Howl's Moving Castle

"Very Good"

Howl's Moving Castle Review


Similar to Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle is a sumptuously illustrated fairy tale with a pro-environment and anti-war slant, though unlike those modern classics, the animé titan's latest suffers from a narrative confusion that bogs down its initially effervescent spirit. A gloriously animated fantasia blessed by familiar Miyazaki hallmarks - vibrant, ethereal artwork, whimsical creatures, a rural world in which mysticism and technology happily coexist - the film (being released in both subtitled and dubbed versions, the latter of which I saw) has a light aura of juvenile romanticism and a manic, tangible physicality that stands head and shoulders above anything previously crafted by the maestros at Japan's legendary Studio Ghibli (including Katsuhiro Otomo's recent Steamboy).

The story of a young girl who, after being changed into an elderly woman by an evil witch, joins forces with a petulant playboy wizard against a nefarious sorcerer, Howl's is akin to a cluttered, cacophonous childhood dream come to life. However, as with dreams, Miyazaki's film is also far-too-often a bewildering jumble of intriguing ideas and ingenious images that never fully coalesce into a moving or compelling whole.

Sophie (Emily Mortimer in the dubbed version) is a hat-maker working in her mother's shop when, on a casual mid-day stroll about town, she's whisked into the air by a dashing man who, it later turns out, is the enigmatic Howl (Christian Bale), a reclusive wizard who roams the countryside in an ambulatory castle (courtesy of its mechanized chicken legs) that's powered by a fire demon named Calcifer (Billy Crystal). After Sophie is turned into an old lady (Jean Simmons) by the jealous Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall) - who covets Howl's heart - she journeys to Howl's castle, where she becomes the new maid and matronly figure, caring not only for the dapper sorcerer and Calcifer but also Howl's young apprentice Markl (Josh Hutcherson), a pogo-sticking scarecrow dubbed Turniphead, and the now-infirm Witch of the Waste.

That Sophie's physical conversion into a senior citizen also results in mental maturation (as she now suddenly possesses the wisdom and patience of a grandmother) makes next to no sense. But illogicality is part and parcel of Miyazaki's storytelling (loosely based on Diana Wynne Jones' novel), which soon takes off into ever-more-elaborate flights of fancy that - whether it be Howl's ability to take the shape of a winged creature or the nebulous war being orchestrated by Howl's former mentor, the sorcerer Madam Suliman (Blythe Danner) - are inventive and enthralling in spite of their general lack of coherence.

Such bountiful creativity seeps from every pore of Howl's Moving Castle, whether it's the titular mansion's outward appearance - a hulking, pulsating blend of iron gaskets and gears that looks like a fish-toad hybrid - or its front door, which magically opens onto different, varied landscapes including a fog-shrouded mountain and a sunny shipping port. Amidst this lavish visual splendor, the film's themes about family, ecology and the pointless folly of national conflicts turn into mere afterthoughts, and because so little time is spent on the young Sophie before her transformation, one never gets a clear sense of her character's motivations.

Still, despite his plot's eventual devolution into perplexing chaos, the filmmaker's attention to detail (such as Calcifer climbing on top of, and around, the logs that fuel his flames) and humanistic affection for his protagonists nonetheless shows in every vividly sculpted frame. And anyway, given the current, uneven state of domestic Hollywood animation, even a lesser Miyazaki effort is superior to 99 percent of its American contemporaries.

Aka Hauru no ugoku shiro.

That's no castle.



Howl's Moving Castle

Facts and Figures

Run time: 119 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 20th November 2004

Box Office USA: $4.5M

Box Office Worldwide: $234.7M

Budget: $24M

Distributed by: Buena Vista

Production compaines: d-rights, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, DENTSU Music And Entertainment, Mitsubishi, Nippon Television Network Corporation (NTV), Studio Ghibli, Tohokushinsha Film, Tokuma Shoten

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 139 Rotten: 20

IMDB: 8.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: Takuya Kimura as Hauru, Akihiro Miwa as Arechi no Majo, Tatsuya Gashûin as Karushifâ, as Koshô, Yo Oizumi as Kakashi no Kabu, Akio Ôtsuka as Kokuô, Daijiro Harada as Hin, Haruko Kato as Sariman, Ryunosuke Kamiki as Marukuru, Chieko Baishô as Sofi

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Snatched Movie Review

Snatched Movie Review

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming...

Jawbone Movie Review

Jawbone Movie Review

Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the...

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) remakes the 1949 Ealing comedy classic, although it's difficult...

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events...

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in...

Advertisement
Sleepless Movie Review

Sleepless Movie Review

In remaking the 2011 French thriller Sleepless Night, the filmmakers have dumbed down both the...

Unlocked Movie Review

Unlocked Movie Review

By injecting a steady sense of fun, this slick but mindless action thriller both holds...

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

A seriously impressive feature directing debut with a star-making central performance, this period British drama...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It was never going to be easy to match the impact of 2014's Guardians of...

The Promise Movie Review

The Promise Movie Review

The director of Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, turns to another humanitarian horror: the systematic murder...

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.