The visual difference between a faded 16mm print used for TV broadcasting and a remastered Blu-ray is obviously striking. But when a show is released with two different soundtracks by two different composers, faded colors become irrelevant. Even if you don't understand a word of Japanese or German, these clips will speak for themselves.
Arupusu no shôjo Haiji (1974 aka Heidi, girl of the alps) is probably the most well-known Japanese TV series in Europe. It has been a real breakthrough not only for Nippon Animation's "World Masterpiece Series" but also for director Isao Takahata and "scene designer" Hayao Miyazaki - who drew every layout of all 52 episodes himself.
After so many film and TV adaptations (American, German and Swiss) it is safe to count Takahata's version among the most faithful - if not THE most faithful - retelling of Swiss author Johanna Spyri's 1880 "Heidi" novels about the surfacing town-country conflict of industrialized societies. Of course, alterations had to be made and incidents had to be added in order to keep 52 21-minute episodes (not counting credits and episode previews) interesting.
But this enormous running time leaves room for a leisurely pace that allows the audience to experience the many faces of nature. Needless to say that even in such a tightly budgeted show the founders of Studio Ghibli squeezed in many shots of animated weather (especially wind and changing seasons).
So if you are able to look beyond the very limited animation and stereotyped character design you will discover a well researched and touching tale of a girl who learns to love nature only to be sent away to a German city that has "no wind and no trees".
The sound of music
Of course, the melancholy atmosphere is greatly influenced by the soundtrack - Takeo Watanabe's music in particular. Although there are only five or six themes used in the first 18 episodes that take place on the mountain pastures above Maienfeld (Graubünden, Switzerland) the cues fit the action perfectly. These tunes range from jaunty (for Josef, the dog) to elegiac, but the underlying emotion is always one of longing. At times, Heidi's music seems to come straight out of an Italian film of the era.
But - and this is an enormous but - you only hear these tunes in the original Japanese language version (and the feature-length version released to US theaters in 1975). In German speaking countries most people associate Heidi with tunes by Gert Wilden.
Since I couldn't bear watching anime series as a child (they always looked like a series of badly drawn and dubbed still images to me and had nothing in common with my conception of animation) I have never seen more than a few minutes of Heidi. Although now I have learned to accept this Astroboy-as-a-little-girl design approach (thanks to a "fan sub project"), I doubt that I would have been as taken with this series had I been forced to watch it in German.
Before the days of high definition
Before talking about the soundtrack let me remind you that Heidi was conceived and broadcast as a TV series. It is therefore not surprising that the German DVD box set uses a print that seems to be too high on brightness and contrast and displays some color cast.
TV screens used to be quite different and very small in the 1970s, black was a middle grey at best and around Europe some people still had black and white monitors. For all we know, the picture we get on the German DVD may represent the original viewing conditions much closer than the meticulously remastered transfer of the Japanese Blu-ray.
left: German DVD - right: Japanese BD
|Pushing the brightness in dark scenes so that TV spectators could at least see what was going on was not uncommon...|
|...the greenish cast and the bleaching outlines, however, are hardly there in the original negative.|
|Contrast is much higher on the left, but actually Heidi's clothes look more natural. The interior around the old woman is definitely colder (closer to blue) in the left and warmer (closer to brown) in the right image.|
In a different mood
While the Swiss are quite used to hearing Swiss characters on TV not talking in their native Swiss German but the standard version of the language as spoken in Northern Germany, it is fairly unusual however that when a German producer decides to rebuild the whole soundtrack from scratch including the music he does not substitute the Japanese score with a Swiss score. Instead Moravian-born German composer Gert Wilden who was at the time best known for his music for erotic films was hired to rescore the entire series.
My comparison starts after the credits sequence because the catchy title songs can be easily found on youtube. So let's listen to the very beginning of episode 1:
Note: all examples Japanese first, German second.
It sounds as if the German producers went to great lengths to undermine Takahata's basic mood of slow pacing (long silent moments) and longing (melancholy themes without a constant drumbeat). And to be honest, it seems strange that Heidi's voice sounds so much older in German.
As the next clip demonstrates, the notion of a female narrator that clearly reflected the novel's female author has been replaced by a standard male narrator as well (the same had been done to Cinderella when it was partially re-dubbed around the same time, as you can hear here):
The next example consists of two sets of clips that show how both the dramatic/scary and the sentimental scenes are toned down by Wilden's score:
Occasionally, the Japanese version includes a genuine Swiss song like "jetz wei mer eis jödele":
Just to show that this is common throughout the series, here's another moment where story takes a backseat to mood:
Early on, Heidi has a dream which is a good example of the differences in relying on music, silence and soundeffects in an eerie and touching scene:
In following example the Japanese version is scored during the pan down from sled to the children (0:10) while the German soundtrack contains music during the pan down along the fir trees (0:55) and vice versa!
There is a strong indication that the sound effects have been rebuilt as well:
The German soundtrack may have been put together with utmost care and really good intentions - maybe they didn't want to upset or bore German children with storytelling that was deemed too Japanese, and certainly sentimentality wasn't very popular in those days. After all, Wilden's music is crucial to the way generations of German speaking children have experienced and loved Heidi.
Ultimately it is a matter of taste which scoring approach one prefers but only one of them is true to Takahata's vision.
Note: Up to date, there is no DVD available that includes both language versions simultaneously. There's not even an official release that features English or German subtitles yet.