DVD Review HTF REVIEW: My Neighbor Totoro - RECOMMENDED

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  1. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    [​IMG]

    My Neighbor Totoro

    2-disc R1 Edition

    Studio:STUDIO GHIBLI (released through Disney) Year:1988 RunTime:86 minutes Rating:G Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 1.85:1 Audio:2.0 DD Original Japanese, English & French SpecialFeatures:Behind the microphone feature, Trailers and TV spots, Full-length Storyboard, Animated opening/closing without credits ReleaseDate:March 7, 2006





    *** Note: I received *three* GHIBLI films on Friday to be reviewed for Tuesday: Whisper of the Heart, My Neighbor Totoro, and the masterpiece Howl’s Moving Castle. I’m trying to get them all reviewed ASAP so please be forgiving…it’s been a full weekend! ***



    Feature...


    In the 3 days since I received my screener copy of My Neighbor Totoro, I’ve been amazing at how many people have commented to me “My Neighbor Totoro is my favorite Miyazaki film”. Sort of like when you get glasses and suddenly you notice everyone else is wearing them too. Out at dinner I casually mentioned to friends discussing movies headed for the Oscars “I just got three Japanese animated titles to review for Disney…Whisper of the Heart, My Neighbor Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle”. This statement was immediately answered by a woman who stepped up and said “My Neighbor Totoro is my favorite Miyazaki. In fact, it’s my husband’s favorite too.” That sentiment seemed repeated everywhere I made mention of my reviewing line-up.

    So I figured I’d make this the first DVD I’d screen to see what all the fuss was about.

    What I found was one of most enchanting child-hood tales I’ve experienced in ages. The story centers around two young sisters and their father, but the story most strongly connects to the perspective of the youngest four-year-old girl. The movie reminds me in many ways of Bambi…seeing the world through the eyes of a young child—a world of discovery and innocence and adventure. This young girl name Mei demonstrates drive and courage that seek to challenge conventional limits of childhood yet doesn’t step too far outside the realm of possibility to lose its ability to inspire. The chemistry between the two sisters is tangibly real, and their performance in the English-language adaptation is outstanding. The family dynamics feel genuine, and the emotional assimilation into this small family’s life is effortless on the part of the viewer. The transition in and out of fantasy is equally smooth, and the film blurs the distinction between what is imagined and what is potentially real…a vagueness that allows the audience to participate by giving freedom to their own impressions. Small children will be captivated, and adults will be moved. This touching film is still following my thoughts well after coming to an end…always the mark of a good film in my judgement.

    The emotional success of My Neighbor Totoro is in large-part due to the outstanding voice-actors which I was privileged to enjoy while listening to the English audio soundtrack of this marvelous film. I’m sure that purists experience of bit of stomach curdling at the sound of a statement like that. But leaving my flame-suit courageously aside, allow me to share an alternate point of view. One that isn’t heretical, but is actually grounded in a principle of serving the artistic integrity of the film…

    Original Language?

    While one language may legitimately constitute the “original” spoken language of the first-release region for a particular film, there are some differences between animated and live-action films that make the strict adherence to listening to only the “original” language track a bit of a red-herring with animated features. How can I say that? Well…for a few real reasons:
    1. Most animated films are actually crafted with multiple language options in mind, and when this is the case it’s not accurate to describe the alternate language options as an afterthought or even as an artistic compromise. Quite often great care is taken to select voice-actors for each language option that appropriately represent the intentions of the director to their respective region audiences.
    2. Animation has visuals that can be more easily married to multiple spoken dialogue options than live-action. Let’s all be honest and say that the typical Japanimation style of lip-movement makes this dialogue shuffle all the more easy.
    3. A subtitle-option for non-native speakers necessitates its own set of compromises (that usually get ignored), one of which is that in order to follow the film’s story the viewer is forced to focus on the subtitle text which keeps him or her from looking at the animated visuals which the artist intended to have your focus. In a very real sense, watching the movie without having to spend 50% of your time reading text is consistent with the director’s intentions.
    4. A large part of the emotion of an animated film (like any film) is communicated through the voice acting. And while this would seem to support an argument for listening to the original language track, this overlooks the disparity of cultural expression between the original dialogue and the viewer’s native tongue. It can be argued that English voice-acting is better able to communicate the intended emotional impact to English-speaking viewers than a Japanese language track, which for all its originality, communicates its emotional meaning through a context unknown to the English-speaking listener.
    I support Disney’s decision to provide both optional English and the original Japanese language presentation for Region 1 audiences with this DVD release. I personally prefer to watch this DVD listening to the English language as I find it gives me a better opportunity to drink in the animated visuals and experience a more emotional connection with the story than I would wrestling with subtitles that distract me from the hand-drawn imagery that the director wanted me to see. I respect any film purist’s (or Japanese speaking viewer’s) preference to watch the film with its original Japanese audio presentation. Feel free to discuss, just be respectful to all sides.


    Subtitle Update (March 21):


    There are actually THREE English-subtitle options for Totoro(and the other 2 GHIBLI films released along with it:
    1. English Closed Captioning...which includes sound-effects and is more-or-less a translation of the Enlgish audio soundtrack (ie, a word-for-word translation of the the English soundtrack option, not the original Japanese).
    2. True English Subtitles. This is more literally a translation of the Japanese language and in many cases differs more noticably from the "English Audio" soundtrack option. Fans and purists should use this option when listening to the original Japanese language to get the most authentic experience.
    3. English captions for written signage. This is an unusual option...subtitles only appear sporatically when something in the scene with Japanese wording might have been readable to Japanese audiences (like signs or letters)...and is translated with English subtitles. They only appear a handful of times. Curiously, these subtitles default to "on" and you'll have to cycle through the subtitle menu to shut them off if they become annoying.





    Picture...

    Sadly, My Neighbor Totoro is the poorest-looking of the three GHIBLI-films DVDs in this reviewing bundle. Color is good, and black-level seems solid. But what appears similar to “film grain” has taken on a harsh/noisey digital-signature which tends to muddy the monochromatic flesh-tones on character faces and renders “dirty whites” on clouds and fabrics. Thankfully, most of the background paintings come through satisfyingly clear and clean (with well saturated greens and blues) but I’m saddened by the unescapable digital glare. The image quality reminds me of Nassica…acceptable especially for those not viewing wide-angle, but an image that blown up big reveals a slightly processed appearance. The image also has softened look that I presume isn’t as crisp as the original projected prints were intended to look (given the sharper, more detailed appearance of the other GHIBLI DVDs in my collection).

    Still, if you can set aside your need for a razor-sharp image and get past the digital “noise” in the whites and fleshtones, the film is easily watchable with lovely saturated colors and lush, elaborate painted scenery. Most troubling is that EE at times becomes visible in the form of halos/ringing around the hard-animation of character faces…exactly the *one* place you *don’t* want to see them (same problem with Howl’s Moving Castle, I should add). Perhaps its not all that bad, and I really don’t know how challenging the source material was that Disney had to work with so perhaps I should be forgiving, but I couldn’t help but feel just a little disappointed…especially given how gorgeous Whisper of the Heart managed to look.

    The image is appropriately letterboxed inside the 16x9 frame to preserve the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Many viewers may not see the (small) letterboxing bars due to overscan in their system. While not exactly pillarboxed, there *are* some very narrow left/right bars that you may or may not notice (some previous DVDs like Spirited Away wasted resolution by windowboxing the image on all four sides).



    Picture Quality: 3.5 / 5

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]


    Rating Rationale...


    Rating Key:

    SCORE Description 1-2 An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch even on a 32” 4x3 480I TV. Think Outland or Jean De Flourette (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl, PAL-NTSC conversion artifacts etc.)-- truly horrid. 2-3 Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Kill Bill Vol 1. 3-4 Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos. 4-5 A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements limited only by DVD’s 720 x 480 resolution. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW" and ask you if they are watching HD. Think The Empire Strikes Back, the Fifth Element Superbit or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition.



    Viewing Equipment:
    Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.







    Sound...



    Please see my comments in the “feature” section regarding thoughts about subtitles versus translated Japanimation if you skipped the movie-review.

    The 2.0 mix is adequate. Musical passages spread pleasingly across the font three channels and the general character of the English mix portrays a balanced frequency response that is full-bodied and relaxed. The Japanese mix sounds a bit harsher and thinner by comparison (my guess is like Whisper, the newly recorded English dialogue provided an opportunity to produce a better-fidelity master with this new mix that faithfully preserves the original music and effects in accordance with the original recording. The English dialogue is surprisingly natural with no irritating “edge” even on the high-pitched voices of the two young sisters.

    Surround use is minimal, and most of the low-level ambient effects I heard coming through are more likely the result of ProLogic processing errors (out-of-phase information in the primary L/R channels) than literal “surround activity” as intended by the original mixing engineer.

    This isn’t demo material, but it never claimed to be either. And thankfully, the vocal recording quality is top-notch and makes for a very listenable, if unremarkable, audio experience.


    Sound Quality: 3 / 5

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]



    Listening Equipment:
    B&K AVR 212 processor/receiver driving my Onix-Rocket Loudspeaker system.



    Special Features...


    The special features on these three new GHIBLI DVDs are very similar, and in each case the 2nd disc is utilized to present the entire film in raw storyboard form (with the feature-production soundtrack and subtitle options). While not as loaded as the typical stops-pulled-out-2-disc-plantinum releases, the bonus material is more than I would have hoped for and I think most fans will be content.


    [*][​IMG]Behind the MicrophoneEach new GHIBLI DVD has this, and here we visit the actors responsible for the English-voice acting. This is really a nice feature, especially given that this “voice acting” is such a strong component of what makes these new R1 DVDs so worth-while. The ability for these actors to convey emotion and pull the viewer into the experience is key to enjoying the film for anyone who chooses to view with the accompanying English soundtrack.

    [*]Opening/Closing Credits AnimationThis feature lets you see the opening/closing credits "animation" sans the overly of credits...so you can just see the artwork. The image is slight windowboxed on all four sides...and has the same annoying ringing from EE as seen in the feature film. Personally...that opening song is *really* annoying but if you want to watch that animation again...here it is!


    [*]Trailers and suchYou get a couple of original Japanese trailers for the film as well as TV promotional spots etc. All are subtitled with defeatable English subtitles and the trailers play-through one after the other in one continuous stream. You can skip back and forth from trailer to trailer using your chapter-next/back remote buttons. All are 4x3 encoded and just reek of crappy NTSC analog video artifacts. What did you expect?

    [*]Feature-length StoryboardOn disc two you can view the entire movie in concept-storyboard form. The image is slightly windowboxed on all four sides and you have optional English subtitles and a choice between the same English or Japanese audio options available to you on the feature-presentation on Disc 1. Fans may enjoy though for me personally this is overkill, but I’m not going to compain!

    [/list]


    All Together...



    My Neighbor Totoro is a touching story of two sisters as they learn to deal with each other, their family, and their new community in the rural Japanese countryside. It is the perfect family film…able to entertain children as young as three or four while at the same time engaging adult and teen audiences with no difficulty. The film is beautiful, and I found the visuals as rewarding as the story…from sweeping countryside views to the subtle details of daily farming life in Japan, the imagery is a work of art. Image quality of this DVD will show some faults for wide-angle viewers…specifically a digital-looking “noise” in white-field and light-tones monochromatic areas of the image. But colors are lovely and I suspect that this is the best My Neighbor Totoro has enjoyed looking on home-video thus far. Audio is unremarkable but satisfactory, and the bonus material should make fans happy who were hoping to get a little something more than just the feature film. I’m more than happy to recommend this film…because it’s a story worth watching and a DVD that deserves to be added to your collection. I hope that any future Blu-ray is able to take advantage of better-quality picture, but for now this DVD should belong on the shelf of any self-respecting Miyazaki fan, animation buff, or collector of children’s films.


    Recommended
     
  2. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    this was the worse looking of the new 3?

    i'm almost afriad of what this looks like then.

    while Howl looked beautiful the ringing is what prevented that from being perfect.
    EE was terrible.
    looking at characters mouths you would have thought they had lips on those that only had a line drawn for a mouth.
    can't wait to see your review for that.
    my favorite miyazaki so far.

    anyway i've never seeen totoro and hope too soon.
     
  3. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    I just finished watching Howl's Castle tonight and my impression of the image was 100% EXACTLY as you described...an image that would have been virtually "perfect" were it not for the intrusive EE that managed to double the outlines around character facial details and other hard-line objects. What a shame!

    In any case...because of the greater softness of Totoro, the EE is actually *less* of a problem in this film. It's a trade-off.
     
  4. Brendon

    Brendon Second Unit

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    Sold! My R3 IVL single-layer disc can go back in its boxset.

    With luck the newer English subtitle track will have been used, rather than the "dubtitle" of the original R2 Japanese release.

    It still seems as though Disney have upped their game since the original trache of SG films (Spirited, Laputa & Kiki's), despite the EE.


    Well described! Every last one of my wife & I's friends & family that we've screened Totoro for would agree with that sentiment. Bringing our soft plush Totoro or Catbus is all that is needed to bring them out in smiles!
     
  5. Tommy G

    Tommy G Screenwriter

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    Well I dvr'd this when it was shown on TCM and from the review maybe I'll be satisfied with holding on to that. I agree with the review of the film itself. Another Miyazaki masterpiece!
     
  6. Leo Kerr

    Leo Kerr Screenwriter

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    It'd be nice to know how this dub-track compares to the old english dub... I guess I'll find out soon enough; I'm getting it, whatever...

    Leo
     
  7. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    I can't compare, but I can assure you that the new dub is *first rate* and qualifies as an artistically-solid creative effort all on its own. I think when you hear it you will agree...I look forward to your comments!
     
  8. ChristopherDAC

    ChristopherDAC Producer

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    While I understand that you don't speak Japanese, and that you don't care to suffer the intrusion of unnecessary English text into your viewing experience, there are those of us who feel that a review of a non-English-language film isn't complete without at least some mention of the subtitling options. Are they there at all? we wonder, what is the style and size of the text? and perhaps most importantly, are they real subtitles, or do they just transcribe the dub script? Since this is a DVD review primarily, it would be a real service if you would include this kind of DVD-specific information. For myself [and passing over your point 1, which is emphatically not applicable to the preponderance of Japanese animation, as opposed to the case with many Western productions] I prefer — when I have the options — to listen to the dub once or twice unless it is truly wretched, view occasionally with subtitles, but do most of my viewing/listening in the original language with no English support. It's amazing how well this works, at least if one has a retentive memory, and it helps one to understand the foreign language better at the same time.
     
  9. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    ChristopherDAC,

    I couldn't agree with you more.

    I'll update my review as soon as I get a chance to reflect those very questions.

    For now, I can tell you that the font style is "normal subtitle yellow" and appears in the lower region of the image frame...and has closed-caption info like "laughing loudly" etc.

    I'll double check to see if it's the english script or a more literal translation of the Japanese dialogue (which I hope that it is).

    cheers!

    dave [​IMG]
     
  10. GeorgeM

    GeorgeM Extra

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    Has anyone with the R2 "Totoro" compared this release? I'm hoping to replace my R2 DVD with this one but only if it's using an improved video transfer and if it's using literal English subtitles. From the review it sounds like it's using the same video transfer. [​IMG]
     
  11. Brendon

    Brendon Second Unit

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    GeorgeM,

    Subtitlewise I'm hoping to compare the release when my pre-order arrives. I do have the R3 IVL release of Totoro with a good translation of the Japanese; my R2 Japanese release of Castle of Cagliostro by comparison is appaling, mistranslating several passages of dialogue and in some cases adding dialogue into the film in passages where there is none. (I noticed the mistranslation on account of my fair but not great command of Japanese).

    This issue with the subtitling seemed to affect many of the earlier SG DVD releases. By comparison, HMC R2 Japan matters have improved immeasurably.
     
  12. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Compared to the earlier Fox release, I was happy to get the anamorphic widescreen and original Japanese language track. I watched it with my four year old and was very pleasantly surprised by the new dub. It is by far the best I have heard for a Ghibli film. The Fanning sisters are scary talented.

    Regards,
     
  13. takeshi_gt

    takeshi_gt Auditioning

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    Someone told me the video transfers are the same. The R2 release uses "dubtitles" for the translation whereas this current release uses literal subtitles. The sub-tranlsation for this release is better.
     
  14. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    subtitle update:

    It appears to my eyes and ears that the English Subtitles on this new R1 release match the Enlgish-Translation-Audio track and are not "literal" subtitles for the Japanese-translation.

    Meaning that the English audio and subtitle text basically match each other.

    This is true for all three new GHIBLI-film DVD releases (Howl's Castle, Whisper, and Totoro).
     
  15. Ed Speir IV

    Ed Speir IV Stunt Coordinator

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    I can honestly say Totoro is my favorite Ghibli movie so far (haven't seen Howl's Moving Castle yet). I have the fox release and the R2 Japanese 2-disc set (which is anamorphic widescreen and contains the English language track).

    I picked up the new US release also, and I'm looking forward to hearing the new dub. I thought the old fox dub was outstanding, so it will be interesting to compare the two....
     
  16. Brent Hutto

    Brent Hutto Supporting Actor

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    OK, now I think we have a difference of opinion. As I just commented on the Whisper thread, after watching Howl with the Japanese voices and the English subtitles (not closed-captions) we went back the next night and picked several five-minute portions to watch in English language with the English subtitles also running. There were frequent, notable differences in the two and some apparent difference in the interpretation of the characters (at least for Sophie). Hmmm.
     
  17. ChristopherDAC

    ChristopherDAC Producer

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  18. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    subtitle update (see review)...
     

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