Howl’s Moving Castle

Viewed – 02 February 2013. Blu-ray

I am not sure why I’ve taken so long to see this acclaimed entry in famed Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli’s cannon.  Telling the story of a young woman who is cursed by a witch and turned into an elderly lady.  As a war ravages the city where she lives, she takes refuge in wizard Howl’s legendary moving castle.  Can she lift the curse, or are Howl’s own problems more pressing?


Directed by studio head Hayao Myazaki (Ponyo, Princess Mononoke) and boasting quite boundless imagination and visual beauty, this is one of those movies that you can easily lose yourself in.  The story is utterly charming, told gracefully and packed with ideas.  Voice acting from Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer and Billy Crystal (as a lovable fire demon) amongst others is also enjoyable and although at nearly two hours it can feel a bit hard going, this remained classic fantasy storytelling that kept me glued throughout.

I think compared to similar Ghibli movie Spirited Away; being based on the children’s novel by British writer Diana Wynne Jones helps it break free from the studio’s otherwise very Japanese style.  Sometimes the bizarreness of Ghibli can leave me cold, but that wasn’t the case here.  Although, what was that war about? Never the less, an enchanting, very well made and totally gorgeous evening’s entertainment.

The blu-ray from Optimum is very pleasing. The image is vibrant and sharp. Some slight juddering during fast movement seems evident occasionally but not very noticeable. The soundtrack in DTS HD Master Audio is immersive and full of little details, with the music and quality voice acting all impressing. Extras consist of several featurettes, including Myazaki’s visit to Pixar as well as behind the scenes voice over footage. Sadly many are in 1:33:1 format so we get ugly black boarders either side of the screen.


(the movie) 5 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5

Laputa: Castle In The Sky

Viewed – 29 January 2012  Blu-ray

It goes almost without saying, that Studio Ghibli, the animation house that brought us the Oscar-winning Spirited Away has become one of the most respected animation studios in the world, and taking just a glance at their back catalogue reveals a wealth of magical and endearing movies.  Back in 1986, the famed studio was formed to make its first feature-length movie, and so we have this, a magical Jules Vern inspired adventure that proves even over twenty years ago, director and studio founder Hayao Miyazaki was a true talent.

Pazu is a hard-working young boy in a mining community, who one day witnesses a young girl fall from the sky.  Hurrying to her rescue, he soon discovers she is on the run from a group of pirates and the army, who seek the magical properties of her necklace.  Before long a spectacular adventure ensues as Pazu tries to help the girl unravel the mystery of the necklace’s origin and its connection to a fabled city floating in the sky.  Clearly the imagination and artistic style Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have become known for, was their from the start.  The animation and character on display here is quite breathtaking.  The story borrows from the aviation-mixed-with-science-fiction of Jules Vern, but also reminded me of the Brit fantasy Stardust, which this could easily have been the inspiration for.  The two young characters are easy to like and get caught up in their adventure (voiced well by James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin), and the mother pirate is a classic Ghibli creation, as is the shady villain, all smart suit and sunglasses.  The action, when it comes is also very exciting (the robot encounter, the various sky battles) and the final act is pretty damn magical.

At over two hours, the movie is quite lengthy for an animation, but doesn’t drag.  I would have liked more revealed about the floating city, and sometimes the comedy was laid on a bit thick.  Yet this doesn’t really spoil what is essentially a well made and enjoyable movie, surely worthy of any animation fans viewing list.

For an older movie, this Blu-ray release from Optimum is difficult to fault.  The colours are vibrant and the detail is very sharp.  It looks like the whole movie has been remastered to show off the format, including a decent soundtrack and some good effects with booming explosions, as well as clear voice work.  Extras include brief behind the scenes featurettes, story boards and trailers, as well as the movie on DVD.


(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5


Viewed – 13 January 2012  Blu-ray

I have to admit, I am a great admirer of the movies from acclaimed Japanese animation masters Studio Ghibli, with Spirited Away and Ponyo being two of my favourites.  This latest entry tells the tale of a tiny girl, who along with her mother and father, live under the floor boards of a huge house, unbeknownst to the humans occupying it.  At night they creep out to scavenge for supplies in order to survive … but it’s not stealing, they are Borrowers, as in the classic children’s books by Mary Norton.  Stepping into the shoes of recently retired studio head Hayao Miyzaki is Hiromasa Yonebayashi in his directing debut, and let’s just say, the studio is in good hands.

From the start, this is magical stuff.  The way the world of Arrietty and her family is captured, from their perspective is stunning, with as expected from Ghibli, wonderfully detailed animation and gorgeous art, making you feel like you are right there with them in a huge world.  The sound design is also exceptional and greatly adds to the atmosphere.  Arrietty’s story, that of a little girl who befriends a human boy suffering from a heart disease, is touching and well observed.  The voice casting is generally good, especially from The Lovely Bones’ Saoirse Ronan in the lead, although the boy proves less interesting, with a very bland, wooden performance … which does lessen the movie’s emotional impact.  The story also lacks the sort of peril you might expect, and it’s not all that exciting either.  Even when the house keeper makes an alarming discovery, and a rescue is set into motion – you never feel anyone is in particular danger.

Don’t get me wrong however, this is a movie that despite such gripes, is still filled with wonderful imagination and bags of personality, as well as beautiful animation and a very memorable theme tune.  I found the ending to be a bit of a let down, but overall … this still enchanted the hell out of me.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Top Ten Movies 2010

My Top Ten Movies 2010

Compiled of the movies I have seen during the year.  

Some may be older than 2010.



2   MOON









The year in review – Part Two

Continuing my look back on the movies that have most impressed me during 2010, we now proceed with the last two quarters of the year.  With the summer blockbuster season in full swing, I still found time to discover smaller, but no less satisfying movies…

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