As seems to be the case, I kinda missed writing a movie review, especially when I have the objective to have each and every Ghibli’s movies on #moe404‘s review collection! But well, I guess starting slow but steady to review one by one, is exactly what I need to do. So here we go, another movie from one of the greatest anime studio ever has brought us to another treasure to be dissected.
In this current moment, we will take a journey to one of the best Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece, a journey beyond imagination and enter a breathtaking fantasy world which filled with adventure, humour, and a bitter romance story that filled with kindness and sweetness. Should I mention the word “beautiful” too? Well, I guess I should because Howl’s Moving Castle is exactly a beautiful movie to watch.
Are you ready to dissect this movie with me? Is that a yes? Well, let’s do it then! 🤡
starting with the synopsis as usual.
Sophie Hatter, the eldest of three daughters of a hatmaker, is apprenticed to make hats for the people of Ingary city; a place where spells, magic cloaks, and seven-league boots exist. Being a quiet girl who does not expect much from her own future and is content with working hard in her family shop, she finds her life thrown into a turmoil when her feet literally swept off flying on the air by a handsome but mysterious wizard. Moreover, her simple life takes a turn for the exciting when she’s ensnared in a disturbing situation where a vain and vengeful Witch of the Waste who jealous puts a spell on Sophie and alter her to be an old woman.
Away from the raging war which tears the kingdom Sophie lives apart, on the hill away from the city, there’s a moving castle; a cacophony of hissing steam and creaking joints, a jumbled piece of architecture covered with smoke that is billowing from it. Wonder what that is, people in the city used to gossip it by indiscreet talk about an evil wizard known by the name of Howl. Because of that, even Sophie and all the young girls are warned to stay inside and afraid to be taken by the mentioned evil wizard.
In a life-changing adventure, the old Sophie climbs aboard Howl’s magnificent flying castle and enters a magical world where she will encounter things she had never imagined. Along the way her quest to break the spell, Sophie helps a turnip-headed scarecrow, befriends with Howl’s apprentice named Markl, and Howl’s fire demon named Calcifer. In an endeavour to break the spell, Sophie must accompany Howl and becomes the castle’s cleaning lady while little Sophie knows that her problem actually will lead her to save Howl from his own terrible secrets.
In the beginning, Howl’s Moving Castle is the title of a fantasy novel which written by a British author Diana Wynne Jones, published in the year of 1956 by Greenwillow Books of New York. It was a runner-up for the annual Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and won the Phoenix Award twenty years later, recognising its rise from the relative obscurity. Right then in 2004, the book was adapted to an animated film which then nominated for the 78th Academy Award for the Best Animated Feature after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival when the year it was released. More to go … the movie also won the Best Japanese Movie Overall in the Mainichi Film Awards and an Excellence Prize, Animation in the Japan Media Arts Festival, also —next year later— the Animation of the Year in the Tokyo International Anime Fair and the Audience Award in the Maui Film Festival.
Fiuh … that was an overwhelming list of awards! But wait, we need to dissect this marvellous movie even more!
Howl’s Moving Castle explores several themes including destiny, youth, courage, love … but surprisingly, also the theme of wars. Influenced by Miyazaki’s —the Director— opposition to the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003, the movie contains a strong concept of anti-war as Miyazaki himself stated that he had a great deal of rage about it, which then led him to make a movie even though he felt it would be poorly received in the US. It then also explores the theme of coming of age which growth relatively fast, as the movie depicting age positively as something which grants our protagonist a freedom. The movie contains the element of feminism as well, even to carries messages about the value of compassion.
A year before this movie released, Miyazaki said Howl’s Moving Castle is his favourite creation; saying that he wanted to convey the message about life that is worth living. While the material source of the movie focuses on challenging class and gender norms, its movie adaptation is thematically significantly different from the book —where it focuses on love and personal loyalty, even illustrating the destructive effects of this action called war. The simplistic message about how bad war is conceived with some beautiful yet forceful scenes like when Sophie is standing in a beautiful field of flowers and interrupted by a war machine flying in the sky air, one portrayal that is in strong contrast to the other Ghibli’s movies like Princess Mononoke that criticizes military conflict in a more nuanced manner.
But not everything is about war. When it comes to the beauty of how the movie presents itself, Miyazaki stated that an attractive aspect of this story isthe relatively positive light it shed on growing old. It is characterized when Sophie falls under the witch’s spell and becomes an old lady, she feels more able to speak her mind to people around her. Furthermore according to Miyazaki himself, old women are only infrequently allowed to dominate the screen as in Howl’s Moving Castle, which made it a risky concept to be done. But it is so amazing to see a movie which could disrupt the stereotype of an ‘aged unattractiveness’ character as the artificially aged Sophie manages to rescue two attractive men, who later come to love her, and to unintentionally end the war in her country —which we will talk about the characters later in the next section.
The beauty also is seen in the movie when it reflects the element of flying, which is shown by the sequences of several aircraft of inventive design and even Howl’s ability to transform into a bird. As we all know by now that Ghibli studio seems to like a movie which there’re objects flying in it; Miyazaki himself stated that he was attracted to the military aircraft as a child, but then he grew to detest them because of the destructive purpose for which they are created. Thus, here’s now Howl’s Moving Castle, a media which succeeded to craft the image of both the aircraft that is shown as harmless, but also followed by the large military group which depicted as ugly and destructive. It’s a kind of balance where the movie portrays the flight as an object of admiration and awe, but not bury out the fact that it’s also abuse by unscrupulous strategists and rulers.
It’s also the kind of balance where the movie points out the intersection critique of modern society and technology, as we all know most of the Ghibli movies used to set a profound dissatisfaction with modern life, particularly with the effects of technology and a disconnection from nature; one approach which leads many of Ghibli’s movies depict technological hubris as among the roots of evil. Here in Howl’s Moving Castle, the battleships which are seen moving over the landscape are not only deducted as gleaming with modernity and parading righteousness, but also shown to be highly destructive at the same time. Even with the design of the castle, the movie is almost like trying to demonstrate how industrialism could be aligned with nature. Of course, all of these contrast is containing symbols of modernity that all interrupted by the concept of harm, but it is still part of an ecological criticism of modernity; moreover here in Howl’s Moving Castle, you can learn an alternative solution of conflicts and wars in the form of beautiful story and moving pictures.
First of all, I haven’t read the book, which made me couldn’t compare the original story of the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, to the adaptation or comment on the movie’s originality. But after I conducting a little investigation and surfing some forums and boards here and there, I found that the story has several differences between what’s in the movie and the novel. Partly due to the different requirements of how the two media works, the novel has a very large cast of characters including several plot threads that were too complex to be transferred into the movie. That being said, when it comes to the movie, side characters such as Sophie’s second sister —named Martha— are left out even though she played a pretty extensive role in the novel. Same goes for the plot thread involving Markl who is called Michael in the novel, who is even depicted as an adolescent in the novel rather than a chibi boy like in the movie. What more is how the novel depicts the moving castle; which is a tall, dark, and sinister castle just like any frightening wizard’s tower —very different from the complex image in the movie.
So the question is; when the plot is taken into the context of the movie, what have I seen form it? Well, Howl’s Moving Castle is pretty much a love story between an ordinary young woman with a strange and evil wizard. While this premise may sound a little bit cheesy, you’ll be faced right away to more than one plot twist after you watch the first ten minutes of the movie, so I’d be happy to guarantee you will not predict anything thereafter. The movie itself is a massive two hours long, and I think it manages to fill the time very good remembering that I have no time to get bored at all as there is always something happening on the screen.
But despite the movie’s originality, the story does remain rushed in the ending. We’re not talking about the minor plot sequences that are very imaginative because they have nailed that point creatively, but there are a couple of plot holes which has a number of major bugs and has made me feel devastated; because it certainly should not happen. Though this time I will try not to list the deficiencies of the plot, but one of them should you notice it clearly when Sophie take out the power of fire demon Calcifer’s over Howl’s castle, until one minute later Sophie put again Calcifer to its place and persuade him to take again control of Howl’s castle —two different things that are very contradictory to each other. Of course, there must be a good reason for everything that happens, but unfortunately, some of the reasons aren’t explained well enough and left people easy to wrote critics and booed towards the movie.
And when a person has remarked a gap to be criticized, this movie actually is easy to be booed even more. Especially for those who used to enjoy the interaction between the characters, or to be mesmerized by the way the movie explain the characters’ past … you’ll be disappointed at the end, when you watch the last 30 minutes of the movie before all else —which is exactly when everything is rushed towards the final scene, totally will leave you with a bad feeling. For some certain people, the ending part even would make them confused to the point they can’t help but think that at this point, the movie just trying so hard to slap everything together. While as I said before that Howl’s Moving Castle is pretty much a love story, the rushed ending coupled with some unreasonable act of the characters has distracted me from enjoying the movie, even for the first time I question about what this movie really is about.
It was almost perfect before it reaches that point, and I was so sad when I noticed a gap of unexplained rushed scenes. After that, I naturally became more critical and found that our two lead characters are no longer heading towards their right directions. Going the other way around, this hooking us to discuss the characters right very now, so let’s do it!
To be honest, all the characters are not completely bad, you’ll even find them fascinating since the beginning of their appearance. The universe of Howl’s Moving Castle is depicted as not having clear-cut of villains and heroes —or heroines in this context— yet instead, the characters are quite complex and even those that are initially portrayed in a negative light such as Howl himself, are shown to be one who capable of change as over the movie he’s introduced as the vainest and selfish character, but then he learns to put others before his own self at the end.
In the movie, Sophie is shown to overcome extreme challenges by learning to put the well being of those she cares about above her own self-interest, a quality which this movie refers to as devotion. Several of the protagonists in Ghibli’s movies such as Ashitaka and San in Princess Mononoke, or Sheeta and Pazu in Castle in the Sky has learned to survive with the same lesson just like how Sophie did. This concept of moral spreads the entire movie to convey human beings’ ability to be compassionate, such as when the scarecrow holds an umbrella over Sophie’s head when it rains, to even the Witch of the Waste who has nearly destroyed Howl through her selfish behaviour and put Sophie under her spell, but then she helps together to save the castle in the end.
Sophie’s action when she becomes an old lady is those who usually associated with grandmothers, such as being kind and nurturing to those around her and engaging in housework. In Howl’s Moving Castle however, these actions are depicted as being powerful and heroic as well, which gives the movie a feminist aspect and moreover, made Sophie as one of a few strong female protagonists in the character collection of Ghibli’s movies. Plus, even though Sophie manages to make her presence in the castle legitimate by claiming to be a cleaning lady, the movie goes on to show that the housework is equitably distributed, which bolster up her feminist aspect of the movie even more.
Overall, I really like to see all the development happens to the characters, to watch their interaction and growth has made me so happy. But, the other thing the movie lacks relative to the novel is the sense of bite to Sophie and Howl’s relationship; where practically the whole point of the romance in the novel is that Howl and Sophie —two stubborn individuals who hide a significant part of their personalities and an apparent total mismatch of a couple— fall in love in a way that almost in spite of themselves. One of the parts which aren’t adapted to the movie including an explanation of Howl’s frequent disappearances, which is the consequence of Howl’s habits as a womanizer, that has to later makes Sophie see him as a superficial and cowardly person; but the movie not even touch this approach, and that makes me sad because I really like to see this to be brought up to the movie as well.
visual and arts.
One attempt which Ghibli never failed in doing is giving the enjoyment for use to see the beauty of anime on a whole different level, though in Howl’s Moving Castle it kinda has also another different issue for themselves. While the graphics do look amazing and all the characters design are so attractive, their movie which produced three years earlier —Spirited Away— actually has more vivid colours and a more pleasing way in flashing fast-moving scenes such as when they’re in the middle of chasing or fighting.
But let us stop from doing these comparisons, and see what’s good about this movie from the big picture instead. Put this movie outside the boundaries of Ghibli productions, Howl’s Moving Castle actually has a way higher level of production when compared with the general anime and cartoons of the time it was released —2004. Their animation is very fabulous, I even see Howl as one of the coolest male lead characters that created by Ghibli. All the backgrounds are also beautiful as usual, the typical layers of CG have blended very well, even the details of the moving castle is breathtaking. It all suits the context of the movie and all the characters are fits their roles and personalities.
When it comes to the music though; while it’s not memorable, it still remains very fitting and enjoyable to hear. It was composed and conducted by Joe Hisaishi, an underrated composer and director who responsible for over 100 soundtracks and conventional albums dating back to 1981. Of course, he is best-known for his work with the Ghibli studio, including his add for the soundtrack in Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, but also contributed to some other works outside of Ghibli studio including a series of the huge franchise Gundam. It was a good experience, including his choice for the opening theme; a single titled “Sekai no Yakusoku” aka. The Promise of the World which sang by Chieko Baisho, it was a gem to hear.
closing – nesha’s final verdict.
Okay umm..,.. Howl’s Moving Castle might one of the few anime movies which succeeded in balancing its characters’ act of powerful and weak, positive and negative, nurturing and selfish, to maligned and loved; shows off its characters which cannot be simply categorized or stereotyped even though they still can be dismissed as ones who fantasy malefactors embodied by evil witches. A lot of thought from the novel has been put together into an almost two hours screentime, not to be forgotten the flow of scenes from one to another, backed with the beautiful canvas of scenery and fitting soundtrack … the movie is definitely an amusement.
Although the genre is focused on fantasy and the romance between Sophie and Howl, there are plenty of other emotions for you to enjoy as well; one of many is the interaction between Sophie and the fire demon Calcifer, a reason that for some people has made Howl’s Moving Castle as one of their favourites movies. Though yes, there are actually a lot of cuts when it compared to its material source, not to mention the ending that is so rushed … but let us agree, the only type of person who will see this movie as bad is someone who has read the novel and demented mad because its movie adaptation takes turn miles away from its material source.
But guess what?! You shouldn’t be feeling down because of all that, considering the fact that Miyazaki has travelled to England in the summer of 2004 to give the author of the novel a private viewing of the finished movie, and when he does it; Jones has been quoted as saying …
It’s fantastic. No, I have no input —I write books, not films. Yes, it will be different from the book —in fact, it’s likely to be very different, but that’s as it should be. It will still be a fantastic film.
— Diana Wynne Jones.
So if you ask me; is Howl’s Moving Castle still worth your time? Then the answer is of course a yes, you silly goose! The movie is filled with so many things to catch, even the ending is still kinda tasteful to watch despite being so rushed. Just … prepare a little bit for a few unexplained scenes and some unreasonable act of its characters. Other than that, everything is great. Even (*spoiler) the fact that Sophie kissed all the key characters in the ending, will only be an awkward thing to think about if you really think about it really hard.
additional pieces of information.
- Howl no Ugoku Shiro
Howl’s Moving Castle
- premiered in the winter, 20.11.2004
- nesha’s review of an anime movie
- from the studio of Studio Ghibli
- tagged under the genre of #adventure, #drama, #fantasy, and #romance
tagged under the subgenre of #sorcery, #wizards, #air_force, #demon, #magic, #mina, #novel, and #steampunk
- the age-rated as G
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Anyway, thank you for reading until the very end. Keep watching anime, and I’ll see you again next time! Bai-bai now~
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