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2 classic Japanese animated films receive Blu-ray upgrades
A scene from the gorgeous Japanese animated classic "Spirited Away" (2002), which has received a new Blu-ray upgrade. - photo by Chris Hicks
Two classic Japanese animated films are now on Blu-ray for the first time, thanks to Disney Home Video.

Spirited Away (Disney/Blu-ray/DVD/2002, PG, introduction by John Lasseter, featurettes, storyboards, Japanese TV special, trailers/TV spots).

The Cat Returns (Disney/Blu-ray/DVD/2005, G, featurettes, storyboards, trailers/TV spots). The first thing you notice about these two animated features from the Japanese Studio Ghibli is that both are beautifully artistic, and their look is only enhanced by these new Blu-ray releases. The second is that they take anime to a whole new level.

Spirited Away is considered a high point of Hayao Miyazakis sterling career as a filmmaker of inventive animated fantasies. The story follows a 10-year-old girl traveling with her parents when they take a wrong turn and wind up in a fantasy world from which they cant escape. The creatures and predicaments that follow are whimsical and bizarre, calling to mind Alice in Wonderland, among others. But its an aggressively original piece with great English-dubbed voices provided by Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stiers and John Ratzenberger, among others.

The Cat Returns, directed by Hiroyuki Morita, features a character called The Baron from an earlier Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart. This one is more action-oriented as a young girl is taken to a cat world and begins to turn into a feline herself, until, after a string of strange adventures, she is rescued by The Baron and his crow pal. English-dubbed voices include Anne Hathaway, Kristen Bell and Elliott Gould.

The Wrecking Crew (Magnolia/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital, 2008, PG, two discs, deleted scenes, trailer). Toe-tapping, feel-good documentary about the couple dozen or so Los Angeles studio musicians that floated in and out of recording sessions and became collectively known as The Wrecking Crew, earning fame in the industry for backing up and arranging a startling number of hit records during the late 1950s and 1960s, including Sonny & Chers The Beat Goes On, the Monkees Mary Mary, the Beach Boys Good Vibrations, the Mamas and the Papas California Dreamin, the Fifth Dimensions Up Up and Away, Frank Sinatras Strangers in the Night, and many, many more as well as plenty of familiar TV and movie themes.

Pandas: The Journey Home (Virgil/Blu-ray 3-D/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014, not rated, two discs, featurette). This documentary short (40 minutes) takes viewers into the Wolong Panda Center in China where pandas are observed as they are cared for and eventually transitioned back into the wild. This combo disc allows you to watch the film in 3-D if you have a compatible television, or in the normal flat or 2-D format.

Run All Night (Warner/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2015, R for violence and language, deleted scenes, featurettes). A former mob hitman (Liam Neeson) is forced to kill the son of his former boss and best friend (Ed Harris), which sends him running from contract killers and crooked cops. Not quite up to Neesons best special-set-of-skills action pictures, but its rapid pace and solid supporting cast help. Co-stars Joel Kinnaman, Bruce McGill, Vincent DOnofrio, Common and unbilled Nick Nolte.

Chappie (Columbia/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2015; R for violence, language, nudity; extended scene/alternate ending, featurettes, photo gallery). The trailers made this futuristic artificial-intelligence thriller appear to lean more toward Short Circuit than RoboCop, but the result is an extremely violent and profane tale of a kidnapped robot being humanized with nefarious purposes in mind. This is a disappointment from District 9 filmmaker Neill Blomkamp. Good cast includes Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver and Hugh Jackman. (Also available in a three-film Blu-ray set titled Blomkamp 3, with District 9 and Elysium.)

Beyond the Reach (Lionsgate/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2015, R for violence, audio commentary, featurettes). This umpteenth variation on The Most Dangerous Game has Michael Douglas in his comfort zone as a wealthy arrogant jerk who bribes a young guide (Jeremy Irvine) to take him into the Mojave Desert to hunt bighorn sheep out of season. After an accident, the guide becomes the prey. By-the-numbers yarn with paper-thin characters. Ronny Cox co-stars.

The Happiness of the Katakuris (Arrow/Blu-ray/DVD, 2001, R for violence and sex, in Japanese with English subtitles, audio commentaries, featurettes, trailer/TV spots; booklet). This Japanese film is a very strange, hallucinogenic, dark comic musical-horror tale with clay-animation sequences, described in press materials as The Sound of Music meets Dawn of the Dead. The story has a family opening an inn near a volcano, hoping for tourist trade, but whenever guests check in, they end up dying, so the family buries them in the backyard. In between, they break into song-and-dance numbers about being happy. Youve been warned.

Wild Tales (Sony Classics/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital, 2015; R for violence, language, sex; in Spanish with English subtitles, featurettes). This jet-black satirical anthology has six unpleasant stories of revenge with over-the-top violence and out-there plotting, from a forced plane crash with an ironic target to a bride confronting her new husbands infidelities at their wedding party.

Delirium (Monarch/DVD, 2015, not rated). This horror yarn is about a little girl, who goes missing for a year and suddenly comes home but is unable to talk about where shes been. Her parents are distressed, the police have no leads and when supernatural occurrences begin, it appears that something sinister is afoot and in the house.
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