Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle is one of the masterful filmmaker’s most surreal animated adventures. This fantasmagorical tale of witches and curses, talking fire and walking houses manages to imply necessarily wonderful and pointed morals that all of Miyazaki’s best works do, wrapped in some of the most miraculous animation ever to be seen. The picture may be a little long, and its magic may sometimes hit a snag or two, but the overall effect is rather breathtaking whether one watches and listens in the native Japanese or in the superbly realized English dub, both of which are supplied here.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, French 5.1 DD, Other
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 59 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVDkeep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 05/21/2013
Teenaged Sofi (Chieko Baishô/Emily Mortimer) is already stuck in a rut working in her family’s hat shop where her interest definitely does not lie. She’s saved from some ruffians by the stalwart prince Hauru/Howl (Takuya Kimura/Christian Bale) and falls for him though he has other things on his mind than romance, namely a war being waged in which he’s forced to participate under several different aliases. When Sofi is placed under a spell by the Witch of the Waste (Akihiro Miwa/Lauren Bacall) and turned into a 90-year old woman (Chieko Baishô/Jean Simmons), she hitches a ride on Hauru’s moving castle and moves in as the new housekeeper. Inside she meets the brains behind the castle’s operation: the fire demon Karushifâ/Calcifer (Tatsuya Gashûin/Billy Crystal) who promises to lift the spell off Sofi if she can free him from the confines of the castle. She’s eager for that to happen, but she’s also surprised how clearly she sees the world now in the body of an aged person. The insights she gains about herself and about human nature come in handy when Hauru/Howl gets disillusioned with the war effort, and she’s there to help him through his uncertainties.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Adapted from the novel of Diana Wynne Jones by the director Hayao Miyazaki, the film is filled with thrilling, eye-popping images of both the fantastical and the realistic. You’ve never seen anything like the moving castle or a jumping scarecrow who proves to be Sofi’s real knight in shining armor, and the glorious imagery of the landscapes as the house floats over them or Hauru/Howl flies by are simply breathtaking. Though the life lessons are rather obvious one for adults in the viewing audience (get to know yourself before you try to know someone else; within each person is courage and strength when it’s most needed; beauty within is far more important than outward appearance), they’re told with such loving and effortless gentility that they go down smoothly no matter the age of the viewer. If the film has flaws, they’re mostly due to length (nearly two hours for this kind of parable is a bit too much even with such stunning visuals) and an inconsistency in Sofi’s old woman/teenage girl appearance which changes in the film’s second half from one shot to the next. If there was a reason for her alterations, it wasn’t made clear though it’s probably not that important as the morals work whether Sofi is young or old.
Both the Japanese cast and the English dubbers (who were directed by Pixar’s Pete Docter and Rick Dempsey) do marvelously by these characters. Sofi in both younger and older incarnations is played in the original version by Chieko Baishô who does superlatively altering the tone and depth of her voice depending on which Sofi she’s performing. The English dubbers split the role in two with Jean Simmons getting the better of the two halves, a wonderfully wry and light approach to the role while Emily Mortimer does just fine with the younger Sofi. Whether handled by Takuya Kimura (and called Hauru) or Christian Bale (and called Howl), the part of the magical prince is in good hands with both actors seizing on the character’s mix of bravado and desolation at various intervals. Billy Crystal cracks wise constantly as the knowing fire demon Calcifer, the one role where the jokes work better for an English-speaking audience with his delivery than they do in Tatsuya Gashûin’s original Japanese using subtitles. Lauren Bacall has a terrific time slinking (and later moaning) through the role of the Witch handled equally well by Akihiro Miwa.
The film has been framed at its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Imagery is as close to perfection as it’s possible to be with the strong line animation showing not a hint of aliasing and the colors richly and deeply saturated without ever coming close to blooming. There is also no banding to be seen in this marvelous high definition transfer. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
Both the Japanese and English tracks boast a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix. The English dub is a bit more sophisticated with occasional directionalized dialogue and boasting a somewhat more dynamic mix with split surround effects that sometimes pan through the soundstage. The Japanese mix does have very impressive use of the LFE channel, and both mixes feature the simply haunting musical scoring of Joe Hisaishi that adds extra dimension to the surreal fantasy of the feature.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
Behind the Microphone (9:02, SD): features members of the English voice cast shown behind-the-scenes in the studio recording their vocal tracks with direction from Pete Docter. We also see how translations from the Japanese had to be shortened to fit the time allotted for speaking in the film.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Interview with Pete Docter (8:23, SD): the Oscar-winning Pixar director speaks of his admiration for the film and relates how he got involved with directing the English speaking cast. He also offers his own interpretation of the film’s themes.
Hello, Mr. Lasseter: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar Studios (16:29, SD): director Hayao Miyazaki with his interpreter visits the Pixar facility in northern California and brings a gift for producer John Lasseter. He says a few words before a screening of the English-language version, and later John Lasseter offers reflections on the films by the director.
Theatrical Trailers and TV Spot Ads (8:14, HD): shown in montage form
Original Storyboards (1:59:10, HD): watch the film completely through its storyboards.
Promo Trailers (HD): The Little Mermaid, Monsters University
DVD Copy of the Film
One of the most famous of the Hayao Miyazaki animated features, Howl’s Moving Castle is a glorious animated experience. The Blu-ray presents reference picture and sound quality and a choice of Japanese or English-speaking casts. Highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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