- Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
- September 5, 2004 (Venice) / November 20, 2004 (Japan)
- Based on the 1986 novel Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
- Howl-Christian Bale
- Witch of the Waste-Lauren Bacall
- Madame Suliman-Blythe Danner
- Young Sophie-Emily Mortimer
- Markl-Josh Hutcherson
- Calcifer-Billy Crystal
- Lettie-Jena Malone
- Prince Turnip-Crispin Freeman
- King-Mark Silverman
- Honey-Mari Devon
- Madge-Liliana Mumy
A young milliner is transformed into an elderly woman by a witch who enters her shop and curses her after which she encounters a wizard and gets caught up in his resistance against the king and his war.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a beautifully animated film containing themes of pacifism, old age as well as allusions to Hayao Miyazaki love of flight. Japanese animation not only produces great visuals but meatier stories than you might find elsewhere. In my opinion though one thing Japanese anime does not do very well is craft romantic relationships. They’re about as well done as the Anakin and Padme story in the Star Wars prequels. It doesn’t feel as if it happens naturally but rather it’s just where the story supposed to go. Such is the nature of the romance between our hero Howl and the cursed Sophie.
The relationship between Howl and Sophie is kind of like that. It feels like this is where it is supposed to go. Howl and Sophie don’t fall in love because of a progression of events but because that is a predetermined end point of that portion of the narrative. Back in the old days Hollywood films invariably had a romantic subplot somewhere it the story. It was viewed as a necessity by studios for…reasons. Japanese animation seems to still believe in that idea and this film would have been served better if they had skipped that altogether.
Howl is portrayed as good, but his introduction is rather, well, icky. Early in the story there is a scene when some local soldiers start hitting on Sophie before she’s cursed. Remember she is very young. I understand it’s meant to be playful but they’re rather creepy. And when Howl comes in to save her he is not much better. He’s creepy in his very own special way. Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a book and I’m wondering if this scene was present or presented in the book in this way or events occur differently.
The events here might be more understandable to those who watch a great deal more Japanese animation than I do. Or perhaps it is due to changes from book to film. I do not know. Perhaps it would’ve been a good idea on the part of Miyazaki and company to include some dialogue or perhaps pay for scenes to smooth the edges out.
Howl’s Moving Castle is filled with fanciful aircraft in scenes of war. Those scenes do not shy away from violence and destruction. Howl stands as the pacifist in this story though he comes off more as aloof and just disinterested. Howl is supposed to respond to a royal summons but rather than disregard it he acts more like he is simply procrastinating on the whole thing.
The visuals are absolutely stunning. This is hand drawn animation with CGI assist and it looks absolutely beautiful. One thing Japanese animation does better than American animation is the detail of the environment. What you get here is a world that looks lived in as if they converted every minute detail of live action footage to animation. This is a masterfully done bit of work that feels real and authentic.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a slow yet steady paced film. It’s not frenetic and there is no strong craziness at any real point. Characters are humorous but not outlandishly wacky. This not meant to be lighthearted but rather a serious bit of material. Thus it is a mature story that can also be viewed by children and that’s not because it’s in animated form. They don’t talk down to the audience here and they also do not show anything that can be avoided just for the sake of being able to show it.
This film is not without its flaws. I was a little confused by the workings of if not the purpose of the curse put upon Sophie. Maybe I missed something. I get how it was broken which felt pretty standard but that’s not the problem. I just don’t think it was well explained nor were the motivations for which it was cast upon her.
That was what got the whole story moving and I just did not get the whats and whys of it. Much like the romance it just existed and functioned because that was what was supposed to happen. What gets you this though is a smartly written story that has much to say even if it does so imperfectly.
Howl’s Moving Castle is not a bad movie. It has a ton of great visuals and absolutely breathtaking animation. This is one of the things that may require a second viewing though to get the full understanding of what you all see though I think it would be worth it.