Fans of Studio Ghibli rejoice. Long only available on home video in limited, or pricey, editions, the animators in partnership with GKIDS and Shout! Factory, are re-issuing their classics on Blu-ray in a series of affordable and handsomely produced packages. We already covered their release of Spirited Away last week; now for another Ghibli favorite, Howl’s Moving Castle.
Howl’s Moving Castle Synopsis:
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 curse on Sophie and turns her into a 90-year-old woman. On a quest to break the spell, Sophie climbs aboard Howl’s magnificent moving castle and into a new life of wonder and adventure. But as the true power of Howl’s wizardry is revealed, Sophie finds herself fighting to protect them both from a dangerous war of sorcery that threatens their world.
While much of Miyazaki’s work stems from Japanese culture, Howl’s is one of the interesting parts of the Studio Ghibli output that draws from elsewhere, specifically a novel by English author Diana Wynne Jones. A battle between two kingdoms, magic destroying casters and innocents alike, it’s darker fare than you’d expect, with scenes reminiscent of air raids during World War II being particularly haunting, giving the film a lingering sense of melancholy amidst an anti-war message. This is balanced with an understated humor and sense of awe from astonishing visuals. At its core, it is the tale of a mortal, dragged into this war, who makes a connection with a similarly cursed being. In this way, it feels somewhat akin to Beauty and the Beast, indulging themes of perception, judgement, and shared pain. Beyond this, the film lacks the deeper mystery present in other Miyazaki tales. It’s an elaborate world below, one that feels a tad more urgent than the more intimate happenings within the castle, a place where the conflict is being avoided. While there is an emotional payoff, it contrasts poorly with other happenings and an inelegant merging of events and characters. Pro tip: stick with the original Japanese language and English subtitles. While inoffensive, the dubbed version saps the film of much of its character.
While there are issues, it cannot be denied that Miyazaki brings his indelible sense of wonder and creativity to bear. Howl’s features some of the strongest imagery in his stellar career, blending hand drawn animation with the restrained deployment of CGI. Landscapes, characters, and especially the titular moving castle are stunning to behold. It’s an exquisitely framed, flawed tale of a young girl, her struggles, and her kindness, as well as how age can alter perception and behavior. Most pertinently, it shows the endurance of compassion even at times of great hardship.
Like their treatment of Spirited Away, Shout! Factory again delivers a very attractive package for Howl’s. The image quality is top notch. Colors are bold, blacks are deep, detail and contrast are rich. It’s one of the more detailed Miyazaki features and is very well represented here.
The release includes dubbed English and French, a Japanese version with English dubtitles, as well as the original English and French subtitle translations from the original Japanese version. The package contains Blu-ray and DVD copies of the film, with a card slipcase. It’s again worth noting the price of these releases is FAR more competitive than past efforts, including the recent Disney releases. Special features include:
- Feature-Length Storyboards: The entire film unfolds as a sketch/storyboard. A fascinating way to see how the film was conceived and compare to its finished state.
- Original Theatrical Trailers & TV Spots
- Interview with Diana Wynne Jones: Author of the novel upon which the film is based. She shares thoughts on her work as well as her love of the adaptation
- Miyazaki’s Visit to Pixar: A pretty adorable segment as Miyazaki is given a tour of Pixar by his US counterpart John Lasseter.
- Explanation of CG: While most of the Ghibli catalogue, and indeed this film, are hand drawn, this featurette explains how CGI was carefully used to enhance the film’s visuals.
- The Birth Story of the Film Soundtrack: A Japanese featurette, subtitled in English, elaborating on how the soundtrack was made, as well as its massive impact in Japan.
- Behind the Microphone: Focuses on Christian Bale’s work to dub the film for its American release.
- 8-page Booklet, producer’s statement + more: A leafet within the case that has images from the film as well as comments from the producer on the feature.
The Bottom Line
Howl’s Moving Castle is another of those (rightly) praised Studio Ghibi classics that for a long time have either been out of print or expensively priced. Shout! Factory and GKIDS continue their release of the series with a more accessible offering that does not compromise in any way on quality. A stunning piece of animation, used to deliver a compelling tale, given the treatment it deserves.
Howl’s Moving Castle is available via Shout! Factory from October 17th