IMDB #233 Howl's Moving Castle

And now it’s time for a wonderful entry on the list, 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro).

The Key Players:

Hayao Miyazaki, a box-office star in his native Japan, is the co-founder of Studio Ghibli animation and the writer/director of some other films on this countdown. He’s got lots of animation-related awards, including an Oscar for Spirited Away. His films are uniquely crafted, yet by far the most accessible anime for those of us that aren’t anime people.

When I watch Miyazaki films dubbed into English, I like to play a game called Guess That Celebrity Voice! I believe, when watching this for the first time, that I correctly called Christian Bale as the voice of the titular wizard Howl and Billy Crystal as the fire demon Calcifer. I missed Emily Mortimer as the protagonist Sophie, Jean Simmons as an older version of Sophie, and Lauren Bacall and Blythe Danner as evil witches.

And finally, this film is the perfect melding of Miyazaki’s sensibility with the author of the young adult novel by Diana Wynn Jones on which it’s based. The first half of the movie mirrors the book closely, but then it diverges in a way much more suited to Miyazaki’s pacifist, man v. nature themes.

The Story:

Is it really important? Miyazaki films are always pretty similar- a young girl has an adventure, there’s a evil witch-type character that turns into an ally by the end, and there are little cute companions of some kind. What more do you need?

But okay- this film is about a girl named Sophie, a wallflower who works in her late father's hat shop, offends the Witch of the Wastes and is cursed to appear as an old woman. So she flees her home, eventually ending up working as a maid for the mysteriously cantankerous young wizard Howl, who lives in a castle that moves on the strength of a talking fire demon named Calcifer. Then more things happen, but really that’s enough for now.

The Artisticness:

This is truly, to me anyway, a case of a book and film that are equally great, but in completely different ways (my all time top example might be The Prestige, number 83). Miyazaki takes Jones’ novel, which is a much more individual coming of age tale (and way more, you know, British and stuff) and makes it nearly entirely his own thing, with Howl being employed by both sides of warring kingdoms, turning into a dragon-type thing and combating huge warships that float on the sky.

Plus it’s a beautiful film, of course. And even with the presence of Billy Crystal as a fire demon apparently straight from the catskills, the dubbing in Studio Ghibli films is pretty easy to stand- normally any sort of dubbed dialogue makes my eye twitch, but it’s easier with anime.


Miyazaki always ends things in relative balance, and HMC is no exception- Sophie saves Howl’s soul, freeing the captive fire demon in the process, and even finds the missing prince that started the war. It would really take longer to explain than it would to just get you to watch the film- this is a fantasy in the truest sense, and one of the best qualities of all Miyazaki films- they don’t explain their complex mythologies bit by bit. You just sort of flow along with them, and things make sense.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Much, much higher. Look, I love Pixar films as much as the next person, but it’s beyond me why they only apply the vast army of technology and creative minds at their disposal to making films that only bend the laws of reality just slightly- they imagine microcosms of things like rats that can talk, toys that can talk, bugs that can talk, but we already know what these things and their environments look like. That’s why Wall-E is by far my favorite, because he shuts the hell up and shows us something new.

The Legacy:

I’m not really sure what studio imports these type of things to these hallowed American shores, but it makes little sense to me to go to the trouble of preparing a well-versed English translation of a screenplay, securing a top-notch voice cast, dubbing a film, and then marketing them in such a way that Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away gross a combined $14 Million in the US. This is in comparison to a combined $500 Million in the rest of the world. Five. Hundred. Million. Dollars. Not a typo.

So beyond being immensely popular everywhere else, it’s a bit soon for this specific entry in the Ghibli oeuvre to have a legacy. But give it time.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube

Some enterprising soul has posted the whole thing on there in 24 inexplicably sequenced parts (it’s cool though, he put the disclaimer “I DO NOT OWN” in the info, so it’s totally legal). But anyway, watch the opening shot of the film as Howl’s castle emerges from the mist, and then the brief scene establishing Sophie’s character. You know what’s noticeably absent? Any sort of cloying voice-over explaining why there’s a castle walking around, or that Sophie is a quiet person, or anything. Kind of gives us credit to pick that up ourselves.

Leftover Thoughts:

  • In one scene of the film when Howl is injured, Christian Bale’s dubbing does lapse briefly into what will forever be known as “The Batman Voice.” I enjoyed it. Did you know Clint Eastwood does The Batman Voice 24/7?
  • The only part of the novel I missed, really, was John Donne’s “Song” being a key to understanding the relationship of Howl and Calcifer.
  • It’s like Miyazaki thinks war never solves anything, or something. Huh.

0 Response to "IMDB #233 Howl's Moving Castle"

Powered by Blogger