Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
So why cant Disney make movies this good? At least theyve done a decent job of making Studio Ghibli films, specifically the films of Miyazaki Hayao, available in the US. And seeing his films in theater, even dubbed, is a treat. I recently reviewed Kiki's Delivery Service and I talked a little bit about why I love Miyazakis films. Howls Moving Castle has definitely reinforced all of my opinions. Its just a wonderful pleasure of a film.
Howls Moving Castle (Hauro no ugoku shiro) is about Sophie, a serious young woman who acts much older than she is. She works in her familys hat shop and her job is her life. Her sister and mother are both beautiful and flamboyant, with Sophie hiding in their shadows. One day, as she travels to visit her sister, she stopped by two military officers. They wont let her pass but a mysterious man comes to her aid and sweeps her away from the heckling soldiers. Before they are able to get very far, they are accosted in the alley by strange black blob monsters and to escape, the man flies away. He drops Sophie safely at her sisters bakery and warns her not to leave until the blobs have left.
Unfortunately, someone has seen Sophie with this man. She is followed on her way home and once she returns home she is confronted by the Witch of the Waste. The Witch curses Sophie, making her appear to be an old woman and making it impossible for her to tell anyone about her curse. The Witch mentions Howl, a powerful and feared wizard, and then leaves Sophie. Sophie is not able to stay home because no one will recognize her, so she sets off to find Howl and break the curse. She is welcomed into his castle while he is away and makes a deal with his servant, the fire demon Calcifer. If he helps her to break her curse, she will help him break the spell that both he and Howl are under.
Howls Moving Castle is a wonderful film. The plot centers on Sophies struggle to break her curse and Howls spell but of course that is not all that it is about. Thematically, Miyazaki explores the nature of love, the evil of war, and the dangers of greed. Like Princess Mononoke, there are some heavy issues at hand. However, I didnt think it ever quite got to the level of violence found in Princess Mononoke and while there are scenes of war and a few drops of blood, this film is more family appropriate.
I think the thing that struck me most about this film was its animation. The visuals are amazing. Miyazakis animation is always so rich and vibrant. He has a fantastic use of color and the character design is always delightful. As with his other films, there are adorable secondary characters but again as with his other films, they all serve a purpose and dont bog down the film with unnecessary cuteness. Also as with his other films, there is no absolute villain. I really enjoy how he always masks the line between good and evil in ambiguity. There are absolute evils, but there are no absolutely evil people.
The only thing that may be cause for complaint in this film is the pacing. Its a bit slow to get going and I think that may make it a little hard for some viewers to get into. I also cant talk about how the dub compares to the original Japanese with subtitles, as Ive only seen the dub. I enjoyed the voice acting of the English actors though and thought they did a first class job. Ill see the subtitled version as soon as I can, but that probably wont be until the DVD is released. For now, Im just pleased I was able to watch this on the big screen. His animation is so beautiful that the theatrical experience is definitely worth the ticket price.
What I wish I could convey in this review, but what Im sure I cant, is the sense of magic that his films create. Im not talking about magic in the sense of the magic that the witches and wizards use. Im talking about the feeling that I get in my gut as Im watching. The films themselves are magical, visually, thematically, and character-wise. These movies make me laugh out loud, they make me smile; to put it simply, they make me happy.
While I wouldnt call Howls Moving Castle my favorite Miyazaki film, thats not saying much. At this point if I had to rank them, the order would be: Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howls Moving Castle, and Kikis Delivery Service. But Ive loved all four of them and gladly recommend them all. And if you have a chance to see any on the big screen, you should.
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8