“Howl’s Moving Castle” stars Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Akihiro Miwa, and Tatsuya Gashūin. Released on November 20, 2004, the film is about a young, cursed hatter who encounters a mysterious wizard and his giant, living castle.
The film is directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who also directed films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, and Spirited Away. It is loosely based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. When I found out about the Studio Ghibli Fest event back in June, I made it my personal mission to watch and review all of the selected anime classics from Hayao Miyazaki on the big screen. Now, my mission is coming to a close (for now) with a film that Miyazaki calls “his favorite creation”. This is one of the films from Studio Ghibli that I didn’t get into that often because of my busy schedule and stuff. I did remember watching it at home that one time and wound up liking it, but that’s about it. So, it would be interesting to see how well it holds up in my eyes. Like the other Studio Ghibli films, the film contains the original Japanese version and the English dub from Disney, which contains the voices of Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, and Christian Bale from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. For this review, I will be looking at the Japanese dub.
Taking place in a fictional kingdom filled with magic and early 20th century technology, the story follows a young woman named Sophie (Baisho), who is transformed into an old woman due to a curse from the Witch of the Waste (Miwa). Her journey to break the spell leads her to a giant, magical castle which consists of a wizard named Howl (Kimura), his young apprentice Markl (Ryunosuke Kamiki), and a fire demon named Calcifer (Tatsuya Gashūin), who is also the source of the castle’s energy and magic. Like his other films, Miyazaki offers plenty of influential themes that some people might miss in their first viewing. The film explores the positive depiction of old age as well as compassion towards others, even the ones who are harmful. It also depicts the harsh effects of war, a theme that was influenced by Miyazaki’s hatred towards the Iraq War in 2003. From my own perspective, Miyazaki has created another brilliant piece of animation art that combines its fairy tale-like love story with its thought-provoking themes. This combination alone provides not only a visually, enchanting experience, but a thoughtful and miraculous story about the values of compassion. The Japanese voice cast delivered solid performances to their well-written characters, including Baisho as Sophie and Kimura as Howl. The animation in the film is pure magnetic and beautifully crafted from its gorgeous landscapes to the fiery depictions of war violence. Heck, even the giant castle with legs was amazingly animated. Once again, the musical score by Joe Hisaishi was top-notch from beginning to end. Trust me when I say this, there’s no composer that can make music in a Japanese animated feature better than Hisaishi. The only minor flaw that I had with this film is that the pacing can be a bit slow during a couple of scenes. The reason why I called it a minor flaw is because it was able to pick itself back up due to the characters and the animation.
Overall, “Howl’s Moving Castle” is a thoughtful and enchanting animated gem that was made by the best of Japanese animation. Miyazaki and the Studio Ghibli team have once again provided a visually beautiful film that is filled with masterful animation, provocative themes, and its convincing sense of wonder. It’s quite a shame that I didn’t watch it as much as the likes of Totoro, Castle in the Sky, and Spirited Away, but who knows? Maybe that will change in the near future? This is another film that I would highly recommend to those who are starting to get into Miyazaki’s works as well as people who are fans of Japanese animation.