Howl's Moving Castle -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 119
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle

By Chris Beveridge     March 06, 2006
Release Date: March 07, 2006

Howl's Moving Castle
© Buena Vista Home Entertainment

What They Say
Sophie, a quiet 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. The vain and vengeful Witch of the Waste, jealous of their friendship, puts a spell on Sophie, so she embarks on an incredible odyssey to lift the curse and enters a magical world where fire talks, dogs spy for their wizard owners, and a ramshackle castle flies across the countryside.

The Review!
Adapted from the western novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle blends perfectly into the kind of worlds imagined by Miyazaki.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this movie in its Japanese language track. The film has 5.1 mixes for both languages which have some great moments of directionality to them for both dialogue and action effects. Unlike a lot of films that favors one or the other, Howl's has a lot of good moments of directionality both sides of the mix. The mix is solid when it comes into play however and it accents the story just right. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either language track.

Originally released in 2005, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The source materials for the film look stunning here and the transfer manages to capture an immense amount of detail and vibrancy. If there was ever a company to have work on the authoring for these movies I couldn't be happier that it was Disney as the end result here is once again one of the best looking theatrical anime discs out there. The colors are fluid and vibrant, the darks hold together strongly with no noticeably blocking and the hardest scenes, such as that of shifting gray smoke, look fantastic. This is a beautiful transfer and the end result here is something that just draws you in and you forget about everything else.

A rather dark cover for the film, the center piece is that of Howl and Sophia embraced together while in flight that takes up the bulk of the layout while the logo is slightly lower than center which gives a small bit of space along the bottom for a young Howl with the fire racing from his hands. The dark nature of the cover and the mix of facial expressions here is a bit off in total but it's not a bad looking cover but could have been far better. The only thing that could have been worse would be to be like the Fox version of the Totoro cover. The back cover has a full piece that has the castle off to the side which let the left side have a good rundown of the films premise and the discs extras. The production information and minor technical information is along the bottom but Disney continues to be one of the main studios that doesn't use a technical grid. The insert reuses the front cover artwork while the back cover has a much brighter shot of the castle moving across the terrain as well as listing the chapters for the film.

The menu layout for the film is basic and but decent with a detailed illustration of the castle on the left side while the right has the discs navigation flowing down with the character artwork at the very bottom while a brief bit of instrumental music plays along. It's not the most engaging piece and it's very simple even by Disney standards but it works well enough and is cute enough with the little Totoro style selections. Navigation is quick and easy with fast load times (and the pre-loaded trailers are all very easily skippable) and the disc also correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

The extras are fairly standard for what we've been getting from Disney in that there's a very enjoyable "Behind the Microphone" featurette that talks with the voice actors about their roles and thoughts on seeing Ghibli material often for the first time. Another video piece covers an interview with the voice director for the film where he goes over some of the difficulties encountered and the joys of working on such a film. One of the interesting features on here has Miyazaki and Suzuki visiting the Pixar studios (can you imagine the Ghibli studios being so immense?) which involves a gift to them of the head of a Catbus as well as the staff at Pixar seeing the English version of the movie in a great private theater. Though the Lasseter moments are cringingly fanboyish, the overall piece is fun to see. There's also a section for trailers and TV spots on the main disc while the second disc is the storyboards version of the film.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Howl's Moving Castle marks a bit of a change in my viewing of Studio Ghibli films as the US release on DVD is my first time seeing the film. Previously I'd seen them either on Japanese DVD release or theatrically first. Howl's was something that I even passed up on buying the Japanese DVD release, having felt burned by Spirited Away and its red tint the last time, and opted to wait it out for the home video run in the US. Presumably knowing the film had little chance at the Oscars, Disney put the movie out just days after the awards where Howl's was nominated in the Best Animated category where it indeed did not win. So no packaging changes are needed, though they can certainly get away with calling it a nominee.

Having been so far removed from the previous rounds of hype for the film and even more removed from the expectations by not having read the novel off of which it is based, Howl's Moving Castle proved itself to be a very engaging and enjoyable film where not knowing anything about it beyond standard Miyazaki clichés helped to make each new scene more interesting. While there are certainly plenty of people who won't watch or buy something without knowing that they like it, I love to thrust myself into new films or to start up a series several seasons in, or books part way through a series. Howl's has that kind of feel due to its origins in being a novel first since as smooth as they do make a lot of this film, you can just feel there is more that is explained there that helps it even more.

The film is centered around a young woman named Sophie who is fairly well distanced from the Nausicaa archetype that Miyazaki loves to work with. Taking place in an interesting pseudo-Victoria style world filled with wonders and industry, she works as a hatter and has little plans for her life beyond just working at her desk and looking out the window. She's not an adventurous type but she's a good person. Everything changes for her though when she hears that Howl's Castle, a moving beast of rooms and parts, has been sighted outside the town and that he may be there. Howl has a reputation as someone who steals hearts and eats them so there's a bit of fear and anticipation among the women around town as Howl is indeed supposed to be handsome and there would naturally be much more to him.

Sophie finds herself in his company unexpectedly when she's walking home only to find herself accosted by a group of soldiers who'd want her company. He suddenly appears at her side and through a bit of magic whisks them off but keeps to her as he needs her for protection from the minions of the Witch of the Wastes, a cruel old woman who wants Howl and his tasty heart for her very own. Their escape is a whimsical and magical piece as he shows her a new view of the city before drawing the minions off elsewhere. This doesn't help much though as the Witch of the Wastes knows who she is now and goes to visit her later at the house where she casts her own spells on her, spells that turn Sophie into an old woman who is barely recognizable.

Sophie now finds herself with the plucky determination of a young woman in an old woman's body and is determined to find Howl so that she can get him to either break the spell or to help her find the Witch of the Wastes to do it. The problem she has is that she can't tell she's under a spell to anyone and has had magics placed upon her to ensure that. Her journey leads her to the castle which has doors to a number of places and has its own interesting group of residents. Sophie finds that she's able to move in smoothly as the new housekeeper for the moving castle and through her cheerful manner and can do attitude begins to help Howl form a new family of sorts just as he most needs it as the kingdoms in the area are about to go to war and all magic users are being called upon to serve their respective kings.

The main plot revolves around the central idea of freeing Sophie from her spell but it's the kind of plot that reaches out to touch other characters and keep them involved in interesting ways. The cast is very diverse here and very enjoyable. Sophie herself is a great character and one whose changes in age are displayed throughout the film since different actions and interactions change how she looks to herself and others. Howl is an interesting aloof type who is so boyish at times but so serious at others that the pendulum swing of his emotions makes him something to watch whenever he's on screen. Calcifer as the fire demon that powers the castle really steals much of the show though with his attitude and lines. While I'm not deeply attached to the performances on either side of the cast, the Japanese Calcifer works perfectly and comes without the baggage associated with the English language performance. The best performance though comes from the turnip headed scarecrow who is completely voiceless. If ever there was a silent type that enhanced the rest of the cast and could speak volumes in his simple stare and movements, it's this character.

Unlike Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle felt far closer to a lot of the older magical Miyazaki movies I'd seen over the years. Though it benefits from having modern animation techniques that sometimes feel like they're too much with so much flowing on the screen at a time, the pacing and style of it was far more engaging and had me enthralled for quite a lot of it. Avoiding the Nausicaa archetype issue and working with an "older" character as well, it simply provided a more interesting view that didn’t' feel like a retread of previously covered themes while still touching on some of the magic that made them work.

In Summary:
Howl's Moving Castle is the kind of film that makes me wish I had taken to seeing it earlier than I did but knowing that some of the enjoyment comes from being so far removed from all the hype. The film hits so many interesting and nuanced moments throughout it and it fits so perfectly into the kind of visual world that Miyazaki seems to like to create that any initial hesitation about his adapting something from Europe proves to be not worth even a mention. Similar in ways to past works but also strongly different, Howl's Moving Castle is definitely a very enjoyable film that already has me looking forward to seeing it again in full to notice the little details that I missed the first time around.

Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,French 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Original Storyboards,Original Trailer & TV Spots,Behind the Microphone,Interview with Voice Director,Miyazaki Visits Pixar

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.


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