HAYAO MIYAZAKI probably curses the day he let himself be persuaded to license his Studio Ghibli animations to the Evil Empire (a.k.a. Disney). When Princess Mononoke didn't do Aladdin-style business, Disney shelved release of two earlier Miyazakis, leaving North American anime fans with two painful alternatives: Buy Ghibli films in semi-pirate DVD editions out of Hong Kong; or wait for Miyazaki to dribble them out one by one in Japan at astronomically high prices.
Well, the Oscar-awarded Miyazaki's latest (and, he says, last) animation, Spirited Away, backed by best-picture and best-animation awards from all over the world, has finally reawakened Disney's interest. On April 15, along with Spirited and a re-packaged Mononoke, Disney issued a DVD of Kiki's Delivery Service, his charming 1989 tale of a young witch's coming-of-age story. But the real prize is the first (legal) U.S. home-media release of what a lot of people think is Miyazaki's masterpiece: 1986's Castle in the Sky, a.k.a. Laputa.
Castle is epic all-ages entertainment, set on a Jules Verne-era parallel Earth where fantastical prop-driven airships rule, preyed upon by Robin Hood-style mama's boy pirates who fly on motorized bumblebees. There, the power hungry are haunted by a legendary past full of mechanical marvels, including a palace city floating in the air. The chance meeting of two young people precipitates both catastrophe and salvation for their world. And you shouldn't know one more thing about the film before you see it.
The extras are rather slapdash. Like Kiki, Castle's entire second disc is devoted to a film-length storyboard sequence, fascinating no doubt to the .0003 percent of purchasers interested enough to sit through it. But both sets contain the original Japanese dialogue track accompanied by first-rate English subtitles, and both make precious permanent additions to your library of first-rate family films.
NOT MUCH COMES to DVD April 22. The Believer features a brilliant, frightening performance by Ryan Gosling as a Jew who becomes a neo-Nazi skinhead. The seminal 1983 hip-hop documentary Style Wars adds three and one-half hours (!) to two discs of material. Warner Bros. is putting out several old musicals, including Silk Stockings. Bloody Sunday made our 10-best list for 2002. And we'll review Standing in the Shadows of Motown next week.