• Kyodo


“Howl’s Moving Castle,” one of Japan’s most successful films ever, opened Friday in New York and Los Angeles, giving American audiences their first big-screen view of the latest work from acclaimed animation director Hayao Miyazaki.

“Howl no Ugoku Shiro” was released in Japan late last year, where it follows only Miyazaki’s 2001 Oscar-winning epic “Spirited Away” and “Titanic” in ticket sales. In addition, it has already earned more than $210 million at international box offices.

Walt Disney Studios, the film’s U.S. distributor, hosted an advance screening Thursday in Hollywood, with the event featuring a panel discussion between some of the producers, actors, and writers of the English-language version of the film.

Producer Ned Lott and voice director Peter Docter described the process of casting actors to record the English dialogue, saying one major challenge was finding the right voice for Sophie, the lead character, who changes from an 18-year-old woman into a 90-year-old grandmother.

Lott and Docter said they listened to some 200 voices before selecting veteran actress and two-time Oscar nominee Jean Simmons, 76, for the voice of the elderly Sophie, and 34-year-old British actress Emily Mortimer for that of young Sophie.

“It was an extraordinary experience and a real learning experience. I’ve never done anything like this before,” said Simmons, who recorded more than 600 lines of dialogue for the film.

The voice of the lead male character, Howl, is supplied by Christian Bale, 31, star of the upcoming film “Batman Begins.” Oscar-nominated actress Lauren Bacall, 80, provided her legendary voice to the Witch of the Waste.

During the panel discussion, the English-language production team expressed happiness and relief at receiving Miyazaki’s approval of their version of his film. The 64-year-old director is known for not watching all of the translated versions of his films.

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