Japanese animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki has entranced western audiences with the likes of Princess Mononoke and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away. The same goes for Howl's Moving Castle based on the children's novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones. It "enchants and amuses" with the story of a young girl (voiced in the English dub by Emily Mortimer) who is trapped in an old woman's body - oh, and something about a castle with mechanical legs...
Building The Castle
In a brief but edifying interview, Diana Wynne Jones points out the changes made by Miyazaki in adapting her novel for the screen. Most notably she reveals that the eponymous castle was made from blocks of coal in the original story, which is obviously very different from the Terry Gilliam-style behemoth that sprang from Miyazaki's imagination. But that's not to say she's displeased with the results. She calls the film "wonderful, rich and strange", adding, "This is not the castle I wrote, but it has it's own distinct and threatening personality."
Another interview with dialogue director Peter Docter reveals the challenges in translating the story into the English language. These mainly stem from the fact that Japanese words are more succinct and so the English dialogue had to be "squeezed" quickly to match the mouth movements. Docter also talks about working with screen legend Lauren Bacall which inspired some trepidation at first because her character (Witch of the Waste) was disgusting to look at and generally despicable. "Darling", she told him, "I was born to play despicable!"
Docter gets a good laugh with his Bacall anecdote before a special screening of the film at Pixar attended by Miyazaki. The surprise visit is recorded in the featurette Hello, Mr Lasseter and gives the diminutive director a chance to tell his own funny story about meeting Bacall. Even funnier is watching the clash of temperaments between the grey-suited Miyazaki and the Hawaiian-shirted John Lasseter (Head of Pixar). The former is obviously perturbed when after holding out his hand for a polite handshake is crushed up against the paunch of this brash American in a huge bear hug! Lasseter's adoration of Miyazaki is clear, later remarking on his ability to churn out "9 or 10" original and challenging ideas in a single film. "Miyazaki's films always make you think," he says.
Moving The Castle
Someone called Kataama from Studio Ghibli gives a painstakingly detailed and highly technical account of the CG components in the film during a 20-minute featurette. His explanation is accompanied by reels of test footage to demonstrate exactly how the Moving Castle is able to move. Certainly it's an intricate process that means dividing the image into around 30 layers. As well as the castle, Kataama shows us how CG was used for minor details, like a flag flapping gently in the wind. Of course meticulous planning goes into every shot and this is also reflected in a feature-length storyboard reel on disc one.
Unfortunately there are no interviews with Miyazaki let alone a commentary track and the voice talent (Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, Billy Crystal etc) are also overlooked by this two-disc package. Even so, what there is fully conveys the passion of the filmmakers and devotees of Japanese animation will not want to miss out.