Little Norse Prince (The) AKA Horus: Prince of the Sun AKA Taiyo no oji: Horusu no daiboken
R0 - America - Discotek Media
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (9th March 2015).
The Film

A young boy named Horus discovers The Sword of the Sun. By legend if reforged, would turn the boy into The Prince of the Sun. Horus’ father on his deathbed tells him that when Horus was a baby, their village was destroyed by the evil Grunwald and so they fled to their current isolated location. His biggest regret was not being able to return to their homeland to seek revenge, and urges Horus to find his people and help them. Horus with his trusted friend, the talking bear Koro travel by ship to find the land he came from.

A village that he finds has some trouble with a monster pike living in the nearby waters which is eating up all the fish and attacking fishermen. There, Horus meets a blacksmith who is willing to help reforge his sword, a young boy Flip whose father is killed by the pike, and Potom whose father is the village leader. During his stay, Horus proves himself by killing the pike and restoring faith to the village and becoming a hero trusted by the villagers. While out, Horus eventually meets a mysterious girl named Hilda and invites her back to the village out of kindness. Although she feels a strong connection to Horus, she suddenly feels ill when she comes close to The Sword of the Sun and also when she is draped with clothing with images of the sun on them. Eventually, the dark truth about Hilda threatens much more than Horus can imagine.

“Horus: Prince of the Sun” was produced by Toei Animation, over a long 3-year period of production between 1965 and 1968. It was the directorial debut of Isao Takahata, famed director of the Studio Ghibli classics such as “Grave of the Fireflies” and the Oscar nominated “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”. Takahata being a fan of realism, took the fantastical story and made the film not using an animation viewpoint, but made it as if he were directing a live-action film. His main vision was using many shots with camera movement and not the cheap static shots of the average Japanese anime movies of the time. This of course added to the production time, which Toei executives were not exactly happy with.

The film’s themes reflected much of what was happening at Toei Studios at the time. The uprising of the villagers was a reflection of the struggle the Toei animators union was having with Toei Studios, and the studio was not happy with the obvious jab. Even with the very expensive cost of the film’s production and the three years of hard work, Toei dumped the film into theaters with very little promotion compared to other Toei animated releases, and pulled the film out of theaters fairly quickly. Takahata was demoted and was not able to make another film at Toei.

But the film wasn’t a complete bomb. Film critics gave it extremely high praise. And although Toei animation films were marketed toward young children, the film struck a chord with high school students and college students, who saw the uprising themes and battles with authority a parallel with the student demonstrations happening in Japan and the United States, as well as a metaphor for the happenings in Vietnam. Toei occasionally rereleased the film over the years, as well as selling the film rights abroad to various countries including the United States to American International Pictures TV. Apparently, the American producers were extremely praising of the film, but the Toei executives didn’t really care much about the movie and were more about recouping the costs instead during the sale.

Years later when Takahata’s later works such as the TV series of "Lupin the Third", "Heidi", "Anne of Green Gables", and his feature films became popular cultural iconic works, awareness of “Horus” increased drastically, and is now considered one of the most important and influential anime movies of all time.

Considering a logical point of view of the story there are a lot of amusing things that come to mind. Horus’ little axe doesn’t seem like the most useful weapon for survival after so many years. His father’s dying wish is so ambiguous that he doesn’t tell Horus where his old village is, or who the people are, yet Horus finds them fairly quickly. A young boy falling off an extremely high cliff and surviving unscathed? Yes, there are a lot of impossible moments, but it is a fantasy film with adventure and discovery. And if that’s what you are looking for, you will not be disappointed. It’s still exciting and fun almost 50 years later.

Video

This is the first ever DVD release for “Horus: Prince of the Sun” in America. Previously, the only English-friendly DVD of the film was the UK release from Optimum Releasing from 10 years prior.

The anamorphic ToeiScope picture quality looks very good. The colors look great, although don’t expect any bright eye popping colors since the film has a grey and blue overtone. Comparing the Discotek release to the Optimum release, they are different transfers. The UK release had occasional dust and specs visible, while the new US release in the same instances have very little dust or specs. Film grain is still visible, so it has been digitally remastered, but not degrained as some older Disney titles have gone through. The film was issued in Japan on Blu-ray prior to this Discotek release, and I assume this is from the same high definition master used for that disc.

The Optimum UK’s DVD rear case states their aspect ratio is 2.22:1 while the Discotek US’s DVD rear case states their aspect ratio is 2.35:1. I measured them both and they are exactly the same. Correctly measuring (with a ruler, I must add), the aspect ratio is 2.20:1.

It is mentioned in one of the commentary tracks that Discotek was planning to release this on Blu-ray initially, but decided to wait to see how the sales of the DVD and interest in the film play out first. Discotek has issued upgraded Blu-ray releases of “Jin-Roh” and “Unico” and its sequel after their DVD editions were released, and also they recently announced the Blu-ray upgrade of “Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro”. A Blu-ray of “Horus: Prince of the Sun” would be most welcome in America, but we will have to wait a bit longer for that.

Audio

The Optimum UK DVD had the original Japanese language track only. The Discotek US release has two Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks: the original Japanese language track and also on DVD for the first time in the world, the original English dub track made by AIP TV.

The Japanese audio sounds great. The dialogue is easy to hear and the music is well balanced. As for the English track, it comes from a weaker source. Dynamic range is limited and the volume is much lower than the Japanese track.
There are optional English subtitles translating the Japanese dialogue. It is in yellow for the dialogue, white for credits, and blue for song lyrics.

Extras

Discotek has put together a quite impressive collection of bonus features.

Audio commentary by Anime News Network columnist Mike Toole
Toole puts in quite a lot of information during his commentary. He talks about the history of the film, from the story origin to the production history, as well as the labor dispute issues and the limited screenings imposed by Toei studios, also some background on the Japanese voice case and the English dub cast, and the embracement by young students at the time. An excellent commentary track.

Audio commentary by writer of Ghibli Blog Daniel Thomas Macinnes
Macinnes has some overlapping information on his track, but instead of just an analysis of his own words, he also has a few essays read out loud from various Ghibli sites around the world. Usually a commentary where the speaker just reads aloud words not written by him or herself sounds like a dull lecture, but in this case Macinnes speaks very well, as if they were his own writing. Although he mentions the French essays were translated via Google Translate and he cautions the listeners about it, I think the commentary could have benefited from a bit of editing the translated articles beforehand. The commentary lasts for about 65 minutes, not the full duration of the film like the Toole commentary. Also, it sounds like Macinnes is talking through an AM radio broadcast for some reason.

Isao Takahata Interview (12:07)
In this interview made for the French Collector’s Edition DVD, Takahata talks about the genesis of the project from the original story idea, the 1960’s social impact, and the complexity of good vs. evil, the mandatory animal characters imposed by Toei, and coming up with something unique and original in animation with many of the young staff, including Hayao Miyazaki. The interview is in anamorphic 1.78:1 in Japanese with burned-in French subtitles and optional English subtitles.

Yoichi Kotabe Interview (4:15)
In this interview made for the French Collector’s Edition DVD, Kotabe praises Takahata pushing creative limits of the animators, including making animators go out and looking at natural settings with their own eyes. The interview is in anamorphic 1.78:1 in Japanese with burned-in French subtitles and optional English subtitles.

"Every Poet Is a Thief: Inspirations from Horus"
This is a text and still frame based extra. It makes comparisons of scenes in “Horus” to later anime films which it influenced, such as later Studio Ghibli films and Takahata/Miyazaki TV works. Although they show the particular still frame of “Horus”, they do not show a still frame of the film it influenced, probably due to rights issues. It does make it a little frustrating since we can’t exactly see the influenced works they reference.

"Horus and Hilda: Just Like Twins" text essay by Daniel Thomas Macinnes
Macinnes had a long time reading various essays out loud that you think he doesn’t have any more to talk about, but he does. In this essay, Maccines looks at the similarities between the two main characters and their complexities.

"Reiko Okuyama: A Tribute to a Pioneering Legend" text essay by Benjamin Ettinger
In this essay, one of the unsung heroines of anime is profiled: Reiko Okuyama, a female animator in a man’s world. The essay includes information of her upbringing, her contributions to the anime world and also the trouble she had in the anime world because she was female, to her passing in 2007.

"Message of Hope: A Conversation with Isao Takahata" text interview by Peter Van Der Lugt
In 2006, the International Animation Film Festival held a retrospective of Takahata’s films took place, writer Van Der Lugt had the opportunity to interview Takahata who was the special guest.

Production Gallery (7:55)
This extra is a slideshow gallery of promotional stills in black & white and color, posters from around the world, photos of the production crew, and VHS, Laserdisc, DVD covers from worldwide editions, as well as the Japanese Blu-ray cover, which is just teasing the American audience.

Theatrical Trailer (3:18)
The original Japanese trailer is in anamorphic widescreen with optional English subtitles, and the print quality looks just as good as the feature film.

Film Credits
These are text screens of the Japanese cast and crew, in case you missed it while watching the credits during the film.

Another minor thing about the text essays, maybe because I am used to Criterion or Masters of Cinema releases, but I would rather have booklets or books rather than text based disc extras. But I realize the cost of manufacturing the booklets would raise the prices of the discs.

Overall

Discotek has put together a very good package with very informative extras. They treat classic anime titles with great care, and “Horus: Prince of the Sun” is definitely one of their best in their catalogue. Hopefully it will be upgraded to Blu-ray in the future, but for now the DVD is still very worthy of your shelf space.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: A- Overall: A

 


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