Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro) [Blu-Ray]
Director : s Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay : Hayao Miyazaki (based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2004 (Japan) / 2005 (U.S.)
As anyone familiar with the work of Japan’s leading animation director Hayao Miyazaki might assume, his film Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro) is a visual delight and a reminder of the continuing power of two-dimensional animation done right. Miyazaki’s twin talents have always been his ability to capture time and place and his ability to render fantastical worlds through a child’s perspective, and he does both with charm and power throughout the film.
The story takes place in an unnamed fantasy world that looks vaguely like Europe in the late 1800s (the Tudor architecture is borrowed from Germany, but the clothing and hair styles are decidedly British), but is awash in magic. The wall between the natural and the supernatural, usually so rigid, is here almost nonexistent. Witches, wizards, and fantastical contraptions straight out of Jules Verne coexist with nary the batting of an eye. When the moving castle of the title—an enormous, lumbering, steam-driven behemoth that looks like a small village collided with the machinery from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and then grew bird legs—passes through the countryside near a small village, the residents talk excitedly of it, but with the familiarity that might be associated with a circus coming to town.
As they frequently are, Miyazaki’s protagonist is a young girl, a teenager named Sophie (Chieko Baisho) who works in a hat shop. The twist is that early in the film she falls under a spell cast by the Witch of the Waste that turns her into an old woman. Thus, the young girl’s mind is trapped inside a body 70 years too old, and she is forced to come to terms with her limited mobility, strength, and endurance. Nevertheless, she sets out in pursuit of the titular castle, which is owned by a handsome, androgynous wizard named Howl (Takuya Kimura), hoping that he will be able to break the spell.
Sophie ends up becoming part of Howl’s oddball family that travels around the countryside in the moving castle, which has the magical ability to open onto at least four different locations with the flick of a switch. Other members of the “family” include Markl, a young boy who is training under Howl to become a wizard, and Calcifier, a demon who takes the form of fire and powers the moving castle with his energy. Miyazaki’s imagination and sly humor are infused into every aspect of the moving castle and its inhabitants, from the endless details of the castle’s helter-skelter, yet strangely logical construction, to Calcifier’s cartoonish face and sarcastic attitude, which provides comic relief at just the right moments.
The film also carries an explicit anti-war message, one that is perhaps a bit more labored than it should be, but nevertheless carries a great deal of the film’s visual power. Howl and Sophie are caught in an escalating war between two kingdoms, one of which is demanding that Howl render his services as a wizard to their cause. He refuses, not so much out of an anti-war sentiment, but out of cowardice and self-interest (part of the film’s emotional core is a redemption for Howl, a chance for him to make good on his abilities for someone other than himself). Miyazaki contrasts his visions of pastoral beauty that dominate the first half of the film (lush meadows of rainbow-hued flowers, towering mountains, expansive blue skies) with images of hellish warfare in which giant flying machines indiscriminately rain hundreds of bombs, reducing the world to a vision of fire and brimstone.
Howl’s Moving Castle is certainly a sublime work—it has the fluctuating logic of a dream, with characters and identities and faces constantly morphing and changing and melting into each other—albeit one that doesn’t quite reach the emotional depths you keep hoping for. For all its visual and narrative strangeness, the film is at heart a romance, with Sophie the young/old woman falling in love with Howl the mysterious heart-stealer after he rescues her early in the film from a pack of slimy, blob-like creatures that work for the Witch of the Waste. Yet, the romantic aspect of the film never really gels; rather, the true emotional involvement is in the moving castle’s rag-tag family and the manner in which they hold together in the best and worst of times. This is, in the best sense, a true family film.
|Howl’s Moving Castle Blu-Ray + DVD|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||May 21, 2013|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of Howl’s Moving Castle is near-reference-quality outstanding, making the mix of traditional cell animation and CGI all but seamless. The high-def image renders the detailed animation with great dexterity, such that we can appreciate the most minute brush strokes in the painterly backgrounds while also noting the fine lines in the character’s faces and bodies. The image is extremely smooth, with only the barest hint of film grain and absolutely no signs of wear and tear (I was surprised to realize that the film is nearly 10 years old!). Colors are particularly sublime, with the bold, deeply saturated hues making the film’s juxtaposition of pastoral beauty and violence of war all the more impressive. The disc boasts both the original Japanese-language soundtrack and the English-language soundtrack (which features well-know British and American actors like Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, Blythe Danner, Lauren Bacall, and Billy Crystal) in clear, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround. The mix is excellent throughout, immersing us in the film’s unique fantasy world, which includes both serene, quiet vistas and massive explosions. The various creaks and groans of the castle are particularly well presented, which makes it that much more of a memorable character.|
|>While not as loaded as the Blu-Ray already released in Europe and other parts of the world, Disney’s edition of Howl’s Moving Castle still boasts a number of worthwhile supplements. “Behind the Microphone,” which previously appeared on Disney’s 2006 DVD, is a 9-minute featurette about the process of recording the English-language track, which gave me a newfound appreciation for how much work goes into such efforts (when they’re done right, of course, and this one was done right). There is also a 7-minute interview with Pixar Animation Studios director Pete Docter, who co-directed the English-language dub. The title of the 16-minute featurette “Hello Mr. Lasseter: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar Animation Studios” is fairly self-explanatory, as we get quite a bit of video footage of the Japanese master animator visiting Pixar and attending a screening of the film. Also on the disc is an 8-minute collection of original Japanese TV spots and trailers, although by far the coolest supplement is the original Japanese storyboards, which, far from being a random assortment of images, is an animated version of the entire movie, all two hours of it using all the original storyboards laid over the soundtrack.|
Copyright ©2013 James Kendrick
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