DVD/Blu-ray Review: OBLIVION ISLAND Looks Simply Stunning

(Mirror, mirror on the wall, in one viewing you won't see it all...)

In 2009, renowned Japanese anime studio Production I.G. released Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror. Instead of a regular anime, this was an experiment in which the studio tried to create a computer-animated film in the style of Pixar.
A few years back, I saw a theatrical screening of the film at the Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam, and while I wasn't all that much taken with the story, I was definitely impressed with the rich designs and spectacular action.

Earlier this month, Manga UK released Oblivion Island on Blu-ray and DVD. How does the film hold up on repeat viewing at home?
Time for a second look...


oblivion_island-BR-ext1.jpgThe Story:

(I'll copy this in from my earlier review:)
In Japan there are shrines where you can pray for the return of goods you lost. One day, sixteen-year-old Haruka visits such a shrine and asks for a little hand mirror she misplaced when she was little. The mirror is the last thing Haruka's mother gave her before passing away, and Haruka took good care of it until it suddenly disappeared during a move to a new apartment.

By accident Haruka spots a fox spirit running away with a discarded toy plane. She follows and catches the creature, but in doing so she stumbles through a strange portal and finds herself in a different world, where spirits build complete countries out of lost goods. Humans are forbidden here, so Haruka blackmails the fox spirit to help her find her mirror and then return her home.

The fox spirit guides her to Oblivion Island but finding Haruka's mirror turns out to be harder than she expected: all mirrors are magical in this land and highly valued. Mirrors can be used to change the shape and size of things, and can even bring inanimate objects to life! Worse: Haruka's hand mirror turns out to be a very special one, a prized possession of the mad Baron who rules Oblivion Island. And the Baron needs the mirror for his nefarious plans.

But just when Haruka thinks she knows where her mirror is, someone has stolen it from the Baron's keep...


The Movie Revisited:

In my original review (here is a link) for Oblivion Island I wrote that I wasn't exactly bowled over by it, citing plotholes and poor characterization. Some quotes:

"This doesn't mean that Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror is a bad film, but it does make me sad that it isn't a lot better. As such it is a respectable and VERY spectacular matinee film for all the family, with lots of sauce but little meat...
...This is a fun film but no classic. Allow yourself this as a visual treat but don't enter with high expectations concerning story or characters."

Later, Niels Matthijs saw the film and took a far more favorable shine to it (and here is THAT link). Again some quotes:

"It's a film that is mostly concerned with giving fantasy fans what they're craving for. The fantasy world that Haruka enters is lush, rich and colorful. It's creative, it's beautiful and diverse. Oblivion Island is a true roller coaster ride, trying to show you as much of its fantasy world as humanly possible, within the tight constraints of its running time. Which, at least to me, is much more interesting than spending time on character development or motivations for the bad guy's actions..."
"...when judging Oblivion Island on its own merits it turns out to be a surprisingly lovable film. Definitely recommended if you're like me and consider its weaker points as necessary flaws that are aptly compensated in other, more important areas."

As you can extract from those quotes, Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror is a visually full, some would say visually over-full film. In the cinema I wasn't so much taken in by its beauty, as hammered into submission by colorful overload. Vista after vista whooshes by at great speed. Another beautiful world, blink and you've missed it, replaced with something else.

But on Blu-ray and DVD, this overkill actually works to the film's advantage: it rewards repeat viewings. It invites you to rewind any of the many fantastically detailed chases, or freeze a particularly beautiful shot so you can scrutinize it. As Niels emphasized a bit more than I did: this is one gorgeous film. And viewing it at home, on a smaller screen than in the cinema, being able to pause when it all the designs starts to dazzle... it makes for a far better viewing experience.

In short: this is one damn fine film to watch and own. I have already rewatched several choice bits endlessly...


On to the Discs:

The Manga UK release of Oblivion Island is a dual-format one: you get the film on region 2 PAL DVD and region B Blu-ray. The packaging is a simple Blu-ray holder, but as with many of Manga UK's Blu-ray releases, it features a reversible cover with very nice alternative artwork. Our very own Niels Matthijs gets quoted on the back as well.

Video-wise there are no surprises: the DVD is pretty damn good, yet it still gets easily clobbered by the fantastic Blu-ray. Oblivion Island is a recently made CGI film with layers of fine detail upon other layers of fine detail, so HD is definitely the most fulfilling format for this film.
Audio is strong as well, with both English and Japanese soundtracks available in Dolby 5.1 HD. English subtitles are optional and very good.

Next we come to the extras, and there are a lot of them. Most are rather fluffy but all in all there is quite a bit to enjoy here. While there isn't a true "making-of" on the disc, there are several mini-features of about 5 minutes each. All are of the advertorial puff-piece kind but you do see some pre-visuals and designs in them, and some of the voice-acting. You also get to see the Japanese voice cast go on a trip to a real abandoned island, similar to the one James Bond visits in Skyfall, which as a PR-stunt gets "sistered up" with Oblivion Island.

But then you hit the one extra which actually does contain some meat and bones: a documentary on old (and not-so-old) Japanese legends about foxes, and why these are so important in local religion and folklore. Fox shrines throughout Japan are shown, harvest gods explained, restaurants advertised. Yes, that last one seems a bit out of place, but there you go. Best of all, you get several famous fox fairy-tales told, underscored with illustrations by famous artist Ikehara Shouji.

Finally, you get all the trailers you can wish for. Japanese, US, television... it's there. Part of the ticket revenue for Oblivion Island went to aid a fund battling hunger in Sierra Leone, and even the adverts for that fund are included here. Pretty thorough!

To summarize: even without a true making-of or a commentary track, I'm actually quite pleased with what is on offer here. The film warrants several revisits, looks and sounds stellar on these discs, and is attractively priced. Therefore this edition is much recommended!

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