a.k.a. Hauru no Ugoku Shiro
Sophie was a plain, young girl who made hats for a living and never dreamed of much. One day she has a chance run-in with a handsome, yet mysterious, man. Before she realizes what has happened, the Wicked Witch of the Waste transforms Sophie into a 90-year-old woman. In order to reverse the curse, Sophie journeys to the castle of the feared wizard Howl. There she finds a job, a couple of weird characters and a magical mystery.
summary by Ender
Highs: Visual mastery; delightful characters and setting; playful music
Lows: Narration a bit off at times
It is always hard to review a Miyazaki film. His reputation is larger than that of any other anime director (or movie director, for that matter), so there is always a feeling of intimidation when confronted by his imaginative cinema behemoths. However, as part of the Anime Academy creed, we put reputation aside to provide critical views of the film itself. With that out of the way, Howl’s Moving Castle is another notch on an already impressive film repertoire.
Like in all of Miyazaki’s movies, we are greeted by a terrific cast of characters right from the start. The demon Calcifer, the apprentice Markl, Sophie, Howl and others all work together in a symbiosis that makes them feel like some strangely familiar family under the roof of a seemingly alive castle. They all fully believe in the world created for them, and as we watch them work their way around, we become enthralled by their actions. Composer Hisaishi Jo conducts a score befitting of all the characters and their world; playful and airy, this is exactly the type of music a magician would ask for.
All of these qualities are exemplified by the breathtaking art and animation. The use of bright (but never garish) colors, intrinsic architectural and mechanical designs, flight sequences and extraordinary camera work bring a world, that by all accounts should not exist, to animated life. Any live-action film could only dream of such dreamscapes. There are times though when the movie’s visual side does not synch so well with the story’s narrative. The story seems to go off in several different directions that will probably leave the audience wondering what is going on. Then again, with a plot as fantastic as this one, the storytelling falls more towards the visual narration than the writing.
By this point, many people will argue as to how much they liked or disliked Howl’s compared to other Miyazaki movies. But as far as animated films in general go, this one will enchant you over anything else. Let it be said that a little magic never hurt anyone.
Highs: Incredibly engaging fantasy; beautifully animated
Lows: Hastily explained; forgettable music
I’ve noticed a somewhat disturbing trend as famed director Miyazaki Hayao nears the completion of his career; his recent anime have focused so strongly on glorious scenes of elaborate visuals dancing with vibrant colors… often at the expense of a balanced narrative flow and quiet moments of introspection. Like in Spirited Away, the characters (and audience) in Howl’s Moving Castle are hardly ever given a chance to catch their breath, and the resulting feeling can be one of exhaustion.
But let there be no doubt that Howl’s is a fine film, worth the price of admission and then some. As is to be expected from a Studio Ghibli movie, the artwork is lush yet wears a haggard, rustic face that is well suited for a world revolving around steam-powered ironworks. Just imagining the enormity of the task to animate the moving castle alone boggles the mind as every movement flows like a fine wine. The characters are no slouches, either, as each of them possesses a countenance that is equal parts salty and memorable.
The story moves at a brisk pace… too brisk. Though the story is fairly coherent, I came away with a feeling that I was sightseeing and the impatient tour guide kept motioning for me to hurry it along. There was so much to see and so little time to see it, so I could hardly allow the view to wash over me before I was escorted to the next scene. And because of this haste-makes-waste philosophy, a key relationship between Sophie and Howl is merely glanced over, making their declarations for each other that much more unsettling. The soundtrack was fairly muted and superfluous, as if heralded composer Hisaishi Jo was only added to the credits as a box office draw.
Howl’s Moving Castle is an adorable film that uses its magic to entrance the audience. And while it certainly deserves its place among Studio Ghibli’s greats, I can’t help but feel that it tries to aspire to so much more than what was ultimately achieved. It attempts to juggle too many great ingredients and thus drops the ball on occasion. Perhaps that’s Howl’s problem, because some of the best anime take a simpler approach and work within those confines.
Howl’s Moving Castle can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.