Guest Author - Lesley Aeschliman
Howl's Moving Castle is an Academy Award-nominated film by Hayao Miyazaki. The film is based off of the novel of the same name; the book was written by a British author named Diana Wynne Jones. The film was dubbed into English by Peter Docter, a director at Pixar, and was distributed in the United States by Walt Disney Pictures. The film had a limited release in the United States and Canada during the summer of 2005.
The protagonist of the film is Sophie, a timid 18-year-old girl who works in her late father's hat shop. One day, when walking to visit her younger sister, Lettie, she ends up encountering the mysterious wizard Howl; Howl rescues her from a couple of soldiers. When she returns to the hat shop that evening, Sophie has a run-in with the Witch of the Waste. The witch places a curse on Sophie, and transforms her into a 90-year-old woman.
Sophie runs away from home, and befriends a bewitched scarecrow that she calls Turnip Head. Turnip Head provides Sophie shelter by bringing Howl's Moving Castle. When you see the animation for the moving castle, it looks a lot like the animation style seen in Monty Python's Flying Circus.
After she is inside the castle, Sophie makes a deal with a fire demon named Calcifer; he agrees to return Sophie to her normal self if she can break the contract binding him to Howl. However, since the terms of the contract cannot be disclosed to a third party, Sophie must figure it out on her own.
During her stay in Howl's "castle," Sophie meets a young boy named Markl. She ends up being taken on as a house cleaner, and spends a lot of time with Howl the wizard. During her stay with Howl, Sophie learns about many incredible secrets and has several interesting adventures.
The animation and storytelling help to make Howl's Moving Castle a masterpiece. After you watch the film, the viewer can understand why Miyazaki is such a highly regarded filmmaker in Japan.
When Howl's Moving Castle was released on DVD in the United States, it was a two-disc set. The first disc contains the film and some special features. For the film, you can select which scene or scenes you want to see. You can also choose between three audio options (English, Japanese, and French). You can choose to have English captions for the Hearing Impaired, or to have English subtitles, or to not have any subtitles at all. In the setup menus, you can also register your DVD, or to watch the trailers included on the DVD (most of the trailers are for Disney titles).
The first bonus feature on disc one is a nine minute documentary titled, "Behind the Microphone." During the documentary, you see some of the voice actors recording the English dialogue to be put into the English dubbed version. There are also interviews with the director, producers, and some of the English voice cast. It's a decent documentary for what it is.
Next is an interview with Pete Docter, the Pixar director who was responsible for directing the English dubbed version of Howl's Moving Castle. This interview was produced in Japan, and the questions are written on the screen in Japanese. Unfortunately, the interview is not subtitled, so the viewer has no idea what questions Pete Docter is being asked; you are forced to try to piece together what was asked by the responses Pete Docter gives. The lack of subtitles is a slight mark against this bonus feature.
Then there is a 16-minute long piece titled, "Hello, Mr. Lasseter: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar." This is some footage shot when Miyazaki made a surprise appearance at Pixar for the screening for the Pixar staff of the English dubbed version of Howl's Moving Castle. For this portion of the piece, there is rather poor audio quality, and it can be hard to understand what is being said. The rest of the piece is an interview done with John Lasseter, which was done for a Japanese audience. The first question of the interview is said orally in English; however, further questions are only printed on the screen in Japanese, and there are no subtitles. This feature would have been better if the first part had better audio quality, and if there had been subtitles for the second half.
The final extra on disc one are the Japanese television spots and theatrical trailers for Howl's Moving Castle. There is only Japanese audio available, but subtitles can be turned on. This extra runs for 12 minutes, and it's all the trailers and television spots in one continuous piece; there is no way to select which ones you want to see.
All that is on the second disc of Howl's Moving Castle is a storyboard version of the film; basically, it's the movie, except it only utilizes storyboards and none of the actual animation. For this version of the film, the viewer can choose either English or Japanese audio, and can choose whether or not to have English subtitles. To be honest, I don't understand the point or the appeal of seeing the complete film with storyboards instead of animation. I think the DVD release would have been stronger if it had just been one disc, and had only had perhaps some brief storyboard-to-animation comparisons for some of the scenes. I think that putting in the second DVD is a waste.
If you like Miyazaki's work, or if you like this kind of storytelling, then you should see Howl's Moving Castle. Even with the unnecessary second disc, and the few minor complaints about the bonus features on disc one, this is a DVD that should be in the collection of any anime fan.
I wrote this review after watching a copy of this DVD that my husband purchased for me as a gift.