Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving CastleType: Movie
Genre: Fantasy
Vintage: 2004

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 09 Mar 2006
revised 17 Mar 2006

Grade: A

A Japanese adaptation of a British novel. Hayao Miyazaki, ever the master of animation, takes a great British story and makes it his own.

Plot Summary
Eighteen year old Sophie Hatter is a simple hatmaker who is frustrated by the idea that the other girls in town seem to be so much prettier and happier than she is, not the least of whom is her younger sister Lettie. Talk of the town is that the wizard Howl eats the hearts of these fetching young ladies, and Sophie laments that she’d never be pretty enough for someone like that to come after her. One day while walking around town Sophie encounters two soldiers who start to make mocking advances at her, when a dashing young man comes to rescue her from the uncomfortable situation. Sophie soon learns that this man was none other than Howl, and he is being pursued by the Witch of the Waste. The Witch, having found out that Howl took an interest in Sophie, visits Sophie and casts a spell on her, turning her into a ninety year old woman. Sophie decides she can’t stay at home in this condition, so she sets out to find somewhere new. When things can’t get any worse, thanks to a hopping scarecrow who is just trying to help, the moving castle of the wizard Howl turns out to be Sophie’s refuge for the night.

The Review
Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of Studio Ghibli. In my mind, they are to anime what CLAMP is to manga… the best of the best.

Howl’s Moving Castle is adapted from the British novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. When I found out that this was going to be the next Ghibli film, the first thing I did was get the book to read ahead of time. It turns out that this is not a necessary step, but it does help as far as character backstory goes. The reason one doesn’t need to read the book first is that the movie is not a strict adaptation of the novel. Hayao Miyazaki has taken the core elements of the novel and fabricated his own tale around them. Each version of the story is an independent telling.

The artwork, as to be expected by Ghibli, is nothing short of amazing. The mechanical designs recall Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso, while the scenery is reminiscient of Kiki’s Delivery Service and Porco Rosso. Miyazaki continues to honor strong young women with the lead in Sophie, with the twist this time that Sophie spends most of the movie being an old lady. I found that Miyazaki’s fingerprints on this story link the most strongly to Porco Rosso. While never clearly stated in the movie, Sophie lives in Europe (outside London per the book) sometime in the Victorian era. A wonderfully anachronistic part of Miyazaki’s world is that despite being presumably the late 1800s or early 1900s, peoples’ preferred mode of travel is a steam-powered flying scooter. I kept waiting for Fio (from Porco Rosso) to come and fix something.

It hasn’t replaced Spirited Away as my favorite Ghibli film, but each movie the studio puts out is nothing short of a masterpiece in its own right. An absolute must for Ghibli or Miyazaki fans, or anyone who just enjoys a great movie, animated or otherwise.

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