Not a lot of directors would be brave enough to take on a love story between a girl-turned-old-lady and a wizard missing a vital organ.
But Oscar-winning director/writer Hayao Miyazaki tackles a new fantasy realm in in "Howl's Moving Castle." In this case, it's the world of fantasy dowager Diana Wynne Jones, and he wraps the storyline in humor, romance and genuine flair. No, it's not faithful. But it is fantastic.
Sophie (Emily Mortimer) is a plain, unhappy young woman working in a milliner's shop. But then the evil Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall) comes into the shop, and turns her into a hobbled old lady (Jean Simmons). Sophie ends up wandering into the Moving Castle, a chicken-legged chaos machine, and encountering the sexy, immature wizard Howl (Christian Bale), smart-aleck fire demon Calcifur (Billy Crystal), and preteen apprentice Markl (Josh Hutcherson).
Sophie appoints herself the cleaning lady and starts whipping the castle into shape, trying to deal with Howl's temper tantrums and the rapidly deepening war. And, of course, trying to de-curse herself. But when she runs an errand that Howl is too scared to deal with, she finds that her new boss has some sinister problems of his own -- including a missing heart.
Don't expect much fidelity to the humorous fantasy novel. Miyazaki takes plenty of liberties with the story, leaving out characters and adjusting others. As a result, it feels more like his story than Jones', with the earmarks of his style -- blobby monsters, colorful rural settings, intense anti-war messages, strange machines, and a Jules-Verne atmosphere of Victorian technology. But "Howl's Moving Castle" is very different from the others Miyazaki has done, since he kept the British flavour of the original book.
Moreover, it's a love story. Miyazaki has vaguely touched on romance in prior movies, but here it's full-blown, and surprisingly un-cheesy. In less skilled hands, having Howl say "I finally found something worth protecting. It's you" would seem inane. In Miyazaki's hands, it's not. And even though Sophie looks elderly through most of the movie, Miyazaki never falls into trite observations about inner beauty. He just lets the story show it.
Not that it's all lovey-doviness -- Sophie's housecleaning and Calcifur ("Sophie, help! I'm going out!") provide plenty of amusement. And the animation is as close to flawless as you can get, from the chaotic absurdity Castle to the breathtaking aerial battles that Howl swoops in on. Tiny details are everywhere, from painted ceiling beams to elaborate doorknobs. Calcifur is the one sore point -- he's not done badly, but he looks vaguely artificial.
There are a few flaws in that the story could have used a bit more fleshing out -- at times the relationships between the characters are sketchy. Not much detail, for example, is given about sorceress Suliman (Blythe Danner) and her relationship to Howl, why she's so peeved at him. And it's a bit hard to comprehend why Howl's condition would turn him into a monster bird.
And while there are the usual "howls" that the English dubbing is inferior to the original Japanese vocal work, the American voice actors did exceptional work. Christian Bale and Billy Crystal are the major standouts -- Crystal is funny and dry as usual, while Bale is sultry, sexy, soft-spoken and deep. Except, of course, when Howl runs around the house wailing that his hair is ruined.
"Howl's Moving Castle" moves on a little too fast in places, but it's still a breathtaking, romantic, colorful ride. A wonderful story, told by one of the few filmmakers who could do it justice.
on 19 January 2008
I've been a fan of Miyazaki's work since I first saw My Neighbour Totoro and Porco Rosso during a mid-90's double bill and fell in love with the intricate stories, simply, yet larger than life characters, and the always breathtaking visuals. A recent Film Four retrospective on the work of Miyazaki and the famed Studio Ghibli has given me the opportunity to reacquaint myself with some of his earlier works, which has really been great preparation for readying myself for a second helping of this!!
Howl's Moving Castle is loosely based on the well-known book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, with Miyazaki and his collaborators opening up and elaborating on the text in order to incorporate many of the more recognisable Studio Ghibli trademarks. So, whereas the book once focused more clearly on the character of Howl, a wizard of dubious reputation, Miyazaki puts more emphasis on the character of Sofi, a heroine in the classic Studio Ghibli tradition. As the story unfolds the changes in the text point back to that earlier Miyazaki classic Porco Rosso, with the film continuing the idea of a character transformed by a curse (in this case, the young Sofi is cursed into the body of an old hag), seeking redemption in a anachronistic universe sometime during the First World War, that is overrun with flying machines, magical potions and other such Ghibli-like touches, such as fire demons, witchcraft and supernatural underworlds.
As with Porco Rosso, the film's setting and the use of iconography suggest deeper themes that most children probably won't pick up on, meaning that this is very much a film to be cherished by adults and adolescents too!! As with all Miyazaki's work, the animation is astounding, here advancing on the lush visuals of previous film Spirited Away to create perhaps the most jaw-dropping animated film ever made (though Mamuro Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2 and Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy are both serious contenders). The colours are rich and vivid throughout, whilst the attention to even the most minute of period detail is impeccable, all adding to that sweeping Miyazaki grace, his feel for characters and his deft understanding of how to construct a sequence (both in terms of action and drama... making the film both magical and plausible in equal measures!!).
Howl's Moving Castle might be a little too obscure and sober for some viewers, especially when compared to some of Miyazaki's more celebrated works, such as My Neighbour Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, however, some perseverance reveals it to be every bit as memorable and beautiful as those two films, whilst the subtle references to early Miyazaki works like The Castle of Cagliostro and Laputa - Castle In The Sky make it an integral and equally magical entry into the Ghibli/Miyazaki canon.
on 6 March 2007
This is a movie I'd easily watch over and over again.
The plot of the movie (briefly) is this. Sofie, a lonely hat maker, is rescued by the mysterious wizard Howl one day. This contact brings her the unpleasant attentions of the Witch of the Waste who transforms Sophie into an old woman. Sofie, unable to speak of the curse, leaves home to find the Witch and be turned back to normal. Along the way, she finds Howl's Moving Castle where she finds refuge as his 'cleaning lady'.
The story is essentially one of love and the pointlessness and waste of war. Two kingdoms are at war over a missing Prince. Howl, ever the mystery man, is summoned by both kingdoms to fight on their side as his two alter ego's (Pendragon and Jenkins) answer to different kingdoms.
The war factor itself isn't a huge part of this story if I'm honest. It's used to show the potential destruction of Howl as he engages in the evil of war (against his will). The development of the love between Sophie and Howl and the desire to break the curses both have is the main plot.
The characters I found interesting, and in Calcifer the Fire Demon's case, amusing. Calcifer, voiced by Billy Crystal, was easily my favourite. The Witch of the Waste was also a very interesting one. She is madly in love with Howl, and her ultimate goal is to win his heart. However, the Witch does change in the depth of her character in the film and illustrates a parallel similar to Yubabba and her sister in Ghibli's Spirited Away.
The animation is as beautiful as you'd expect from a Studio Ghibli film. Visually stunning and hugely colourful, I couldn't take my eyes off it. The voice cast also deserve a mention. Christian Bale voices Howl, Lauren Bacall is the Witch of the Waste, and of course, Billy Crystal. The voice cast illustrates just how high quality Studio Ghibli films are.
The only down sides are (like the negative reviewer mentioned) was the fact that quite a lot isn't explained. I only discovered a missing Prince was the cause of the war after watching it a few times. It then clicked at the end with regard to Turnip Head. This wasn't too clear if I'm honest. Secondly, the war itself seems to take place in a huge black bubble which Howl can fly out of. I'm still not entirely sure what if it is a bubble thing or just a general depiction.
Thankfully the slightly confusing aspects are far outstripped by the rest. I found this film hugely enjoyable and definately one I can watch time and time again.
on 24 October 2006
If you dont know who Hayao Miyazaki is, you're in with a treat with this movie though you need to go get some of his other work 'My neighbour Totoro' and 'Spirited Away' (won an oscar) at the very least as soon as possible! These are Japanese animated movies and as such are a little more sophisticated than the typical US fare which is aimed at young children. The animation and art in this movie really is spectacular, sharp with vibrant colours. The background music is quite pleasing to and the drama of how its been storyboarded, well you just have to see it. I'd recommend you watch the subtitled version as the Japanese voice actors in my humble opinion do a better job than their american counterparts - having said that the US team did a good job with such luminaries as Billy Crystal playing the fire demon Calcifer (see now if they made it in the states what would the fundamentalists say about a cute demon as a hero?) This really is a must get and even ranked among Miyazaki's other films, it stands out as one of the masterpieces. Enjoy.
on 3 September 2007
Miyazaki has always been a brilliant director and all ghibli films tend to be brilliant. But to follow up 2 masterpieces like Princes Mononoke and Spirited Away was always going to be tough. However Miyazaki has managed to keep up with the high standards he has set for himself. Like Spirited Away HMC is an all out fantasy adventure with colourful worlds and larger than life characters. Essentially the film attempts to emulate the sucesses of Spirited Away by creating another imaginative and colourful fantasy film. However the film does fall short of Spirited Away and if you were expecting another film of that calibre you may be dissapointed. There are many similarities with the film. A young girl is trapped by a curse (Chihiro/Sophie) and helped by a young man who can change into an animal and fly (Haku/Howl), she is followed by a silent but loyal friend (No Face/The Scarecrow) and some cute little animals (the bird and hamster/the dog) and there is a female witch as the antagonist (Yubaba/Suliman and the witch of the waste). Despite the fact that it doesnt quite live up to the reputation of its two immediate predecessors, Howl's Moving Castle is an excellent fantasy film and is well worth a watch.
on 13 March 2006
Howls moving Castle, is a stunning film.
With many animation films relying on CGI now, Howls moving castle moves away from the ten a penny films such as Madagascar, Ice age and Chicken Little. Don’t get me wrong they are not bad films, but animation is more than how real a studio can make a chickens feathers look. The animation in these films is more than that. You feel that someone has put time and feelings into these sorts of films. Although it is not as good as princess mononoke or spirited away Hayao Miyazaki still produces a film which makes you feel happy and pleasant at the end of it. It also has funny moments such as the wheezing dog, and what happens to the wicked witch, but it’s more than that. The film has a story line and just allows you to forget about reality, which is why I have given it 5 stars. Hayao never lets you down
on 4 January 2007
I've seen tonnes of ghibli movies and the only ones I like more than this are Nausicaa and Laputa. So basically what happens is the witch of the waste curses Sophie and she goes into the waste to find her. A living scarecrow leads her to Howls castle. Howl's a runaway wizard being chased by the head magician. The story is abour Sophie trying to end the war and uncover howl's past. Hannah's right, the ending is really rushed, but the rest makes up for it. The best bits are the really hellish scene where Howl flies over the battlefield, when the battleship flies over the meadows and when Howl and Sophie are floating and the meteor men cicle around them. The CG and drawing is brilliant and so's the voice acting. The best character is Calcifer, the fire demon (but he just looks like a flame with a face). The people who say the story rambles and is hard to understand are wrong, simple as that. This is absolutly brilliantasic and any anime fan needs this. BUY IT NOW!!!!
on 5 September 2006
What an amazing film! I'm trying to find adjectives that are not going to make me sound gushy--so I won't even try, because I'll lose that game. It is probable that this piece of anime is going to change my whole way of looking at the genre and a lot of other things as well. And, for the Jack Vance aficionados reading this, if I had to make a movie about one of Jack's more colorful books--though it would be more 'adult' than HMC--like The Houses of Iszm, or something from The Dying Earth like the T'sain/T'sais stories, or even Chateau d'If--I now realize that this medium is potentially much more appropriate than something involving human actors. I advise Vanceacs to spend some time with HMC, because it's...just so...
Just about every scene and element in HMC is...well, 'beautiful'. In just about every other hand that could become overwhelming, but a lot of the beauty is subtle enough, so it doesn't hit you in the face or tire you out. HMC has benefited from a unique mix of European and Japanese, in all aspects, ranging from the story to the visuals. Dianna Wynne-Jones's original novel has been modified--as it had to be--and added-to with story elements close to the Japanese soul, like militarism and the dissonances between nature and civilized man; thus creating something that should ring familiar with audiences from both worlds. It could just have been a somewhat dissonant mix of these disparate cultural elements; but in this instance even the dissonances only serve to enhance the dreamy fairy-tale mood pervading the film.
The visuals are unusual for an anime flick and add to the 'European' flavor. The world depicted is an odd melange between motifs familiar from early 20th century Europe--think some halcyon romantic vision of Germany or Austria--with trains blowing billowing plumes of smoke and steam-technology driven conveyances in the city; and impossible aerial vessels, both tiny and huge, hovering above. A colorful idyll of everyday life--something that could have been taken from an Austrian operetta--is contrasted with the fiery destructions wrought by indiscriminately waged war that spares no one. No dead bodies are shown, but they can easily be imagined underneath the rubble.
The visuals also deviate from the usual common in the world of anime, in that the images are in constant motion. Nothing like the stereoptypical, low-cost, technique that mixes static elements, such as characters, their faces frozen in the rictus of a single expression or two, set against a moving background that's basically a short repeating sequence of frames--or vice versa, of course. Faces move as wholes, not just in parts--as, of course, does the Castle itself: possibly the most amazing, dementedly organic, technological structure I've ever seen.
I love Japanese animation, but it has some stylistic quirks that grate on me occasionally. HMC avoided most of those and replaced them with something much more poetic. Add to that the voices of Christian Bale (Howl) and Billy Crystal (Calcifer, the Fire Demon), JeanSimmons and Emily Mortimer (Sophie, old and young) and Lauren Bacall (Witch of the Waste) and it even worked in dubbed translation--though the Japanese original with subtext sometime differs considerably from the dubs; which had to be fitted to make mouth movements and words match up as much as possible: a feat accomplished with amazing skill.
The story of HMC, even with the added dimension and complications of Miyazaki's screenplay/adaptation, is still very simple and to the point. It's all about love and redemption and becoming a full human being and finding purpose. Miyazaki added a note about the tragedy befalling those forced to get involved directly in the details of battle, and the impact this has on their spirits--surely a very pertinent topic at any time, and maybe even more so now.
What was maybe the most amazing thing was a total lack of cynicism about the main character's motives and aspirations. Even the Witch of the Waste--love the play on words here!--turns out just a sad disappointed creature, for whom things have just gone awry. The only real eviloder in the piece is the King, an air-headed war-monger without the slightest trace of conscience or sense of perspective, who deals with war and killing like it was a video game. But he appears for less than a minute, as if to emphasize his ultimate insignificance for history and everything. Can there be any more implied contempt than by this limitation of 'screen time' as it were?
The whole thing is held together by the whimsical and occasionally erratic and hard-to-fathom vision and mental processes of Hayao Miyazaki; and it may be this whimsy and the connections he made in his head between this and that and the other--and which somehow made it onto the screen, occasionally explicit, but often hidden in tiny details of story and/or visual design--that make HMC into the extraordinary work of art and beauty it is, and which takes it from 'great' to 'masterpiece', a term I use very seldom. There is stuff in here we'll probably never understand; and I quite like that. Only the simple-minded or the dull need everything spelled out and things neatly arranged in sensical patterns. Life isn't 'sensical'; we would just like to pretend it is.
Rent it. Buy it. Just don't miss out on it.
Till Noever, owlglass com
on 16 March 2008
This film is great! I bought it from a shop in my town last september and haven't watched it until last night, and it was brilliant! It was so heart warming and the friendly atmosphere the film had was very nice. The graphics are brilliant - what more could you want on a film?
on 6 February 2006
I didnt even know this movie existed until my 18th birthday when i took some friends to the cinema. The only thing out that we hadn't already seen was "Howl's Moving Castle." So we took a chance and dived in not knowing a single thing about the film. Boy am i glad we did! This movie is simply gorgeous, in every sense of the word. Miyazaki has quite rightly been crowned the "Walt Disney of Japan" and this film really does fall into that category.
The settings are beautiful and the story grabs you from the word go. The characters are varied and lifelike drawing you in further. You immediately develop an empathy for the main characters, and you find yourself almost praying for a fairytale ending. And being Miyazaki, this does not disappoint.
Given that the director's last picture, Spirited Away, won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, this film did have a lot to live up to. After seeing Howl's Moving Castle I can honestly say Miyazaki has not let any standards slip.
In my opinion, this film is near perfect. It has a beautiful story, complimented by a moving score, and epitimises any person's fantasy of castles, witches and magic spells. I only hope it receives the recognition it deserves.