While not every long running series gets a movie, when they do and tell an original story it’s worth rejoicing about.
What They Say:
Sakura wins a trip to Hong Kong! Or does she? A mysterious force calls out to Sakura in her dreams, and she discovers a dangerous legacy lingering in the alleys of Hong Kong. Thank goodness Sakura can depend upon Li and his family to help her against one of Clow Reed?s long lost enemies!
The audio presentation for this release brings us two flavors of two language tracks as we get the original Japanese language and the English in both stereo and 5.1 mixes. The stereo mixes are done at the standard 192kbps while the 5.1 mixes get bumped up to 448kbps, which is nice to see they didn’t skimp out on. The mixing for this track is exceptionally well done with a great amount of balance between using the discreet channels without overloading them. There’s plenty of directionality to each of the speakers with lots of unique sounds going to them. There’s a solid level of immersion to be found. Across the forward soundstage there’s an excellent level of depth with both the sound effects and with the dialogue.
Originally released in 1999, the transfer for this theatrical feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. While we generally love the look and feel of the TV series, the movie takes advantage of the bigger budget and the ability to mesh the TV style with theatrical style animation. The backgrounds are filled with life here, especially throughout the Hong Kong street sequences. Colors are gorgeous without being oversaturated, cross coloration is non-existent and line shimmering and jaggies are practically nil, which is a welcome change from the TV series The only thing that was a noticeable distraction is that some scenes were a bit heavier on the film grain than most of the movie. There’s a large number of scenes in the movie that use water, and being how well water is usually animated in theatrical productions, there’s a lot to just drool over here.
The packaging for this release brings us a regular sized keepcase where the main cover is the shot of Sakura in her Chinese outfit set against the backdrop of Hong Kong. The back cover provides a few animation shots and the discs features and production information. Reverse the cover and you’ve got what was used for the Japanese movie DVD release, including the logo being done in the original Japanese logo. It looks fantastic and is a real solid bonus for fans. The back cover is done in the same design but replicates the same information from the main side. The insert uses the Chinese dress image for its artwork while it folds open to reveal a Dramatis Personnae with an image of each of the characters and their Japanese and English voice actors. The back side lists the chapters for the movie. The first pressing of this release also contains a special “onsert”, which is something similar to a mini pencilboard but lighter and slips in front of the front cover. The image is the same as the Chinese dress cover but mixes in some reflective colors similar to the Black Heaven foil cards.
The menus here are something of a mixed bag. While the look of the menus are fine, if you’ve got a Skyworth player, you’re going to be wondering what’s going wrong. There’s music playing throughout each of the menus, but for some odd reason they’ve encoded it in uncompressed PCM. And on Skyworth players, you have to manually set the player to play it (and then turn it off to go back to the digital bitstream to hear the movie proper). While a number of Japanese discs are done in PCM, the entire disc is done in PCM, not just bits and parts. This is truly a bizarre choice, and while I suspect it’s only going to affect a small segment of people, it’s going to cause some problems.
Not surprisingly, the extras are fairly minimal, but mostly revolve around the theatrical trailers for the movie and the TV spots for it in Japan. There’s also the inclusion of the English language trailer.
Taking place between the ninth and tenth volumes of the TV series, the first Cardcaptor Sakura movie takes the path of presenting an original story rather than doing some kind of theatrical version recap of the first few episodes or some other arc that they liked. Bringing much of the same team to the game here, what we get is a feature that builds on what’s been done in the series and goes a bit bigger by taking us out of our comfort zone of Tomoeda city and instead heading to Hong Kong. That works nicely to expand the view of things and allow all of those that go to be a the fish out of water thing and to give both Shaoran and Meilin a chance to shine in their home territory.
The movie opens with Sakura under siege from another Clow Card named Arrow, which is the solid opening sequence that shows off the visual and audio feel of the movie and sets the stage for it to be topped later. There’s lots of flying around, lots of directionality with music and with the flying arrows raining down on Sakura. As we move into the storyline itself, the kids are getting their report cards as it’s time for winter break. Sakura’s glad she’s doing ok in math, Tomoyo rocks as always, Li’s doing well enough that he can actually show his mother his report card and Meilin.. well, Meilin’s still having a little trouble with her Japanese so she’s not exactly happy with her results.
With winter break here, Sakura and Tomoyo head off to their favorite little local shop to pick up a notebook so they can do their homework. Being friendly with the owner, she lets Sakura draw a ball from a prize box. Sakura reaches in, and feels a tug as the balls shift around inside magically and one shoots up into her hand. To the surprise of all three, Sakura has won the grand prize – five days and four nights in Hong Kong!
Sakura’s all excited about going, but has to figure out how to get there as her father is going off on a business trip. He helpfully suggests that Toya go and that he brings Yukito and Sakura can bring Tomoyo. Everyone agrees (as it’s a happy well balanced family, go figure) and the stage is set for Sakura to head out of country. But there’s still a darker side to things working here as Sakura has been having dreams of being in a room full of water with a mysterious woman whose trying to control her.
Once in Hong Kong, we get a lot of fun with seeing everyone sight-see and Toya doing his usual gig as an older brother (such as telling her to not look over the edge of the boat cause a shark will get her, etc). Kero gets all excited to show her the places he remembers, but finds himself stunned to see all these big buildings and the modern look of Hong Kong. The fun doesn’t last long though, as when they are all out exploring the sights, Sakura feels the presence of something strong and evil and is drawn to it.
Sakura finds herself drawn to a place similar to her dreams, where the water based woman resides. She’s almost mentally shut down and being drawn into the pool to the magical world below when Li shows up and manages to wake her up and draw her out of the spell. Once everyone is reunited, they head off to Li’s house, though Meilin isn’t happy about this.
This segment is probably one of the more worthwhile segments as we finally get to meet Li’s mother. She’s the visage of a truly refined Chinese woman, the kind who can instill the proper respect into someone like Li who straightens up like a cadet when she enters the room and obeys everything she says. We also get to meet Li’s four older sisters who are rather… unique. Their adoration of both Tomoyo and Sakura is hilarious and even more so when they come across Yukito and Toya. The movie then moves forward towards various encounters and confrontations with the woman in the water as her past is explained and the mystery begins to unravel. While it’s fairly straightforward, as most Sakura stories are, it’s the method in which its told that makes it charming and a pleasure to watch. There’s little original here, but it’s expertly told and with characters you root for continually.
After finishing off the TV series in full and delving into the two movies, the first one presents a very fun little romp with the characters from a time much earlier in the show. It’s also a properly and accurately done dub, though there’s plenty of qualms about the quality of the casting and acting in relation to the original. But after 70 episodes of the Japanese version, nothing will sound right otherwise for me. I definitely enjoyed the film for taking us to a new locale and adding a little more to the overall mythos of the series. It does fall into the realm of being a work that doesn’t make any real changes to the series itself, standing alone with no significant impact, but it does give us a very prettied up version of the show with some great action sequences and fun with the characters.
Japanese 2.0 Language, Japanese 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English / Japanese Trailers and Commercials
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Geneon Entertainment
Release Date: March 26th, 2002
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.