Title: Howl’s Moving Castle
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Published by: Madman Entertainment (Australia/New Zealand)
Based on: The novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, initially published in 1986
Audio: English and Japanese Dubs
Aspect Ratio: 1080p High Definition (16:9)
Runtime: 119 Minutes
Classification: PG for Scary scenes
Cost: $39.95 (Blu-ray)
Special Thanks: Madman Entertainment for kindly providing me with a copy of this title for review
Sophie, an average teenage girl working in a hat shop, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome but mysterious wizard named Howl. After this chance meeting she is turned into a 90-year old woman by the vain and conniving Witch of the Waste. Embarking on an incredible adventure to lift the curse, she finds refuge in Howl’s magical moving castle where she becomes acquainted with Markl, Howl’s apprentice, and a hot-headed fire demon named Calcifer. As the true power of Howl’s wizardry is revealed, and his relationship with Sophie deepens, our young grey heroine finds herself fighting to protect them both from a dangerous war of sorcery that threatens their world.
For the last year and a half, Madman Entertainment have certainly been busy which it comes to their Blu-ray releases of Studio Ghibli titles…. initially with Ponyo, followed by Whisper of the Heart, My Neighbor Totoro, My Neighbors the Yamadas and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind both those who have fallen in love with past releases or were completely new to the works of Studio Ghibli could enjoy them in the best definition on offer. Last month the company chose to release three additional titles – Arrietty, Tales from Earthsea and perhaps one of my personal favorites… Howl’s Moving Castle to blu-ray disc. Based on the works of famed British author Diana Wynne Jones, Hayao Miyazaki and his team have produced their own rendition of her work – taking core concepts and introducing fans and newcomers alike to a new imaginative world under threat by two warring nations and a wizard and a cursed girl right in the middle of them.
The story follows Sophie Hatter, an 18 year old girl who after a surprise encounter with the infamous wizard Howl (Who rescues her from some suspicious guards), is believed to be associated with him and cursed into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. Due to this, she decides to leave her town on a journey to find answers and ends up becoming the cleaning lady of Howl and his young apprentice Markl. From there she is tasked with finding a means of breaking the spell between Howl and the fire demon Calcifer all the while getting involved in a dispute between two nations and Howl who is both trying to protect her while avoiding confrontation.
For those who have read the novelized version, with obvious time-saving omissions the first half or so of the film is similar to the novel, but from there while the second half shares elements from the novel, the second half is more focused on Sophie and Howl rather than the novel which focused more towards the Witch of the Waste and Howl. Personally while I do enjoy both renditions I thought the one presented in this film gave a more fulfilling ending. The is perhaps much darker than many of the other Studio Ghibli works (Nay Grave of the Fireflies which has me bawling my eyes out) but with this darker storyline came some really interesting character and world development that was fitting of such strong source material.
Studio Ghibli have without a doubt created an animated film that once again reinforces why they are highly regarded in terms of animation and should appeal to fans of the genre.
As this is a blu-ray release, the film has recieved what you would expect from a blu-ray release, and the quality is simply breathtaking. The visuals are near perfect which complements the detail put into the character and world designs, and from my display alone there was no real reason to fault them. The designs are bright and colourful for the most part however are creatively used to deliver the same quality but dramatic aesthetic when necessary. It goes to show how much effort went into this release all the way back in 2004 and had set the standards very high for their many future releases.
As with most Studio Ghibli releases there is a strong musical backing to this release with tracks appropriate to the intended tone and setting of the film, so in lieu of pop music we are treated to a nice array of instrumental music taking advantage of the softer music such as pianos, strings and so forth. This release also offers both English and Japanese dubs encoded with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. Having watched this film before, I took to listening to both dubs intermittently and while both were good, I felt that the English dub provided vocals that contributed more to the intended setting of the film with strong voice work from Billy Crystal (Calcifer), Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons (Sophie), Josh Hutcherson (Markl) and Christian Bale (Howl). Pick the vocals you prefer as both are strong however.
As I believe it was with the original DVD release several years ago, this release is also filled with a plentiful amount of extra content including:
- Storyboards overlapping the actual film.
- Hello Mr. Lesseter: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar
- Interview with Diana Wynne Jones
- Interview with Pete Docter (Director of the English Dub)
- Explanation of CG
- The Sounds of Howl’s Moving Castle
- Behind the Microphone
- TV Spots
- Original Japanese Theatrical Trailers
- Studio Ghibli Collection Trailers
The extras are more than sufficient for a release such as this and all proved to be quite interesting watches. As an additional perk similar to what they have done with previous releases, Madman Entertainment at the very release have provided reversible cover art containing the original Japanese cover. Personally I prefer the new one better however I did for example use the Japanese cover for their release of Whisper of the Heart – so depends on your preference.
I am a fan of Diana Wynne Jones’ work, owning and having read many of her previous works including Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air (Its initial novelized sequel) and I appreciated the different approach it took to the story which added Hayao Miyazaki’s own twists to it. It is to me one of their finest works to date and I can happily recommend it to anyone who is after a good animated film to watch.
Storyline / Character Development: A
Music/Voice Acting: A
Personal Preference: A
Extra Content: A
Overall Score: S