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

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

With this fifth Transformers movie, it seems clear that Michael Bay is still trying to...

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Notorious British filmmaker Nick Broomfield teams up with Austrian music documentary producer Rudi Dolezal to...

The Mummy Movie Review

The Mummy Movie Review

To launch their new Dark Universe franchise, Universal has taken an approach that mixes murky...

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

Daphne du Maurier's 1951 mystery-romance novel has been adapted for theatre, radio, TV and film,...

Advertisement
Wilson Movie Review

Wilson Movie Review

It's never helpful when a comedy becomes a bit too smug about its own quirkiness....

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

A fictionalised story from the life of Wolfgang Mozart, this lavishly produced period drama is...

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

This British satirical comedy may be a bit of a mess, but since it's based...

Detour Movie Review

Detour Movie Review

This may look like a rather typical American indie thriller, but British filmmaker Christopher Smith...

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Boldly optimistic, this action-packed adventure breathes fresh life into the DC universe with a welcome...

Baywatch Movie Review

Baywatch Movie Review

Clearly, it's a risky proposition adapting a cheesy vintage TV series for the big screen:...

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

Subtitled Salazar's Revenge in the UK, this fifth film in the long-running series never quite...

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.