HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE  (Hauru no ugoku shiro)

Region 2 (UK) Edition  -  Reviewed by Andy Davidson

Director:  Hayao Miyazaki

Starring the voices of:  Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal


Based on the famous novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle tells the story of Sophie, a shy young shopgirl, who is uprooted from her humble existence into a world of war, witchcraft and a peculiar castle which wanders the countryside on legs.

Sophie’s troubles begin when she is accosted in the street by the city guard, looking for some sport. She is rescued by a mysterious stranger, the wizard Howl, who transports her to safety but in doing draws attention to the pair. Later, while at work, Sophie is confronted by the Witch of the Waste. Unwilling to tell her of Howl’s whereabouts, Sophie becomes the victim of the Witch’s magic and is transformed into a wizened old crone. Distraught, she flees in search of Howl in the hope that he can save her. When she eventually catches up with the wizard and his entourage, her real journey begins.

Howl’s Moving Castle is an extremely loose adaptation of the novel but does manage to maintain much of the spirit of the original. Sophie’s plight and her eventual salvation become secondary to the spectacle and typical mischievousness of Miyazaki’s script, becoming a quite different but equally rewarding tale.

Of course, the usual Miyazaki themes are in abundance; a young (although not visibly so) female protagonist, a handsome stranger tied to her destiny and a backdrop of turmoil and inexplicable violence. Sophie’s adventure is played out against the backdrop of a major war and the way Miyazaki manages to intertwine the various strands of the story, both the personal and the global, is breathtaking.

Pipped to the post for Best Animated Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, Howl’s Moving Castle is every bit the classic we have come to expect from Miyazaki.


Howl’s Moving Castle is presented on a two-disc set, with extras divided across the discs.

Howl’s Moving Castle is presented in its original 1.85:1 ratio, with anamorphic enhancement. The quality of the picture is absolutely stunning – colours are vivid and there is no sign of edge enhancement.

Howl’s Moving Castle is presented in its original Japanese 5.1 soundtrack along with optional English subtitles. A newly produced 5.1 English dub starring Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall and Billy Crystal is also available and is a superbly produced dub which feels completely natural with the original animation. Both tracks are offered at 448kbps.

English subtitles for the hard of hearing are also available.


Alternate Angle Storyboards

Accessible on the main disc either standalone or via the Angle button, the viewer can choose to watch the film in its entirety in storyboard form.


Diana Wynne-Jones (7m 34s)

Author of the book on which Howl’s Moving Castle is based, Diana Wynne Jones is interviewed here for Japanese television. The format is somewhat stilted, with questions appearing in text form only, but Wynne-Jones’ enthusiastically discusses her original novel and her love of Miyazaki’s films and in particular his interpretation of her story.

Pete Docter (7m 22s)

Pete Docter is the writer of Toy Story and director of Monsters, Inc. More relevantly, he was the director of the English dub for Howl’s Moving Castle, continuing Pixar's association with the English versions of the Studio Ghibli films. Here, he talks about the painstaking work he and his team undertook to make the English dub as sensitive to the original as possible.

Hello Mr Lassiter (16m 32s)

John Lasseter, head of Pixar Studios, is the man responsible for translating Miyazaki’s films into English. Here, he is paid a surprise visit by Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki shortly after the completion of the English dub. Lasseter is like a child in a sweetshop, completely in awe of Miyazaki and bursting with enthusiasm for Studio Ghibli’s work. He also has the best office in the whole world!

Explanation of CG (19m 40s)

Studio Ghibli are a recent convert to computer animation and famously make only sparing use of the technology in their films. This fascinating documentary looks at how CG was used to enhance the animation in Howl’s Moving Castle; it’s a remarkable feature, made all the more so by the fact that the film itself looks entirely hand-drawn.


Original Japanese TV trailers & Spots (12m 8s)
The complete set of Japanese trailers for Howl’s Moving Castle are included, complete with removable subtitles.

Theatrical trailer (1m 32s)

The obligatory deep-throated US trailer for Howl’s Moving Castle.

The Studio Ghibli Collection (11m 46s)

A complete set of trailers for the whole Studio Ghibli range.

Textless Opening & Closing Credits

Optimum have included the opening and closing sequences for the film minus credits. The opener is a nice little animation featuring dancing Totoros but the closing sequence is of more value in that it continues the story past the end of the film. So, if you want to know what happens to Mae and Satsuki when the music starts, watch on.

Howl’s Moving Castle trailer

Howl’s Moving Castle is released on DVD the same day as My Neighbour Totoro. The US trailer for the film, complete with implausibly gruff voice is included here.

Studio Ghibli Collection trailer

Once again, the trailer for the complete set of Ghibli releases planned by Optimum is included. The trailers appear to have been sourced from a lower quality medium so don’t quite look their best, but the contents are more than worth a viewing.


Miyazaki’s latest masterpiece continues the director’s unbroken run of spellbinding stories coupled with breathtaking visuals. Howl’s Moving Castle is a beautiful film given a superb release here by Optimum

Related reviews:

The Studio Ghibli Collection

Laputa - Castle in the Sky

Kiki's Delivery Service

My Neighbour Totoro

Pom Poko

Porco Rosso


DVD reviewed: March 2006

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