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Feature


Following from the international success of Spirited Away and the wonderfully charming The Cat Returns, 2004 brought us Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle. The story of Sophie (Emily Mortimer), the hat maker, who is turned into a 90 year old by the nasty Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall). Finding local Wizard Howl (Christian Bale) and his moving castle, Sophie is hired by fire demon Calcifer (Bill Crystal) to keep the castle clean but as Sophie discovers more about Howl and his secrets, the pair grow more fond of one another, even with the impending war raging between kingdoms outside of the moving castle’s doors.

 Howl's Moving Castle
Howl’s Moving Castle is pure Miyazaki. The ideas in this film are endless, magical and wondrous. The themes extremely adult in places, yet with children in mind throughout and in the end this is simply another classic from Studio Ghibli. I’ve only even seen Howl’s Moving Castle twice and I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to return to the film, given that I’ve seen so many of the studio's other films so many times - so going in again here, was very much a fresh (re)look at the film.

Every frame of this animated film looks astonishing. The various techniques marry together perfectly and there are very few frames that don’t absolutely blow me away with their beauty. The experimentation with the transformation of Howl or the ingenious depictions of the character within a flame for Calicifer are all filled with small animated touches that make these character so rich. The voice work (directed by Pixar’s own John Lasseter and Peter Docter) is probably one of the finest English dubs around, with a real sense of subtlety in the small moments and an utter celebration of the dubbed sound of a Ghibli film. Bale plays it very warmly, despite his character’s ups and downs (and throws in a bit of his Batman voice from time to time), Emily Mortimer was born for Studio Ghibli as her voice is adorable and Billy Crystal provides a much calmer Mike Wachowski but tugs at your heartstrings with the softness of his performance towards the end.

 Howl's Moving Castle
At every turn Howl’s Moving Castle manages to impress. Characters aren’t caught up in a single linear plot here, as with many other animated films. It is dealing with a multitude of themes, ideas and is just pure magic - unafraid of delving into the dark, only to bring you through to the light. It’s soft and romantic, yet complicated. It’s full of well crafted segments of beautiful animation, without losing hold of its heart and once again Hayao Miyazaki delivers a film that doesn’t feel like anything else out there. For me Howl’s Moving Castle fell between the cracks over the years, with titles like My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke being the titles that pop in my head as go to Ghibli movies, but like the majority of the Studio Ghibli films Howl’s Moving Castle is simply astonishing both in story and in visuals and this revisit was a delight.

 Howl's Moving Castle

Video


From the first frame to the last, Howl’s Moving Castle looks practically perfect in HD. However, I say practically because if you look really close, there is a slight wobble to the frame, which holds the transfer back from being totally impressive.

Beyond that everything is astonishing. The detail in the moving parts of Howl's castle, the steam from the steam trains and well, anything and everything looks amazing here. Backgrouds are full of small gems of fantastic artwork and the character animations are fantastic in the foregrounds as well. Colours are absolutely perfect and some of the images with multiple layers interacting, overlapping or doing all sorts of magical things can be astounding.

The festival at the beginning of the movie, with its marching soldiers, happy crowds and ticker tape is absolutely dazzling, as is Howl’s transformation and the sequence towards the end of the film when we find out the secrets of Howl’s heart.

Generally all Ghibli films looks great, so it comes down to the films themselves to offer up the differences. Howl’s Moving Castle is a movie crammed with wonderful visuals, so it could very well be the best Ghibli movie on Blu-ray to data. Taking the crown from Ponyo. There is so much going on in the film’s settings, such as Howl’s bedroom which is full of jewels and could be studied for hours. The castle itself is a wonderfully full of layers and detail and the big moments that use of magical light are enough to drop jaws through floors they are so well presented. This is a fantastic presentation (all but that ever so slight wobble).

 Howl's Moving Castle
Audio
The opening of the film brings a thumpy bass as the moving castle makes its way through the fog but for a long time after that it’s the simple but strong central dialogue doing most of the work on the track. Bigger crowd scenes fill the front speaker well but it’s not really until there’s a knock at the castle door and it pops up in the rear speaker, that you notice the lack of real use in the rears. There’s the odd touch that uses all of the speakers, like when the propaganda is flittering through the air but generally speaking this is all quite frontal, unless there’s a specific atmosphere or audio effect the track wants to pull. That said the track is still nice and crips, has a nice bit of power to it and works perfectly for the film.

 Howl's Moving Castle
Extras
Once again, you can watch the entire film with picture in picture storyboards and once again they are all amazing.

‘Miyazaki Visits Pixar' (16:27 SD) is a great look at the filmaker paying a surprise visit to the Disney/Pixar studio. It was filmed in 2005 and also works as an intro to the film in many ways.

‘An interview with Diana Wynne Jones’ (07:54 SD) the author or the book the film is based on and the ‘Interview with Peter Docter (director of English Dub)’ (07:48 SD) both add more insight to the film and its production.

The ‘Explanation of CG’ (19:37 SD) and ‘The Sounds of Howl's Moving Castle’ (27:49) work together as a very good little making of, featuring tons of artwork and behind the scenes details.
‘Behind the Microphone’ (9.00 SD) is the Disney meet and greet with the English speaking cast and the work those in charge of the English dub carry out.

Lastly there’s the TV spot, original Japanese theatrical trailers, as well as a collection of other Studio Ghibli collection trailers.

 Howl's Moving Castle

Overall


Howl’s Moving Castle has so much going for it in the visuals department it’s almost ridiculous, so finally finding a home on Blu-ray seems a no brainer for those who adore the film. The presentation here is great and Howl’s has never looked so good. The extras are a simple port over from previous releases but even so, they were a delight to revisit as was the movie.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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