Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), winner of Best Animated Feature Film 2006, is another anime directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki.  It is based on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones.  I’ll admit right away that I don’t always understand Miyazaki’s style of storytelling, but that’s not to say his anime movies are not entertaining.  It is just that the animation is done in the Akira style of animation.  That mean’s that instead of the very easy to do “move the lips only” style of animation, he animates everything on screen, i.e. fruit falling on the floor from a table, facial expressions, jars breaking, someone peeking their head our from behind a door.  Sometimes, however, I feel that in his zeal to animate everything on screen it gets in the way of the story itself.

A specific criticism of Howl’s moving castle is that, although it is set in a fantasy steam-punk world, where you have coal powered trains, yet flapping airplanes and wizards and witches, the story has nothing to do with the setting at all.  This story could have been told in any setting, and probably would have been more understood.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a story of a very unlikely girl named Sofi, who is of normal looks, getting involved in the world of a Casanova wizard, who normally steals the hearts of young beautiful women.  When Sofi, a quiet and reserved hat maker, is seen by the evil Wicked Witch of the Wastes, she is cursed to be aged to be about 70 years old, with the inability to every speak of the curse.  Sofi sets out to find Howl, who got her involved in the first place to remove this curse.

Sofi the Hat Maker

The backdrop to the story is that their country is at war with a neighboring country, when the prince of the neighboring country goes missing.  We are led to believe that the two countries are the only ones that matter and therefore accusations of kidnapping fall on Sofi’s country alone.

That is the setting for the story and backdrop story, but the real moral of the story is that it Sofi has to come to grips with her own self worth.  Although she finds Howl, the dashing wizard, in his moving castle, she feels he is completely unattainable although he’s right next to her.  What solidifies this feeling of the two being separated in the viewers mind is this age curse that is put on her.  She looks 70 years old visually, so even the viewer is led to understand her feelings of being unable to attain what is right before her.

Grandma Sofi

One thing of note about Sofi, is that we see her change shapes throughout the movie.  In one scene she is the old crone with white/gray hair.  In another scene she is the young original version of herself, cute.  The difference is scene by who is looking at her and again her own self-worth.  When Howl looks at her, or she is feeling her love for him, she is young and cute.  When she “comes to her senses” she immediately ages back into the crone.  The impact of this is wonderfully illustrated by the facial expressions sofi goes through, from being happy to having a frown of realization come over her face that she cannot have Howl.

As mentioned before, the story didn’t even need the setting of both fantasy and steam-punk along with it.  Sure it is nice to have that setting, but I would have liked to have the story be about the setting more, and not a simple chick flick, love story.

[ In my personal opinion, I am against chick flicks because it super-imposes the views of the director / writer upon the female population, as if to say, this is how you should act and behave in a love situation. ]

The Witch of the Wastes

Howl’s Moving Castle deals with a lot of psychological drama that is subtly imposed upon the viewer.  Sofi’s self-worth identification.  Howl’s lack of maturity and standing up to the mother figure that is the head wizard.  Howl’s need to stand up to his former lover the Wicked Witch of the Wastes.  Sofi’s overwhelming niceness by inviting the Wicked Witch of the Wastes to come stay with them.  Sofi’s mother backstabbing her own daughter for her own self preservation.

With all of this going on, it is not necessary to have the setting be fantasy steam-punk.  This could easily be set in modern times.  A whole lot of filler is put into the movie to extend the longevity of it.  Sometimes the filler is just put in to make the movie visually interesting, as mentioned above.

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