footage of the announcement of the completed film, and Japanese trailers and TV spots.
Along with the American debut of The Wind Rises, Disney releases two of Miyazaki’s best on Blu-ray for the first time. Princess Mononoke (Disney, Blu-ray) was the film that introduced most American viewers to Miyazaki when Disney (prompted by Pixar’s John Lasseter, a devoted Miyazaki fan) struck a deal to distribute Studio Ghibli films in the U.S. and create new English language versions to widen the audience. Mononoke was the first film to receive wide distribution and in retrospect it may have been the perfect introduction, at least for the adult audience: an environmentalist epic as and blood and thunder fantasy adventure on an apocalyptic scale. Set in the era of Japan’s Iron Age, it’s a time when the foundries first start to poison the forests and rivers around them and the weapons they produce—from fine samurai swords to primitive cannons and guns—give humans the advantage in conquering the natural world. Grounded in a rich and complex animist mythology, it is painted not as absolutes of good and evil but in moral shades of gray, a yin and yang within both man and nature. His figurehead is Mononoke herself, a wolf child as original eco-warrior leading the charge against her blood kin, the humans, in an elemental world of animal tribes and spirits and Gods imagined as magnificent giants and enchanting imps. Every frame is filled with an awesome sense of wonder and magic, and for all that is lost, he instills the ending with hope and healing.
Features original Japanese and the excellent American dub soundtracks (featuring Claire Danes, Gillian Anderson, Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Billy Bob Thornton, and translated script penned by Neil Gaiman), plus storyboards, two featurettes, and original Japanese trailers.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (Disney, Blu-ray), which takes place in a magical variation of our own world, is aimed at a younger audience. Strong, plucky young heroine Kiki has turned thirteen, the age when witches leave the nest for a year of solo training. She’s ready to take on the world with her broomstick and her best friend Jiji, a cautious but supportive black cat (a tiny wisp of a feline) if she can only get her flying under control. Miyazaki’s gentle rhythm and meandering narrative capture the easy pulse of real life and Kiki and her flight obsessed pal Tombo are marvelous models of courage, drive and self-confidence. Their adventures have as much to do with real world situations, such as fear of failure and blows to her self-esteem, as with the lyrical flights among the birds and over the forests and city streets. It is a wonder to look at and a joy to experience and it doesn’t speak down to kids or up to adults.
Features original Japanese and American dub soundtracks (with Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo, and Phil Hartman), an introduction by Pixar director and English language producer John Lasseter, a short “Behind the Microphone” featurette on the voice cast, Miyazaki’s complete original storyboards (set to the movie soundtrack), and original Japanese trailers.
In France in the 1980s, a group of young critics turned filmmakers burst onto French screens with such passion, energy, and freshness that they were labeled with the clumsy but affectionate sobriquet “New New Wave.” Leos Carax (the nom de camera of one Alexandre Dupont) is the most deliriously romantic of the group and his 1984 debut feature Boy Meets Girl (Carlotta, Blu-ray, DVD) is indeed like a modern reinvention of the original French New Wave, a meandering, melancholy, modestly charming little would-be romance shot in silvery B&W. Set over one long, lonely Parisian night, drifting loner Denis Lavant and heartsick Mireille Perrier ricochet through the streets, nightclubs, and parties of a chilly winter night like slow-motion pinballs, desperate to make some kind of human connection. It’s a slight story enriched by Carax’s sensitivity to character and atmosphere, unerring eye for simple and simply lovely images, and talent for spinning delicate moments of inarticulate alienation and sorrow.
Carax found a real star in the homely/handsome Denis Lavant, vulnerable and wound-up, and teamed him with the heavenly, radiant Juliette Binoche for Mauvais Sang (Carlotta, Blu-ray, DVD), a quirky mix of caper film, science fiction thriller, and romantic tragedy, like a Breathless for the 1980s. Set in some indeterminate future, when an insidious AIDS-like virus that afflicts the young, it stars Lavant stars as a street hustler, amateur magician, and retired second story man who is enlisted by Michel Piccoli to help engineer an elaborate heist of a new vaccine for the virus. A young Binoche is Piccoli’s mistress, a beauty with whom Lavant falls instantly in love. They are the heart of the film, the lovesick puppy and magical muse, respectively, romantic innocents in a future where Halley’s Comet heat up the night sky and a corrupt multinational corporation holds the cure to a viral plague hostage. It’s a luscious, deliriously romantic blast of glowing colors, explosive energy, and dynamic style, a film that practically bursts out of its frame in romantic delirium and cinematic exuberance.
Both films are in French with English subtitles and have been newly restored and remastered for Blu-ray and DVD. Boy Meets Girl features Denis Lavant’s screen test and a behind-the-scenes featurette and Mauvais Sang includes outtakes, a deleted scene, and the new documentary “Mr. X, a Vision of Leos Carax,” a feature-length portrait of the director and his career.
The Twilight Samurai (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) – Set in the dying days of the Edo era in 19th century Japan, life appears idyllic in the rural village where widower and petty samurai Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanad), an impoverished, threadbare samurai widower, raises his two daughters and cares for a senile mother who can’t even remember him from one day to the next. Just off-screen, however, famine ravages the country and the corrupt feudal caste system is on the verge of collapse and civil war. Japan’s nominee for the 2004 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and winner of 12 Japanese Academy Awards, this is Samurai cinema by way of Jane Austen, a leisurely paced and introspective chamber drama of social codes and emotional sacrifice. The Twilight Samurai both confronts the contradictions of the Bushido code in the mercenary world of political expediency and celebrates it in its purest form. Seibei is the last honorable man in the twilight of the Samurai era.
In Japanese with English subtitles, with isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.
Three years after writer and director David Hare made Page Eight for the BBC, starring Bill Nighy as MI-5 intelligence analyst Johnny Worricker, Hare returned with two new British telefilms on the story of Worricker since he turned whistleblower and left Britain after the fall-out from his revelations of combustible intelligence. Turks and Caicos (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital), part two of the Worricker chronicles, is named for the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British protectorate and tax haven in the Caribbean where Johnny lives in exile. When he’s recognized by a CIA agent (Christopher Walken) on a mission trying to get money skimmed from the government by American mobsters, he gets blackmailed into helping out with the case. In return, the CIA won’t rat him out to the British government. Maybe.
The tropical setting and the shift in focus from Page Eight (from government secrets and bureaucratic gamesmanship to the intersection of international crime and political secrets) makes this much more engaging than the first installment, which was a dour chamber drama of a spy film. But there’s also much more going on here between the Brits, the Yanks, and the local population, which every other western tourist ignores completely and Johnny engages with, and there is plenty of British skullduggery back home that gets tangled up in this case. Still, it’s the cast that really makes this work, from the unassuming warmth and dry wit of Nighy, who makes it look effortless as he sizes up the situation and plots his moves while everyone else is negotiating, to Christopher Walken, Winona Ryder (as a mob accountant with a tough backstory), Helena Bonham Carter (as Johnny’s ex-wife and future co-conspirator Margot), and Ralph Fiennes, whose part becomes far more prominent in the final installment of the Worricker trilogy.
Salting the Battlefield (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital) sends Johnny and Margot on the run through Europe as British Prime Minister Fiennes makes capturing Worricker, who has uncovered compromising evidence against him, top priority. This is a little more self-satisfied, contriving to make Worricker a kind of underdog hero that the worker bees of the intelligence community covertly cheer as he evades the net while juggling more political gamesmanship and skullduggery back home. The twists aren’t surprising or particularly ironic (yes, we know that politics is a dirty little game) but Nighy gets to be dashing spy as experienced pro, getting by on smarts and wiles instead of spy moves and gadgets and he is great company. Saskia Reeves and Judy Davis take plum roles in this one and Felicity Jones, Ewen Bremner, and Rupert Graves are back.
Both films showed on the PBS showcase “Masterpiece Mystery” in November and they arrive on disc days after the final installment debuted in the U.S.
22 Jump Street (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), a sequel to a remake of a TV show, is a comedy that knows it is a sequel. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill star.
If I Stay (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), based on the young adult novel Gayle Forman, stars Chloë Grace Moretz as high school girl caught between life and death after a car accident.
Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller team up again to adapt his graphic pulp novel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, VOD) and Antonio Banderas stars in the science fiction thriller Automata (Millennium, Blu-ray, DVD).
Foreign films include Brazilian Western (Shout Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo), set in the criminal underground of Basilia, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Penance (Music Box, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), a Japanese TV mini-series the revolves around a terrible crime and the scars left on the victim. And the Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth (Drafthouse, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) also debuts.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) was newly restored this year. That restoration makes its disc debut this week. I review it in an upcoming column.
It Happened One Night (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
A Summer’s Tale (Big World, DVD)
Coming Home (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Pocketful of Miracles (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Dark Half (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
Monkey Shines (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
Moontrap (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Bubble 3D (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray)
The Dirt Bike Kid (Scorpion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Death Note: The Complete Series (Viz Media, DVD)
The Jimmy Wang Yu Collection (Shout Factory, DVD)
Gene Autry Movie Collection 8 (Timeless, DVD)
Astral City: A Spiritual Journey (Strand, Blu-ray)
Christmas Evil (Vinegar Syndrome, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Fantastic Orgy / Champagne Orgy (Peekarama Double Feature) (Vinegar Syndrome, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Robot Chicken: Christmas Specials (Warner, DVD)
The Paradise: Season Two (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD)
King of the Hill: The Complete Seventh Season (Olive, DVD)
King of the Hill: The Complete Eighth Season (Olive, DVD)
A Very Funny Christmas (BBC, DVD)
Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 2002 (BBC, DVD)
Women of the Bible (Lifetime, DVD)
Power Rangers Megaforce: Robo Knight Before Christmas (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD)
The Red Skelton Show: The Best of the Early Years (1951-1955) (Timeless, DVD)
Into the Storm (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
And So It Goes (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
As the Light Goes Out (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
In Bloom (Big World, DVD)
Frozen: Sing-along Edition (Disney, DVD, Digital)
The Last Play at Shea (Virgil, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
When Comedy Went to School (First Run, DVD)
K2: Siren of the Himilayas (First Run, DVD)
Next Year in Jerusalem (First Run, DVD)
Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory (City Drive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Master of the Universe (Icarus, DVD)
Slow Food Story (Icarus, DVD)
JFK: The Private President (First Run, DVD)
Legends of the Knight (Virgil, DVD, Digital)
The Thing on the Doorstep (MVD, DVD)
Reclaim (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
Housebound (XLrator, Blu-ray, DVD)
Night Terrors (Camp, DVD)
Rise of the Black Bat (MVD, DVD)
Isis Rising: Curse of the Lady Mummy (MVD, DVD)
Collar (MVD, DVD)
Skinless (MVD, DVD)
The Killer 4 Pack (MVD, DVD)
Northpole (Arc, DVD)