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[ the editorials ]

Notes from the coffee mill...

August 2002

Seeing Red...

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It's been awhile since our last editorial! However, some things just scream for comment every now and again. And for those who haven't guessed from the title, this time, we're looking at the latest Studio Ghibli DVD release Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away).

Given the strong interest in this title (it is afterall the highest grossing movie in Japan), fans have been waiting with great anticipation for the DVD. However, controversy surrounds the DVD. With the picture tinged a reddish hue, Ghibli claims that this was deliberately done to optimize the picture for high end TV owners. Whether this is true or not is for others to debate (preferably owners of such high end TVs who would be more familiar with their TV picture output). However, for your standard lay-person with a standard TV, this approach means that you must live with pinkish scenes and no pure white shirts or clouds; seeing red everywhere.

So, is the picture really all that bad? Well, it really depends on your hardware and the time frame in the movie. Trying the DVD on three different DVD players with three different TV/screens, we had essentially two distinct results. With the newest region-free DVD player and a Gaoo TV, the DVD scenes were noticeably rosier, but overall didn't interfere too much with viewing experience. In fact, had we not known that the scenes were redder than the original movie and had the original trailers not been included, it might not have been too annoying.

However, on the other two setups (WinDVD + monitor; region-free player with JVC TV), this was not the case. Our usual TV setup resulted in a very bright pink picture that was quite the contrast from the previous red. Perhaps the starkest difference was the bridge outside the bath house. While on the Gaoo the bridge was pretty much your typical red bridge (a bit deeper red than shinto shrines' gates), with the JVC, the bridge became a very bright fuschia. A far cry from the red seen published in a number of magazines!

Timing is also important. The earliest scenes in the movie are the most noticeable. Starting with the flowers shown on the top left, the scene is already very pink. However, the further along in the movie one continues, the more accustomed one becomes to the added red.

Official response from Ghibli is that the red is deliberate and not a pressing error; that the DVD is as it was intended to be and is not faulty. And while it is possible to adjust one's TV set and boost the green tint to compensate (when's the last time you adjusted your TV to view a DVD??) the question of why still remains. Do high end TV's have a greener picture than average TVs? And do so many people in Japan really own such TVs compared to your standard run of the mill CRT that playing with the DVD picture was warranted? Does the red hue improve the picture contrast? create a warmer atmosphere? increase viewing pleasure for the average consumer? For sunset scenes perhaps, afterall scenes should be quite ruddy hued for this time of day. However, for the rest, the starker contrast and clearer colours seen on the trailer are much more enticing. I'm decidedly unimpressed with what Ghibli has done with the DVD and will say this much: I sure won't be doing anymore Ghibli pre-orders. I'll let someone else play guinea pig.

Personally, I like my whites truly white (what is this, a laundry commercial??) My world's rosy enough without someone adding yet another rosy filter to my screen. One can only pray that the eventual North American release will use the original movie's master rather than the pinked re-master. Then the rest of the world can be green with envy to compensate for seeing so much red.

Jane Nagatomi, 2002.08.05

N.B. Click on the images above to see the screen captures (*.jpg) for the movie. Images were captured as close as possible to one another (between the trailer DVD scenes and movie scenes) using WinDVD and have been trimmed to remove the black borders associated with wide screen images and saved in JPG format with minimal compression using Photopaint 7 (files 100~260 kb). Saving in JPG format does result in slight washout of the picture. BMP original capture links for pics 1, 3, and 5 are listed below. (Each BMP is 1.11-1.16 MB. Captures from the trailer DVD are 720x540 and 852x480 from the movie DVD. Disc defaults).

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