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Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer/ Chieko Baisho), an average teenage girl working in a hat shop, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome-but-mysterious wizard named Howl (Christian Bale/ Takuya Kimura), and is subsequently turned into a 90-year old woman (Jean Simmons) by the vain and conniving Wicked Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall/ Akihiro Miwa). Embarking on an incredible odyssey to lift the curse, she finds refuge in Howl's magical moving castle where she becomes acquainted with Markl, Howl's apprentice, and a hot-headed fire demon named Calcifer (Billy Crystal/ Tatsuya Gashuin). Sophie's love and support has a major impact on Howl, who flies in the face of orders from the palace to become a pawn of war and instead risks his life to help bring peace to the kingdom.

Review by Louise Keller:
Howl's Moving Castle is a feast of inventive ideas and spectacular visuals, involving us in a magical world of witches and spells. There are some truly inspired moments, although this new animation from Japanese writer / director Hayao Miyazaki never reaches the heights of his previous and brilliant Spirited Away. Adapted from British writer Diana Wynne Jones' novel, the story is a character-driven one, but I found the characters surrounding the protagonist are more appealing and interesting than the protagonist herself.

The film is being released in two versions - with original subtitles as well as being dubbed (with the high profile voice cast of Billy Crystal, Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Lauren Bacall and Jean Simmons). I saw the original Japanese version, at the closing night of the Sydney Film Festival. The film was well received, although many felt it was about half an hour too long.

The film has a European sensibility - from the design of Howl's bizarre castle to the lilting score. The castle is a wonderful curiosity, a mix of crooked chimneys and turrets, eyes and protruding ledges, that hang together precariously on a platform of four wobbly giant bird-like legs. Great puffs of smoke chortle from the chimneys when the castle is in flight, when the tranquil green meadows and flowers are nothing but a speck beneath. But you never know where any of its doors will lead; place is a magical fluid and shifting dimension.

Calcifer, the talking fire is the castle's engine, and what a personality he is. With his Casper-like eyes and ever-changing shape, Calcifer has a mysterious relationship with Howl, who morphs into a winged bird of prey, and is under threat of becoming a monster. When teenage hat-maker Sophie is cursed by the voluptuous Wicked Witch of the Waste and transformed into a bent-over ninety year old, she leaves home and finds herself in Howl's castle. She befriends a turnip-faced scarecrow, a spiky-haired boy who disguises himself with a long beard, and a small dog that looks rather like a duster on legs. Howl has a reputation as a collector of hearts, and Sophie's is immediately smitten. 'It isn't easy being old,' she muses as she hobbles with a cane, but finds many advantages such as wisdom that comes from experience.

The detail and intricacy is astonishing and there is always something new to absorb. Appealing more to adults than to young children, Howl's Moving Castle is without doubt an extraordinary work, that offers more enjoyment in analysis than spontaneously.

There are two versions on DVD - the standard edition and the special limited edition which includes interviews with author Diana Wynne Jones, Peter Doctor, featurette and alternative angle storyboards.

Published March 16, 2006

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Hauru no ugoku shiro

VOICES: (English language version) Emily Mortimer, Chrsitian Bale, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Blythe Danner, Crispin Freeman, Jena Malone[BREAK](Japanese language version) Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Akihiro Miwa, Tatsuya Gashuin

PRODUCER: Toshio Suzuki, Rick Dempsey, Ned Lott

DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki

SCRIPT: Hayao Miyazaki (novel by Diana Wynne Jones)

EDITOR: Takeshi Seyama

MUSIC: Joe Hisaishi


RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 22, 2005 (both English and Japanese versions)

PRESENTATION: widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: Interview with author Diana Wynne Jones; Interview with Pixar's Peter Doctor; featurette; explanation of CG featurette; trailers



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