Japan’s favorite fantasist

Howl’s Moving Castle

Master animator Hayao Miyazaki returns to DVD players with the Oscar-nominated Howl’s Moving Castle. In this magical tale adapted from Diana Wynne Jones’ novel, a young girl finds herself transformed into an old woman from a curse by the evil Witch of the Waste. Only Howl, an enigmatic but irresponsible wizard who lives in a walking domicile, can lift the curse.

In Disney’s stateside release, viewers can choose either the original Japanese dialogue (with subtitles) or a dubbed cast of Western actors. Tempting though it may be to avoid an evening of reading, it is difficult to get past the pervasively American voices, like Christian Bale’s and Billy Crystal’s. Crystal in particular, though surprisingly subdued, is a weak spot in the predictably wise-cracking-sidekick-à-la-Disney role, the fire demon Calcifer.

Anyway, even beyond the witches-and-wizards premise, Castle is a fantasy in the broadest sense. Everything is playfully exaggerated, from the slices of bacon to the lumbering castle of the film’s title. And, as in most of Miyazaki’s works, the storyline is so eccentric that one can never tell where it will go next—much less where it will end up. With allusions to 20th-century warfare so obvious that even the potential 12-and-under target audience can pick them up, and many layers of lessons and messages, there is much to be harvested from the creative brain behind the famed Studio Ghibli.

Extras sadly lean toward the Disney side of things, with a featurette about the English voice sessions and a look at what happens when “Mr. Miyazaki Visits Pixar Animation Studios.” But at least those of us who rent a Miyazaki DVD to actually learn more about the mind of the genius himself can be satisfied with the sweet collection of complete storyboards set to the film’s soundtrack.