Howl’s Moving Castle / Howl no Ugoku Shiro
Review By: John Fragglepuss Evans
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Studio Ghibli, Magic
First Released: November 2004, 119-minute film
Summary: Sophie is a fairly simple girl who works at a hat shop. She is saved from some colorful characters one day by the wizard Howl. Everything changes for Sophie when the Witch of the Waste stops by Sophie’s hat shop and casts a nasty curse on Sophie, turning her into a decrepit old woman. Sophie sets out on a quest to find a way to reverse the curse and turn back into her original youthful self. The journey leads her to Howl’s castle, a moving behemoth of a structure home to Howl, Calcifer, and Markl.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Howl’s Moving Castle is a beautiful film full of all the pieces that make a Studio Ghibli masterpiece. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The film is based on the novel of the same name, written by Diana Wynne Jones. The plot of the film is similar to the novel, but Miyazaki altered some aspects to fit his style of storytelling.
One of the first things I notice in Howl’s Moving Castle is the wonderful animation. Howl’s castle is animated in such a detailed manner that it is fascinating to watch as the castle moves across the plains. Inside of the castle are many rooms that transform throughout the movie, each showcasing the artistic talent of Ghibli. Howl’s room is my favorite. It is bright and shiny with countless devices that I cannot even begin to describe.
The characters are another part of the show that makes it so enjoyable. From minor to major, each character serves a purpose, even Heen, the dog with chicken-feet. Sophie is a joy to watch. She starts off as simple woman with seemingly low self-esteem and transforms into a powerful force, despite her lack of magic in a world filled with it. Howl is another character that changes from the beginning to end, even though his transformation is much different than Sophie’s. The relationship between Howl and Sophie is beautiful to watch, especially because it is not a typical romance. Sophie does not depend on Howl for strength, but the two are able to grow as individuals while a natural relationship grows because they are both trying to better themselves. Going back to the characters in general, even the Witch of the Waste develops as the film progresses, which is another staple of Ghibli films, the lack of an absolute villain. While the Witch appears to be the villain at the beginning of the anime, we find out there is more to it than that.
Another staple of the Studio Ghibli films in the United States is the quality of the English translation and the voice talent used, thanks to Disney playing a large part in bringing the Studio’s films over to the U.S. Howl uses the talent of such actors as Christian Bale and Billy Crystal, as well as providing a top-notch translation, which is often a problem with English dubs in anime. I am sure that a lot of anime veterans will criticize by saying, “The only real way to watch anime is with the original Japanese and subtitles”, but if you are going to watch anime in English, Studio Ghibli films are a good way to go. This is particularly true if you are new to anime. Ghibli films are great starter films in the world of anime, especially due to their quality English translations.
I could continue on for days about all the positives in Howl, but I will finish with the music in the anime. The soundtrack is composed by Joe Hisaishi, the same as most Ghibli films. If you have seen other Ghibli films, you know this is a good thing. The music is memorable in so many ways, from the way it fits into scenes to the way you remember it for days after you watched the film. The soundtrack is such that you can listen to it later and it will remind you of the specific scene in the movie.
You might enjoy this if: You have watched other Studio Ghibli adventure films, such as Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, and enjoyed them. Howl’s Moving Castle is a great film for the whole spectrum of anime fans, from Otaku to someone that has never seen anime in their entire life.
You might not like it if: You think that since anime is animation, it is a cartoon, therefore childish and lacking in depth.
Note to the Viewer: If you love the music in this film as much as I do, you can find renditions of it all over the place online.
AMV –What If by Schu
(Warning, the AMV contains spoilers)