Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Japanese; Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Akihiro Miwa, Tatsuyan Gashuin, Ryûnosuke Kamiki
English; Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer, Billy Crystal
Synopsis: Sophie is a young girl working in her mother’s shop making hats. That is until a chance encounter with the wizard Howl turns her world upside down. Upon returning home from this meeting she meets the Witch of the Waste, herself desperate to find Howl. The witch casts a spell on Sophie aging her to a very old woman, and even worse, she is unable to tell anyone about the spell.
There is no need to question the classic status of many of the films released by Studio Ghibli. In particular, it is extremely hard to go past the work of director Hayao Miyazaki, whom has been responsible for some of the most classic titles in Japanese animated features. His output includes films such as Spirited Away, Porco Rosso, Ponyo, and Princess Mononoke. He is a true master, with films that absolutely transcend language and cultural barriers.
In reviewing Howl’s Moving Castle, I remained a purist, watching the film in Japanese with English subtitles rather than opting for English dubbing. As far as dubbing goes though, this may have been the one film with the potential to break that habit; Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal… it does make for a tempting prospect. In the end though, I remained true to my own particular scruples and watched the film as close to the original vision as I possible could,
Like with many Miyazaki films, Howl induces wonder, beautiful imagery, and a somewhat trippy plot line that all comes together in a wonderous conclusion. He has created some truly unique characters with very unique challenges. Our heroine and audience perspective character Sophie, is a little naive, though through her adventures discovers incredible strength, facing off against obstinate fire demons, witches, and fantastical creatures in a very straight forward manner. Despite all his powers, Howl in many ways is weaker than Sophie, and it is through her that he discovers his own strength, finally having something to fight for. The Witch of the Waste has an interesting and far from typical story arc, that defies the classic Disney story for a lead villain. Finally, the Moving Castle is also inhabited by a young boy, Markl, whom assists Howl in the disguise of an old man, and by a fire demon named Calcifer whom powers the castle, and much more besides…
For those not familiar with Japanese animated features, this is definitely a different style of story telling that may confound to a certain degree early on. Yet there is a lot to discover watching this film, and all questions do get answered by the finale. Miyazaki here continues a tradition with Studio Ghibli which has audiences wait with bated breath for their next release, a reputation that can only be matched in modern-day western animated cinema by Pixar. Watching this film again has reminded me of that magic, so do not be surprised to see the back catalogue of Miyazaki appear in these posts in the near future.
5 stars out of 5