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Howl’s Moving Castle (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 19, 2013 by  



“Howl’s Moving Castle” is another enjoyable Studio Ghibli film.  Another box office hit in the oeuvre of Hayao Miyazaki. While, Studio Ghibli fans already know this is must-have film for their collection, “Howl’s Moving Castle” is worth the upgrade to Blu-ray due to its gorgeous picture quality and it’s crystal clear lossless soundtrack.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Howl’s Moving Castle (ハウルの動く城)

FILM RELEASE: 2004

DURATION: 119 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio), Audio: English and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital,  Subtitles: English, English SDH and French

RATED:G (General Audience)

COMPANY: Disney

RELEASE DATE: May 21, 2013

Created, Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki

Character Design: Akihiko Yamashita

Music by Joe Hisaishi

Art Director: Noboru Yoshida, Youji Takeshige

Animation Director: Akihiko Yamashita, Kitaro Kousaka, Takeshi Inamura

Executive Producer: Hayao Miyazaki

Producer: Toshio Suzuki

Anime Production by Studio Ghibli

Featuring the voices of:

Chieko Baisho/Emily Mortimer as Sophie Hatter

Takuya Kimura/Christian Bale as Howl

Akihiro Miwa/Lauren Bacall as Witch of the Waste

Akio Ohtsuka/Mark Silverman as King of Ingary

Haruko Kato/Blythe Danner as Madam Suliman

Ryunosuke Kamiki/Josh Hutcherson as Markl

Tatsuya Gashuin/Billy Crystal as Calcifer

Brimming with a blend of imagination, humor, action and romance, “Howl’s Moving Castle” is the story of Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer), a diligent teenage girl working in her family’s hat shop, who finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome-but-mysterious wizard named Howl (voiced by Christian Bale).  The innocent encounter engages the vain and conniving “Witch of the Waste” (voiced by Lauren Bacall), who transforms Sophie into a 90-year old woman (voiced by Jean Simmons).  Sophie’s efforts to break the curse bring her to Howl’s magical moving castle, where she befriends Markl (voiced by Josh Hutcherson), Howl’s apprentice, and the hot-headed fire demon Calcifer (voiced by Billy Crystal).  Her love and support have a major impact on Howl, who can be maddeningly self-indulgent and singularly noble as he defies royal orders to participate in a meaningless war and risks his life to protect Sophie.

Hayao Miyazaki, the most prominent Japanese filmmaker who has created animated films that not only broke Japanese box office records but has created animated films that reflect upon nature, technology, family and more. Compared to the accomplishments of Walt Disney, Miyazaki is a filmmaker who has amassed a respect from his fans worldwide and his animations studio, Studio Ghibli, continues to be one of the most appreciated and respected animation and production studios in the world.

In 2004, Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli released “Howl’s Moving Castle” in Japan and released in America in 2005. An animated film adaptation that is loosely based on Diana Wynne Jones’ 1986 fantasy novel.  As Miyazaki is a pacifist, the major difference between the novel and the animated film is that the animated film is set during a time of war and Miyazaki was affected by America’s war in Iraq which profoundly impacted the film.  There are also key differences of the main characters (ie. Sulliman in the novel is a man, in the animated film, Sulliman is a woman) and more characters in the novel that are not in the animated film version, but author Diana Wynne Jones gave her blessing for the film and that although she had no input on the film, she expected the film to be different from her novels.

The English dub was directed by Pixar’s Pete Docter (“Toy Story” films and “Monsters, Inc.”), a big Studio Ghibli fan and would feature an all-star cast which includes Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, Blythe Danner, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall and Josh Hutcherson.

With a budget of $24 million, “Howl’s Moving Castle” was a box office success earning over $235 million in the box office and for many film critics, were included in their best 10 films of 2005.

In May 2013, Disney will be releasing Howl’s Moving Castle” for the first time on Blu-ray along with another Studio Ghibli classic, “My Neighbor Totoro”.

What is “Howl’s Moving Castle”?

The film revolves around an 18-year-old hatter named Sophie.  While working, she hears all the stylish women at work talking rumors about Howl’s moving castle which they see briefly in the distance and talks about how he eats women’s beautiful women’s hearts.  Not one to hang out with the other woman, as she feels she is not beautiful or stylish as them, she focuses on her work.

One day, while walking, she comes across two soldiers who are trying to flirt with her and wanting her to stay with them.  But a man comes from behind and pretends to be her boyfriend.  Immediately after the soldiers leave, he tells her that he is being followed and he grabs her hand and are pursued by black figures.  He picks her up and they start flying and walking on air.

Not knowing if what she experienced was true, her sister Lettie confirms that she had floated down the balcony.  Lettie warns her that it may be the wizard Howl and to be careful or he will steal her heart and would eaten it.  But Sophie responds that he wouldn’t because she is not beautiful.  Lettie still warns her to be careful, especially with word that the Witch of the Waste is back on the prowl.

Meanwhile, the black figures that were pursuing Howl and Sophie return back to the Witch of the Waste.

Returning to the hat shop, The Witch of the Waste shows up, looking for Howl and being rude.  Sophie tells her to leave the shop but instead of leaving discretely, the witch she curses Sophie and transforms her into a very old woman.

The following day, when her mother Fanny tries to visit her, Sophie doesn’t want anyone seeing her appearance and she knows that she can’t stay home anymore.  So, Sophie decides to leave home and heads to the Waste area in hopes she can find the witch and remove the spell.  Meanwhile, the townspeople begin talking about a missing prince.

While walking up the Waste, she comes across a branch that she can use as a cane.  As she tries to pull it from a bush, she finds out the branch is a scarecrow. But while she walks up the hill, the scarecrow follows her and gives her his cane.  And helps find her a place to stay.

As she tries to walk up the hill, she comes across Howl’s moving castle.  Sophie comes inside the castle and feels that Howl won’t eat her heart because she thinks she is a shriveled up old lady.

Inside the castle, Sophie meets a fire demon named Calcifer who knows about the curse on Sophie.  Calcifer tells Sophie that if he breaks his spell (which keeps him stuck inside Howl’s moving castle), he can break the spell on her.

Also, inside the castle is a child named Markl, a young apprentice of Howl who disguises him as a short, older wizard who helps run the castle which has the ability to transport itself to different parts of the city with the turn of a door knob.  While Michael and Sophie discuss what she is doing in the castle, Howl receives two summons from the King (summons for his alias, Wizard Jenkins and Wizard Pendragon).

Eventually, Sophie shows her worth to Howl and Michael as their new cleaning lady.  But what is more surprising to Howl is how obedient Calcifer is towards Sophie.

But it is learned that Calcifer’s power is what makes the castle move, while Michael makes income by pretending to be a wizard and people buy spells from the shop.

And as they all live together, Sophie starts to wonder about the things that Howl takes part in when he leaves the castle.  Meanwhile, life in the city is not going so well as a war continues to loom and meanwhile, the Witch of the Waste’s black henchman continue to search for Howl.

But overtime Sophie learns that Howl has been transforming himself into a bird-like creature to interfere with the war and with each transformation, it becomes much more difficult for him to return to human. And the more she gets to know more about him, the more she cares for him and wants to help him.

But with the king’s magic adviser, Suliman, wanting to use Howl’s magic to contribute to the war, with Sophie trying to protect him and not use his powers any longer, they become the wanted.  But can Sophie, under a curse of an older woman, help the man she has feelings for and will she ever break the curse?

VIDEO:

“Howl’s Moving Castle” is presented in 1080p High Definition and what a gorgeous film that Studio Ghibli was able to create.  It’s a staple of Miyazaki films, beautiful art backgrounds, wonderfully painted, lush green forests and sceneries and detailed buildings.  Colors are vibrant, characters are well-designed using the Studio Ghibli style.

I saw no banding, compression or any negative issues during my viewing of “Howl’s Moving Castle”.  This film is colorful, gorgeous and magnificent in HD!

AUDIO:

As for the audio, “Howl’s Moving Castle” is presented in English and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital.  And immediately from the starting of the film, with the various aircraft and Howl’s moving castle, you can hear with each foot movement, LFE reacting to the huge metal on ground and the sounds enveloping the soundscape with magnificent dynamic range and surround sound use.  An active soundtrack that sounds crystal clear, clean dialogue and an immersive soundscape during its more action-intensive scenes, fans should be happy with this lossless soundtrack!

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“My Neighbor Totoro” comes with the following special features on a second DVD disc. Included are:

  • Behind the Microphone – (9:02) – Co-Producers Rick Dempsey, Ned Lot, Director Pete Docter, English language adaptation crew – Cindy and Don Hewitt discuss the English language adaptation.  Featuring the all-star talent involved in the English dub process and more!
  • Interview with Pete Docter – (7:23) A Japanese featurette with an interview with Pete Docter about working on “Howl’s Moving Castle”.  (English with Japanese with English subtitles).
  • Hello Mr. Lasster: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar – (16:29) A Japanese featurette featuring Hayao Miyazaki’s surprise visit at Pixar animation studios.
  • TV Spots and Trailers – (8:15) The television spots and trailers for “Howl’s Moving Castle”.
  • Original Japanese Storyboards – (1:59:10) The entire film with Japanese dialogue (with English subtitles) featuring the original Japanese storyboards.

EXTRAS:

“Howl’s Moving Castle” comes with a slipcover.

When it comes to Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki’s work, one thing you can always expect is quality, a message delivered through the film from Miyazaki but also a feeling of fantasy, fun but most of all, an enjoyable cinematic experience.

Because Studio Ghibli is responsible for so many hit films, majority of them have become box office hits not only in Japan but many other countries including here in the United States, it’s not easy to compare each film on how it ranks in the typical “Which Miyazaki film is best?” poll.  Everyone has their own experience with each of his films and an opinion of which work is better or weaker.

And to tell you the truth, I can’t even call a Studio Ghibli film weak because each film I have watched, I thoroughly enjoyed and felt it was a cinematic experience.

For “Howl’s Moving Castle”, I can say that I enjoyed other Studio Ghibli films much more, but I can also say that I enjoyed this film for its story and breathtaking visuals.    But first let me explain why.

When it comes to Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli films, I have enjoyed the pacifist message that are seen in films such as “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”, “Princess Mononoke” and “Castle of the Wind”.  I loved the human emotion portrayed in “Grave of the Fireflies”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Ponyo” and “Arrietty”.  So, I do enjoy the Studio Ghibli films that are melodramatic, full of human emotion or is smart, complex with a message from Miyazaki and also the films that mixes fantasy.

With “Howl’s Moving Castle”, the film is another with a message from the pacifist, Hayao Miyazaki who was not too thrilled with America’s war on Iraq.  The film unlike the novel is set during the time of war but the film mixes in fantasy but also an emotional element.

Sophie is a young woman who never saw herself as beautiful or even needed, but now under the curse of a witch, she has been turned into an older woman and realizes that she has fallen for Howl, a man who risks his life trying to prevent war but yet countries wanting to use his power for war. The film introduces colorful characters such as the humorous flame demon Calcifer (who is unaware of his true inner strength), a young boy named Michael who is an apprentice of Howl but you wonder what has happened to this boy’s family but how important Sophie has become in his life almost as a motherly figure.  And of course, we learn about Howl and even the Witch of the Waste and why she is so desperate of stealing Howl’s heart.

With a magical storyline, Studio Ghibli delivers with gorgeous visuals from well-detailed, painted buildings and scenery.  The mechanical design of Howl’s moving castle is also a sight to behold.

The voice acting is also wonderful!  The Japanese version utilizing popular actor (and SMAP music star) Takuya Kimura as Howl and longtime actress Chieko Baisho as Sophie.  While the English dub version utilizes an all-star cast with Christian Bale as Howl, Emily Mortimer as Sophie, Billy Crystal as Calcifer, Blythe Danner as Madame Suliman.  But knowing how Miyazaki loves the utilization of screen legends, Disney also features the voice acting of Jean Simmons as the older Sophie and Lauren Bacall as the voice of the Witch of the Waste.  Which is better, I feel it is very subjective to the viewer but I do enjoy the acting on both soundtracks.

And while I enjoyed the storyline and the visuals, typically, you are used to watching the protagonist in a more demanding and active role.  For the role of Sophie, it’s difficult when most of the storyline features her as an older woman, shown cooking, cleaning and taking care of the castle. For Howl, we understand that he is a free spirit, not wanting war to take place and sacrificing his life, but there are moments where you wonder more about his character that is not fully explained.  Not to say that it becomes too confusing but you just feel that you want a bit more explanation about Howl’s motivations a bit more.

With that being said, “Howl’s Moving Castle” is still an enjoyable and gorgeous film, even moreso now in HD on Blu-ray.

But for a studio that has created many wonderful films, in terms of storyline, there are other Studio Ghibli films that I enjoyed much more.

Overall, “Howl’s Moving Castle” is another enjoyable Studio Ghibli film.  Another box office hit in the oeuvre of Hayao Miyazaki. While, Studio Ghibli fans already know this is must-have film for their collection, “Howl’s Moving Castle” is worth the upgrade to Blu-ray due to its gorgeous picture quality and it’s crystal clear lossless soundtrack.  Recommended!

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