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Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro) (2004)

  Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Cindy Davis Hewitt, Donald H. Hewitt, Hayao Miyazaki, Diana Wynne-Jones
Starring: Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura
Links: Howl's Moving Castle on the IMDb, Buy the Book
Genre: Cartoon/Animation

This movie gets: 9.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro) (2004) is also mentioned in pearly's review of Ghibli: The Miyazaki Temple (2005) and pearly's review of Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986).

"Counting the days until I can see it again" - a review by pearly

Regular readers of this site may have realised that I am a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki, and that I have been looking forward to seeing this film ever since I first heard that it was being made, and even moreso since I bought the book and read it last year, knowing that the film was soon to arrive. They will also not be surprised to learn that I considered flying to Sydney for one day when the film showed at their film festival a little bit earlier than its Melbourne debut at the MIFF just two days ago.

But I've finally seen it now. And was it worth the wait? Why, yes, it most certainly was.

Howl's Moving Castle is the story of Sophie (Chieko Baisho), a young woman who works as a hatter in a small town. When one day she accidentally upsets the Witch of the Waste, she is put under a spell which transforms her into an old woman, and she is not able to tell anyone that she has been cursed. At a loss as to how to handle her situation, Sophie leaves her work and home, and wanders up into the hills where, after helping an enchanted scarecrow, she is led to the door of Howl's (Takuya Kimura) castle. She finds shelter there, and becomes an integral part of the strange inner workings of the castle, as she tries to figure out the mystery of Howl's fire demon Calcifer, in order to try and break her own curse.

Miyazaki has once again created a little piece of magic with this film. It is, in format, quite similar to his last film, Spirited Away (2001), as it contains many supernatural themes and abstract concepts which will probably become more clear on a second or third viewing. In terms of themes, it is based around a young girl / woman, so in that way, it's similar to pretty much every other Miyazaki film. In this case, though, there's the twist of the young girl being trapped in the older woman's body. The other Miyazaki themes that are present are the castle (this is his third film to have a castle mentioned in its title, so you can see his fascination with them), and the use of strange flying devices, as well as the aforementioned spiritual / mystical side.

I found that my viewing of the film was enhanced by having already read the book, as some of the concepts that are quite detailed in the novel by Diana Wynne-Jones are only sketchily hinted at here, and though I'm sure it wouldn't have mattered at all not to have totally understood, I had a bit of an advantage in understanding what was going on. Having said that, the film version of the story is, though similar in many ways, actually quite different in a lot of areas. Perhaps the one thing I thought that this film version lacked was a bit more of a background into Sophie's life. The people that were in her life before she was put under the spell were introduced, but there didn't really seem much point in doing so, as they were barely acknowledged afterward. A bit more expansion on this would have given a clearer picture on exactly who this Sophie character was, and added a dimension of emotional pull into the story. Other than that, most of the changes were necessary, and Miyazaki's additions added that special magical touch (as well as making the tale just a touch more Japanese) - you would expect nothing less from him.

One of the great things about this film was that, added to the usual things I like about a Miyazaki film, there was a comedy element which I can't recall being as prevalent in his other films. In particular, the character of Hin, an overweight dog who becomes friends with Sophie, acts as a sidekick in the best possible way, and provides many laughs. When he gets together with the Witch of the Waste, they're quite the comic duo, and reminded me a fair bit of the two leads in The Triplets of Belleville (2003).

This was the first time that I got to see a Miyazaki film in the cinema, and it was quite an experience. From the moment that the Studio Ghibli logo came on screen, the audience erupted into applause, and I got butterflies in my tummy from excitement. And, luckily, there was no subsiding - the film lived up to all the expectations I had for it. Upon its conclusion, the audience again cheered, and it was clear that not many (any?) of the many big Miyazaki fans in the audience were going home disappointed. Fingers crossed that I am just as happy with my other big must-see for the year: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).

One last thing... I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again, but please, if you can, watch the Japanese language version with subtitles, rather than the English language one. Case in point: the character of Calcifer is voiced by Billy Crystal in the English language version.

pearly gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 26 Jul 2005

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Reader comments

  1. This movie was absolutly amazing I could watch it over and over again. I have not yet seen a movie by Hayao Miyazaki that I have not fallen in love with.

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Tysoin on Tue 28 Mar 2006 03:22 #

  2. This was awesome to the extreme.

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from Chase on Tue 28 Mar 2006 03:23 #

  3. This was an amazing, fun, wonderful film for the whole family Hayao Miyazaki is a genius

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Tyson on Tue 28 Mar 2006 03:24 #

  4. great movie

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from paul grayson on Mon 08 May 2006 12:00 #

  5. tirrific movie i wish that they keep making movies like this!!

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from paul on Mon 08 May 2006 12:02 #

  6. how did you come up with the name Howls Moving Castle

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from SArah on Thu 02 Nov 2006 16:32 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 9.50 (6 ratings)

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