From Up on Poppy Hill, Prime Suspect and Frankenstein's Army

Competition for multiplex screens is fiercer than ever, so it's no wonder that a Japanese animated film with no imaginary characters or singing fish did not gain much theatrical traction. Once again, thank goodness for Blu-ray. The delightful Helen Mirren's much-lauded small-screen effort Prime Suspect is re-presented in impressive fashion, and hold on for what is surely one of the trippiest horror flicks ever made.

From Up on Poppy Hill (Cinedigm/GKIDS)

This 2011 production from the esteemed Studio Ghibli is a family affair of the best sort, scripted by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his son Goro. It's a fictional tale with a very real backdrop: Yokohama, 1963, as Japan is still picking up the pieces post-World War II while also gearing up for the Tokyo Olympics. Here a sweet and subtle story of friendship and romance unfolds between high schoolers Umi and Shun, the drama heightened by some dark secrets that are revealed along the way.

Poppy Hill ("Kokuriko-zaka kara") has a distinct feel apart from any movie—animated or live-action—to come out of Hollywood, whereas the style and color palette of the hand-drawn visuals will surely look familiar to Miyazaki fans. The soundtrack options are DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 in both English and the original Japanese, both excellent, the former directed by audio maven Gary Rydstrom.

Among the bonuses, the entire film is presented in storyboard form, and we're also given an interesting mix of the expected (a featurette about the English-language voice cast) and unexpected (a press conference with Hayao and others made after that year's natural disaster). This handy combo pack also includes a DVD.

Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection (Acorn Media)

Helen Mirren brings exquisite strength and humanity to her portrayal of detective Jane Tennison in this series of nine gripping mysteries. Solving complicated, often grisly crimes is only half her job however, as she must also contend with rampant sexism in this "man's world." Favoring edginess over slickness and offering the insights of the best police procedural dramas, Prime Suspect is also notable for its outstanding supporting cast and a couple of future Oscar-winning directors who apparently got their start in British television.

The duplicated-but-never-equaled series (an American remake with Maria Bello was attempted two years ago) arrives on Blu-ray in a complete seven-disc set, roughly 26 hours total. Great lengths were made to raise the video quality to HD standards, with mixed results, but overall I must give this collection a hearty endorsement. Two substantial behind-the-scenes programs are supplied, both created late in the show's 15-year history, so I recommend watching them only after you've witnessed Tennison's final case.

Frankenstein's Army (MPI/Dark Sky Films)

This freaky little number combines the look and feel of classic horror with today's hip sensibilities and the here-to-stay plot device of "found footage." Russian troops are lost in World War II Germany, and one among them is charged with gathering scenes for a propaganda film. They soon find themselves in the laboratory of a mad scientist who has used Dr. Frankenstein's lost journals to help him assemble his own army of biomechanical "zombots," cobbled together from dead Nazis and spare parts. Are these monstrosities the last, best hope for a Hitler victory? Or will the brave men of the RKKA have what it takes to stop them?

Adding realism to these twisted, fantastical events is the clever use of actual European WWII locations. I can honestly say that the outcome is unlike anything else I've seen this year, and one of the more engrossing scarers I've spun in quite some time. Extras include looks at the unholy creations plus a broader "making of."

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