If you are a fan of Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, or Studio Ghibli, or of animation in general, or Japanese cinema on the whole, or even world film history in its broadest strokes, there is no DVD in recent times more important and revelatory than Discotek Media’s release of Horus, Prince of the Sun.
The film, a Toei animated feature from 1968, was the feature directorial debut of Takahata – who would go on to craft such landmarks as Grave of the Fireflies and the recent, Oscar-nominated The Tale of Princess Kaguya – and was animated by a team of soon-to-be giants including, but certainly not limited to, Hayao Miyazaki. Were it merely the inception point of so many significant careers, the film would certainly deserve some attention, but Horus is so much more than that. As Daniel Thomas MacInnes argues on one of the disc’s two audio commentaries, Horus may well be Japanese animation’s Citizen Kane, the defining moment in which ‘anime’ transcended the limitations of Western influence and proved itself a force of intense artistic and intellectual power.
I had heard of the film many times before, a constant fixture in research I have done on Takahata and Miyazaki; yet until Discotek’s recent DVD release – which arrived at the tail-end of 2014, with minimal attention or fanfare – I had never had the chance to see it, for this is the first time Horus has been made commercially available in the United States. It is a cause for immense celebration. This is a jaw-dropping film, a stunning work of radical power and unbridled cinematic passion that remains a wonder to behold 46 years after its theatrical release. To watch it is to see the history of modern anime unfold; all the potential of Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, and the industry as a whole is contained within Horus’ brief yet dense 82 minutes, and now that I have seen it, it is clear to me that no appraisal of either man’s careers, let alone the last five decades of Japanese animation, can be undertaken without seeing and discussing Horus. It is that sort of milestone, and to finally see it is like uncovering a long-buried treasure.
That this film has finally been brought to North American audiences is significant no matter what, but the work done by Discotek on this release is so exemplary that I feel it warrants further attention. With terrific video quality and a thoroughly researched, expertly compiled slate of extras, Discotek has crafted a DVD package worthy of the film’s underexplored legacy. It is easily one of the most exhilarating and essential home video releases I have come across in months, from any corner of the cinematic world, and since I have barely seen the DVD discussed online, even in places I should think might highlight it, I wanted to take the time to talk about this release in some detail. It truly is an invaluable archive.
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