Howl's Moving Castle Blu-ray Review

If everything you know about animated films can be summed up as “Disney”, “Pixar”, or “Dreamworks”, you are missing out in a way I cannot adequately describe with words. There are some phenomenal films being made in Japan and they aren’t all the “anime” you’re afraid of, or at least cautious to try out. In fact, the films of one production house in particular, Studio Ghibli, are so renowned that the US distribution rights were actually acquired by Disney, some of which are finally getting the Blu-ray treatment. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is the most recent Ghibli title to release in the US on Blu-ray, and while it is not the best film they have made it is beautiful and entertaining.

Howl's Moving Castle, traveling through the countryside.

HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is the story of Sophie (Sofi, voiced by Chieko Baishô, dubbed by Emily Mortimer). Sophie is an young woman and a loner, content to run her mother’s hat shop while the rest of her family enjoys their carefree lives. But when the Witch of the Waste curses her, Sophie is forced to leave her home and venture into the wild… where, with a little help from a living scarecrow, she finds a giant moving castle that belongs to a wizard named Howl. Once onboard she meets a fire demon named Calcifer (or Karishifâ, voiced by Tatsuya Gashûin, dubbed by Billy Crystal). Calcifer can see that Sophie has been cursed and makes a deal with Sophie – if she can break the curse that binds him to Howl and the castle, Calcifer will break the curse on Sophie so she can return home.

Howl (Christian Bale) saves Sophie (Emily Mortimer)

This is the first animated film I’ve ever enjoyed just as much with the dubbed audio track as with the original Japanese. Usually the translation is poor, there isn’t any sync up with the lip movement, and the voice acting is poor. This includes even some past Ghibli films… but there were none of these issues with HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. In fact, in some ways I think I enjoyed the English-dubbed edition even more for how surprisingly good it is. Miyazaki (the director and writer of the film) is also an incredible writer, which comes through in his work. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is a great example; there is little-to-no extraneous dialogue. Even the most simple moments are carefully crafted and beautifully animated.

Sophie realizes she has been cursed.

Miyazaki (and by extension Studio Ghibli) is also well known for his amazing visuals. Using the type of animation that has been considered “old-school” in the US for a little while HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is breathtaking and incredible. Add a strange, beautiful, universal story of love and looking beyond what the eye can see and the love story between Howl and Sophie takes on new meaning. While strange, watching a movie like this makes me feel like a kid again… it makes me feel like I can imagine anything, and anything can come true.

Sophie tends to Howl after he is injured

The first time I watched HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, my experience with Studio Ghibli was limited to the United States’ DVD releases of PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997) and SPIRITED AWAY (2001). While tonally quite different, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is none the worse for wear after all these years, in fact it’s quite a bit better than I remembered. If you are new to this world, or if you have enjoyed Studio Ghibli films in the past but haven’t seen this one yet, you should check this one out immediately. It’s not the best film they’ve ever made – but it is a great and beautiful achievement.


Video: (1080p, 1.85:1 Widescreen) Disney purchased the distribution rights for all Studio Ghibli films in the United States, which includes their Blu-ray and DVD releases. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is another feather in Disney’s cap, this animated film raises the bar on how good Blu-ray can look on your HD TV.

Audio: (English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) As I wrote above, both audio tracks on HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE are phenomenally done. Enjoy them. Both.

Howl and Sophie

Behind the Microphone (09:02) This is a great in-depth feature showing the process of adapting from Japanese to English. They did a really phenomenal job with HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, this is one of the only dubbed tracks I’ve ever truly enjoyed. A lot of behind the scenes moments are featured here. Highly recommended for any fan of the film.

Interview with Pete Doctor (07:23) Mr. Doctor was interviewed for a Japanese special feature and it’s really interesting, he talks about his involvement in the process of translating and working on HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE.

Hello Mr. Lasseter: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar (16:29) This is also a Japanese special feature, and the quality is surprisingly poor but it includes a few really intimate moments between Mr. Lasseter and Mr. Miyazaki. This is an incredible feature. Thank you to Studio Ghibli for doing putting these great features on HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. (Now, would you please, please, PLEASE release SPIRITED AWAY!?!)

TV Spots and Trailers (08:15) HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE includes all of the previews for the film in one quick shot. There are a lot of quick previews and then some longer ones, giving an interesting view of film marketing in Japan.

Original Japanese Storyboards (01:59:10) HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, in its entirety, is featured here through the original storyboards. Very neat but only for the most devoted Ghibli fans. Includes audio from the Japanese track with subtitles. A little hard to see (white on white).

This Blu-ray package also includes HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE on DVD and Sneak Peaks of future Disney releases.


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