Reviewed by: Joe
Released by: Optimum Releasing
Age Rating: U
Region: 2 - UK
Length: 119 minutes
English [For Hard Of Hearing]
English 5.1 Surround
Japanese 5.1 Surround
Following on from the record-breaking and Oscar-winning success of SPIRITED AWAY, legendary director Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated masterpiece, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE is soon available to rent and buy on DVD. Featuring the voices of Emily Mortimer, Blythe Danner, Christian Bale, Jean Simmons and Billy Crystal, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE is set in a magical world of wizard and spells and follows the adventures of Sophie, a young girl trapped in an old-woman's body by an evil sorceror's spell. Based on the popular book by British author Diana Wynne Jones, the UK theatrical release of HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE was phenomenally successful and was one of the biggest ever openings ever for a film in Japan.
After Spirited Away was released in the west, Miyazaki was discovered by the mainstream and awarded an Oscar, a Golden Bear and numerous other awards, this led to the Ghibli back catalogue finally generating some interest in the US and UK. Fans were excited that he finally got the recognition he deserved, which also caused speculation what Miyazaki would release next, if anything at all. He followed up with Howl’s Moving Castle, based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones.
The first thing that muse be said is how quickly Howl got a UK DVD release, when Spirited Away was first released in Japan on DVD in July 2002 fans had to wait until March 2004 to get the title, waiting for almost a year after the US release, many more hardcore fans got the DVD direct from Japan, because they could not wait to see Spirited Away. This time around Howl was released on DVD in Japan in November 2005, with a UK release in March 2006, only a week behind the US edition.
Putting the disc in and navigating through the swish the menus to start the feature, it hits you. The animation is jaw dropping. The colours, the lavish attention to detail, the fine scenery, everything Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki is famed for is there. The movement is fluent and flawless, the visual effects like snow and fog are superb. Joe Hisaishi as always excellent, and adds extra depth to the film.
The story is not a direct retelling of the book, flying machines (one of Miyazaki’s great loves) have been added and certain aspects of the story have been changed, such as Calcifer who is now a cuter fire demon (voiced excellently in both Japanese and English dubs). Some of Diana Wynne Jones’ fans may be disappointed with these changes, however Diana Wynne Jones has stated in interviews that she understands why these changes have been made.
The only thing that really lets the movie down is the story, it feels as of something was lost when the book was translated into Japanese. It’s as if something is missing and the feature does not feel as if it’s self contained, so rewatching is advised. Normally this would be a bad thing, however it gives you a chance to see the amazing animation again.
Features wise the DVD contains both the subbed and dubbed version of the film with the dub provided by Pixar/Disney staff, it forms a good solid dub, and Billy Crystal steals the show being well cast as Calcifer.
The main features disc has an alternative angle, showing the storyboards for the production, which is a nice touch. The extra feature DVD contains some trailers, and interview with Diana Wynne Jones taken from the Japanese DVD (or Japanese TV), and a feature from the original Japanese version Hello, Mr. Lasseter, where Miyazaki and Suzuki visit the Pixar Studios to see a special screening of the English dub with Pixar Studio staff.
Optimum have done an excellent job with this title, which is co-authored by Madman (so the Australian edition should be similar). As a two disc set it provides excellent value for money. The only thing that lets the feature down is the story, it does not seem to be in the same league as previous Miyazaki greats, but is enjoyable and animation wise is quite probably the greatest 2D animation feature made.
Azure has also written a Howl's Moving Castle review after seeing the film at a special press screening.