Set in an imaginary European country on the verge of war, in a vague time period that is approximately Edwardian, this is the story of Sophie, a young girl who encounters Howl, the handsome wizard who lives in a gigantic, clattering contraption of a mobile castle. The interest Howl has in Sophie arouses the angry jealousy of the Witch of the Waste (voiced by Lauren Bacall in the English dub), who curses Sophie with instant old age. Sophie, no longer recognized by Howl, takes up residence in …is castle and sets about transforming all within, perhaps ultimately freeing Howl of his own curse.
The glorious imagination so fantastically displayed in Spirited Away is here again, as Miyazaki goes from strength to strength. There are images here that will stop your breath with their beauty and inventiveness. The story is enormously engaging, the characters as lovable as they are original (special kudos to the adorable Heen the dog) and will enthral both older children and the lucky adults who watch this.
The sound comes in English and Japanese 5.1 (and French, for that matter), and, as with other recent Disney dubs of Miyazaki’s films, the English voice work is very strong, and arguably fits in with the very European setting more easily than the original track. Certainly the melding is the smoothest yet, given that most of the other Studio Ghibli films that have found their way here are very Japanese in their contexts. In any event, the dialogue on both tracks is clear and undistorted. The score is terrific, and the FX are marvellous. Wind, rain, airplanes, the castle itself with all its mechanical clanking make full uses of the surround, and the placement is excellent. So is the left-right separation.
The picture is first-rate, too. The image is incredibly sharp, and every detail of Miyazaki’s art is captured (and one can note such wonderful details as the creation of the illusion of depth with blurred objects in the foreground). The colours are very strong and stable. One should not expect any grain in an animated picture, and there is none here. The aspect ratio is a nice 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.
The extras here are the much the same as on the other recent Disney releases of Studio Ghibli films. Disc 1 has three featurettes. There are two bits from Japanese television, one being an interview in Japan with Pixar director Pete Doctor (who was in charge of the translation) and the other being Miyazaki’s visit to Pixar studios. The more interesting (if still promotional) featurette is a piece on the English voice acting, which does talk about the technical challenges involved. There are also the original Japanese trailers and TV spots, with subtitles. Disc 2 is the usual thing: the entire movie’s storyboards, and that’s it. The menu is scored.
Easily one of last year’s best films. See it. Now.
Special Features List
- Interview with Pete Docter
- Hayao Miyazaki Visit Pixar
- “Behind the Microphone” Featurette
- Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots