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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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
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on 29 September 2005
I was lucky to be in France last year and see this film make its pre-release debut there. I may be 60 years old BUT my childhood still dances at my heels and this film was amazing to watch even though I had difficulty following the language (french). The animation is incredible and I understand that there is also a book available just on the artwork of this production. A collector's item soon, no doubt. I ordered Dianne Wynne Jones' book so that I could fill in the story having been so impressed with the Japanese animation. I have waited somewhat impatiently for this film to be released on DVD so that I can watch it with an English soundtrack and savour every moment of the magic. And it is just that - total magic! Don't try it - BUY it!
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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.
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on 31 March 2016
Classic Ghibli styling. The animation is typically wonderful as the storyline is typically floaty - just what we want: not knowing where we'll end up with plenty of surprises in the meantime. The characters are endearing and one cares what happens to them. This film made me love egg and bacon even more, and made me very hungry, for more Ghibli films, as well as for more fried breakfasts!
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on 21 November 2015
WOW to get 2 copies and one in HD. Amazing. I love this story many might not but I have always had a fondness for Manga and Manga type films.

Howl's Moving Castle has some beautiful bits in and some not so beautiful bits. Wizards and witches exist in this world and Howl is known for his castle that is constantly on the move. Sophie who works in her family shop creating hats, never sees herself as beautiful compared to her sister and her mother she feels dull. However, whilst trying to get to her sister's workplace to visit she is cornered and saved by Howl. Unfortunately a witch who wants Howl's heart finds out and puts a spell on Sophie. Now old she can't stay where she is so she leaves and becomes a cleaning woman for Howl. Things develop along with a war brewing. Everything has a happy ending but the war bits might not be for everyone.
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on 4 January 2007
I was apprehensive about this movie as it received some lukewarm reviews but the film really charmed me and is my favourite of all Miyazaki films I've seen. The lead character is Sophie, a 19 yr old girl transformed into a 90 yr old woman, who has to find a way to break the spell put on her. She finds her way into the moving castle of Howl; the elusive handsome wizard with a reputation for eating pretty girls' hearts. The plot moves at a gentle pace and the story does not talk down to the audience. Having an old lady as the protagonist may not sound appealing at first but Sophie is a feisty character with plenty of life in her and I liked her a lot more than I thought I would. The visual set pieces are lush, dreamy and striking all at once, which create a wonderful spectacle of a film. I may be in the minority of people who prefer the English dubs to subtitles (for anime films) as I really liked Christian Bale's voicing of Howl (squeeing fangirl moment!). The film isn't perfect but if you let the imperfections wash over you and surrender to the film experience you will find a moving story and message.
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