Anything directed by Hayao Miyazaki would be an event—not unlike the way Woody Allen movies were events in the ‘70s—but the first Miyazaki feature film in 10 years definitely qualifies. With the master of Japanese animation having already announced his retirement twice, the arrival of “The Boy and the Heron” was a welcome holiday treat.
The movie begins in postwar Tokyo but quickly transports the viewer to a surreal fantasy world. Like the director’s previous efforts, it features extraordinary attention to detail—how a heron moves its wings as he flies, what shadows look like as they fall across walls, how teardrops form in a boy’s eyes as he thinks about his mother.
A young boy, Mahito (voiced by Christian Bale in the dubbed version) is the focus of the story, instead of a girl as per usual. The semi-autobiographical film, a GKIDS/Studio Ghibli release, plays out like part fairy tale, part drug-induced fever dream. At two hours the picture is a little too long and the plot gets a little convoluted at times, but Miyazaki knows his audience and doesn’t disappoint.
Two recent Blu-ray box sets starring two of America’s most popular and enduring comedy teams also qualify as events. “Laurel & Hardy Year One: The Newly Restored 1927 Silents” (Flicker Alley) brings together definitive restorations of 13 short subjects featuring Stan and Ollie from the first year of their teaming, plus two that predate that momentous occasion. Sourced from material in archives and private collections worldwide, the films have never looked better thanks to Blackhawk Films and Lobster Films in Paris; after decades of mediocre prints, they are nothing less than a revelation.
L&H are adversaries in several of these early efforts made at Hal Roach Studios, and don’t always appear in their familiar derby hats. That’s part of the fun here, as we see them developing their characters and their relationship from the outset of their duo career. Jimmy Finlayson and Anita Garvin are well in evidence, along with other Roach regulars.
Bonus materials include audio commentaries by L&H expert Randy Skretvedt, who curated the set along with Roach historian Richard W. Bann, Serge Bromberg of Lobster, and others; a video essay by locations historian John Bengston; a slide show presentation of the sadly lost short “Hats Off;” a souvenir booklet with notes by Skretvedt and Bromberg, and an essay by Bann; and a plethora of new scores.
Not to be outdone, “Stooge O-Rama” (MVD Entertainment) offers a truckload of rarities starring Moe, Larry, and Curly, with more yuks among the nyuk-nyuks than one would think could possibly be contained on three discs. “It is not a set of big restorations, rather it is all sorts of rarities from the only known surviving source,” said curator Paul Gierucki. “I wanted to try to capture a bit of that old school fun and nostalgia.”
Cinemuseum LLC and Kit Parker Films have wildly succeeded in their aim. Bonus items alone include a digitally remastered and upgraded version of the documentary, “Stooges: The Men Behind the Mayhem,” the lost Stooges featurette “Surprise, Surprise,” a forgotten Shemp short, unreleased outtakes, color home moves, commercials, trailers, unseen interviews, family photos and more.
Hot tip: Passes are now available for the 15th annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, April 18-21.