Howl's Moving Castle: Limited Edition (Hauru No Ugoku Shiro) (Studio Ghibli (2004)
Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio
Interviews-Crew-Diana Wynne Jones (Author Of Howl's Moving Castle)
Interviews-Crew-Pete Docter (Director Of The English Dub)
Featurette-Hello, Mr. Lasseter
Featurette-Explanation of CG
Trailer-Studio Ghibli Collection
|Year Of Production||2004|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Dual Disc Set
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Hayao Miyazaki|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The latest animated film from Hayao Miyazaki is based on a novel by the English writer Diana Wynne-Jones. Set in some indeterminate period where late 19th Century period costumes mingle with flying battleships, witches and wizards, the heroine of the story, Sophie, is introduced as a young woman working in a hat shop. When walking through a narrow street she is accosted by two soldiers, from whom she is rescued by a mysterious young man. He turns out to be the wizard Howl, and they are immediately chased by the blob-like minions of the Wicked Witch of the Waste. Having escaped, Sophie is earmarked by the Witch as an accomplice of Howl, and the Witch soon casts a spell on Sophie turning her into an old woman. Unable to tell anyone of her plight, Sophie leaves home in search of someone to help her regain her former youth.
I must confess that this is the first Hayao Miyazaki film I have seen. Though I have been aware of his existence and that he had a high reputation in anime circles, I had not taken the plunge to watch any of his work until now. I am aware that many aficionados do not consider this work to be the equal of his best. However it is remarkably good in many respects, especially the animation which is as richly detailed as I have ever seen, sort of the antithesis of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons I grew up on on television. It is also poles apart from the Pixar style of CG animation, though CG was used extensively on this film.
What is impressive is how fluid the result is. While the character motion sometimes seems jangly or out of proportion, the characters themselves are able to express emotions with little obvious change to their appearance. Where the movie tends to disappoint (perhaps that is too strong a word) is in the story, which aside from ending abruptly has some elements which border on cliché. Notable among these is the anti-war theme, which seems now to be deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. There are also a few similarities to The Wizard of Oz. Having said that these are really just small quibbles, and most people won't be troubled by them.
When shown in America the film was released with an English-language soundtrack featuring well-known actors in the major roles. Unfortunately most of them don't deliver on their reputations. While Billy Crystal is good as the fire demon Calcifer, Lauren Bacall is unconvincing as the Witch. Emily Mortimer plays the young Sophie quite well and is a good vocal match for Jean Simmons as the old Sophie. Unfortunately Christian Bale is dull, dull, dull as Howl, and this ruins the English soundtrack. Happily this disc also includes the superior original Japanese soundtrack.
In researching this review I have learned that previous Miyazaki releases on DVD in Region 4 have been less than ideal. Happily this is not the case with this Madman release.
The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The video version is the English language release, judging by the credits.
I was hoping to see a perfect presentation of the film on DVD, but while this does not quite deliver to my expectations it does not miss out by far.
The major flaws with the video are a small amount of edge enhancement which can be seen around the more solid lines, for example character faces, and an instance of aliasing on Sophie's collar at 5:20. There is also some Gibb Effect from time to time. I did not see any other film to video artefacts and no film artefacts whatsoever. While previous Madman releases of Studio Ghibli films seem to have been NTSC to PAL conversions, it is good to report that this is a native PAL transfer.
Colour is very good, with a full range of colours on display and no issues to report. The transfer is nicely sharp (apart from the edge enhancement) and is bright and clear.
Optional English subtitles are provided. These are in yellow text and I had no trouble reading any of them. I noticed a couple of instances of Americanised spelling, and frequently some punctuation seemed to be missing (for example "don t" instead of "don't"). When the song appears at the end there are subtitles in white italicised text which appear above the spoken subtitles. The subtitles appear to be translations of the Japanese dialogue, as they do not match the English dub.
The disc is dual-layered. I did not notice the layer change, and the technical method of finding the break does not work on this disc.
It has been reported to our site that an unspecified model of a Grundig DVD player has playback problems with this DVD. Readers with this brand of player should probably try before they buy.
There are a choice of audio tracks on the main feature. The default is the English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, with the Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 original soundtrack as an alternative. I listened to both in their entirety.
As mentioned the Japanese soundtrack is much to be preferred, however sonically there is little to choose between them. Dialogue is clear throughout. The dynamic range is very good, though perhaps not up to the standards of your average Hollywood blockbuster. There are plenty of surround effects, with directional cues from each of the rear speakers and also panning across the fronts. The subwoofer is very active, having plenty of work to do when Howl's castle moves.
The English track seems to be identical to the Japanese track, with the English voices substituted for the Japanese ones. The song in both soundtracks remains in Japanese.
The music is by Joe Hisaishi and is pretty good. Most of the time it blends in so well with the visuals that I did not even notice it. It is mainly orchestral, with some accordion thrown in.
|Surround Channel Use|
Quite a few extras, though none would be of much interest to the casual viewer. Most seem to have been produced for the Japanese DVD with Japanese audio and yellow English subtitles. Even the interviews in English are prefaced by a Japanese voiceover. All of the extras are either 1.33:1 or widescreen but not 16x9 enhanced.
A brief sequence from the movie.
Music from the score.
The option exists to watch the entire film through the original storyboards, which are basically sketches of how the film would eventually look. Like the actual movie you have the choice of Japanese or English soundtrack. You can also toggle between the movie and the storyboards using the Angle feature.
An interview with the author of the original novel. She describes her response to the film and discusses some of the similarities and differences with the book.
A short interview with the man who directed the actors in the English dub, in which he speaks of some of the difficulties in translating the original script. He also conveys his enthusiasm for the material and some puff about the actors.
This looks like a home movie of the visit of Miyazaki to the Pixar studios for a screening of the English-subbed version of the film, and is pretty heavy going. John Lasseter of Pixar is then interviewed briefly.
The featurette is in Japanese and is an explanation of how computer graphics software was used in developing the animation. This is interesting in that it shows numerous examples of how the two styles of animation were combined in the making of the movie. This is by far the best extra in the set. English subtitles are provided.
While it has a narration by American Voice-Over Man, this appears to be the trailer for the Australian release.
A selection of Japanese cinema and television trailers, with subtitles.
Trailers for the other releases by Madman of Ghibli animations, including another trailer for Howl's Moving Castle.
It seems that we are blessed in Region 4 with what appears to be equal to the best available version of this movie.
The Region 4 appears to be identical in content and transfer quality to the UK Region 2 release.
The US Region 1 has all of the extras present on the Region 4 plus a short featurette on the making of the English-language dub. From screen caps available on the internet it looks to have a marginally less sharp, less detailed video transfer than the Region 4, and also appears to be slightly stretched vertically (though that could be a result of the screen capture, not reflective of the actual transfer).
The four-disc Japanese Region 2 Special Edition release is noticeably windowboxed on all sides and the video transfer seems to be markedly inferior to the Region 4. Each of the first two discs has the film complete. Disc one has Japanese soundtracks with DTS ES Matrix and Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks but does not have English subtitles. The second disc has a choice of various language soundtracks in stereo only and English subtitles. Discs three and four have a variety of extras, including all of the extras on the Region 4 but without English subtitles.
There is also a Region 4 single-disc release. This does not have the storyboard extra on the same disc as the feature, nor the second disc. I have not seen this disc so I do not know whether the transfer is identical.
A splendid animation from Studio Ghibli which can be enjoyed by all ages, though it may be too frightening for younger children.
The video quality is excellent.
The audio quality is excellent.
Not the best selection of extras you will see, though there is some interest in a couple of them.
|DVD||Sony DVP-NS9100ES, using Component output|
|Display||Sony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Main: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV|