My Neighbour Totoro Review
This is a purely technical and now reference only review of the since re-issued Region 3 DVD release from IVL. For my thoughts on the film please see the review for the Japanese disc to which I am comparing this Region 3 disc.
Please be aware that I originally posted a full comparison review in December 2002 and the reason this has been separated into two reviews (and the reason I class this as a ‘reference’ only review) is that since then IVL have gone back and fixed all of the video errors present in the disc reviewed below. In the process they re-encoded disc one in its entirety so that it now occupies a DVD9 (rather than a DVD5) and also changed the cover artwork slightly so that the title of the film is now in Silver rather than the original plain white titles. They did NOT re-issue this release, which means the ‘fixed’ version uses an identical ID number so you may want to check with your supplier what copies they have instock although it is highly unlikely you will receive a faulty copy as IVL have stated that they have acquired all faulty copies of this DVD and that no more should be in circulation.
One final point – I have not seen the re-issued releases from IVL though it is generally acknowledged that in terms of visual quality they are greatly improved and are now not far off the Japanese R2 releases, to the point that some people simply will not notice any difference. Audio Specifications and Extra Features remain the same (though again the transfer of the film on disc 2 has been fixed) as those found on the disc reviewed below.
This Region 3 DVD release from IVL (Bueana Vista’s Hong Kong distribution arm) was released on December 12th 2001 and retails at around $135 HKD.
I have compared this Region 3 release to the original Japanese Region 2 DVD that was released on September 28th 2001 and retails at 4700yen, which makes it almost twice as expensive as the Region 3 alternative.
Using the exact same front cover design as the Region 2 offering, albeit with a slightly more garish choice of green for the border, everything else about the packaging of this release is kept very much in the style of the IVL R3 release of Kiki's Delivery Service proving they are looking to maintain a common design a la the R2 Studio Ghibli Collection. Just like the R3 Kiki's Delivery Service release IVL have used a Clear Single Thickness Double Armaray case with the same starkly contrasted Blue second disc holder and again you will find no interior artwork or inserts listing chapters but we do find the same well produced 'Studio Ghibli Collection' 20-page booklet. The choice of disc artwork is good but pales in comparison to the R2 choices...
Much like their release of Kiki's Delivery Service IVL have taken the beautiful Japanese transfer and re-encoded it to fit onto a Single Layer disc and so with half of the available storage space and sloppy encoding to boot My Neighbour Totoro suffers in a way viewers should not have to contend with. First and foremost the picture is plagued by colour bleed of levels far in excess to those found on the Kiki's Delivery Service R3 release. Characters skin and clothes are almost constantly affected while even the backgrounds suffer which makes medium to close range views irritating and long range views almost devoid of character details as colours bleed into one another to create what in some scenes can only be described as a mess. Moving past the colour bleed (if you can) you also have to contend with what I describe as 'Worn VHS' syndrome where quite frequently (I counted at least 40 instances of this fault) you will see horizontal lines flicker on the image, sometimes the width of the screen, other times quite short but they are there and quite simply should not be and prove to be very distracting. Other minor problems include occasionally noticeable artifacting and generally a drop in fine detail and a dulled palette that takes away the crystal clear sheen the R2 alternative has but would leave, if it were not for the encoding faults, a reasonable interpretation of the original Japanese transfer. As it is though this transfer is woefully disappointing and simply unacceptable given the source and it becomes even more unacceptable when you consider the Opening/Closing sequences found within the Extra Features are devoid of these encoding faults because they directly lifted them from the Japanese release, which is what they should have done for the main feature.
Offering the same Japanese DD2.0 Surround track as found on the Japanese release this R3 incarnation has been down sampled from the R2s 448kbps to a more manageable (for the Single Layer disc used) 192kbps and while it sounds essentially the same you will notice some slight differences which result in a slightly muted feel all round and a sometimes harsher sound to the voices but overall this track is still quite superb to listen to. Replacing the English Dub found on the R2 disc we find a Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 remix for this R3 releases expected audience and while this is understandable, in the case of this comparison it is a disappointing loss as Studio Ghibli English Dubs are always a fine addition to the R2 releases as they are generally of a high standard and particularly useful for friends and family.
Both English and Chinese removable subtitles are provided in an easy to read white font and while this disc suffers from a similar 'centering' problem to the Kiki's Delivery Service R3 release (where some lines are incorrectly justified) IVL have come up trumps by providing us with a Literal Translation for the English subtitle track. This subtitle track is free of any additional dialogue and is a pleasure to read with my only complaint being that with even my basic grasp of the Japanese language I could easily notice how they constantly changed the girl's references to one another from 'Sister' to their respective names. This is a minor gripe though and IVL deserve praise in this area of the disc as it offers a better subtitle experience to that of the Japanese R2.
Utilising an almost identical menu system to that found on the Japanese release you will be blessed with the same detailed original artwork from the film and easy to navigate menus. The only obvious difference is the text used (Japanese on the R2, Chinese on the R3 although the film disc on the R3 set has optional English Menus which is another bonus for English consumers).
Like its Japanese counterpart this Hong Kong release' extra features are all presented in Japanese DD2.0 Audio with NO English (or Chinese for that matter) subtitles unless otherwise noted. The premier extra feature is the same Film/Storyboard Multi-Angle Presentation as found on the R2 release with the main difference being that the Audio track included is the Cantonese DD5.1 Remix while the Film presentation features the same awful transfer from Disc 1 of this release only this time the bit-rate has been halved making it a little worse! The storyboard angle is slightly lower in quality when compared to the R2 but the difference is so negligible it is not worth thinking about and being that this is the most important part of the feature it is pleasing to see that some care has been taken with it. Fortunately the faults in the main transfer rarely detract from the quality and depth of this extra feature, which also contains a pleasant surprise in the form of an ideal opportunity for anyone wishing to do their own comparison! The opening and ending credits found in the Storyboard Angle are the same fully animated sequences as found in the film, only on the Storyboard angle they feature none of the encoding faults found on the Film Angle and are essentially identical to those found on the R2 release so you too can see the differences!
Moving on we find that IVL have cut out any extra features that would have required Chinese or English subtitles so gone is the 18-minute featurette of the R2 disc, instead we find the remains in the form of a single Theatrical Trailer for My Neighbour Totoro. Also missing is the Ghibli Museum Featurette, which only leaves the Opening/Ending Animation Sequences sans credits for your enjoyment, and again like the storyboards you will find that these short clips feature no colour bleed what-so-ever providing you with a glimpse at what could have been!
Also excised from this R3 release are the Studio Ghibli DVD Trailers but in their place you will find two additions for the R3 release. First of all is a Spirited Away trailer that is presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen and runs for 70-seconds with the bonus of both English and Chinese subtitles. Secondly you will find an Original Theatrical Trailer for Kiki's Delivery Service which launched alongside this release in Hong Kong (and vice versa the Kiki's Delivery Service release included a My Neighbour Totoro Theatrical Trailer). Finally you will find the same Studio Ghibli Collection Trailer as found on the Japanese R2 release which brings the extra features to a close.
The Japanese Region 2 release that I originally reviewed back in September 2001 is a stunning DVD that shines in absolutely every conceivable area with the only minor letdown being the dubtitles. Sadly, it would appear that IVL decided to release an R3 version of My Neighbour Totoro that improved upon the English Subtitles, but ruined nearly every other important area of the disc!
For fans of the series the Japanese R2 release is the only way to go and is the clear winner of the two by a huge margin. Unfortunately due to the high cost of Japanese DVDs this comparison is marred by the fact that I too purchase DVDs and know exactly what it is like to pay a high price for a film you have never seen. On that note I would say to anyone who has had their interest sparked but cannot justify the R2s cost then despite my sheer disappointment with the R3 release I can still say it is worth a look and will certainly provide you with much enjoyment, but the R2 release is still by far the better purchase.
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