Movie Review – Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki; English translation directed by Pete Docter

Starring the voices of Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, and Billy Crystal.

Like a lot of die-hard animation geeks, I’ve discovered Hayao Miyazaki.  It all started in university, when my movie gossip sites started talking about the forthcoming dub of Princess Mononoke.  The first film I actually saw was Kiki’s Delivery Service, which was shown at Augustana’s budding young anime club.  And from there…I was hooked.  I arrived in Japan about a year late for Spirited Away, although people still couldn’t stop talking about it.  When I saw that Howl’s Moving Castle had finally come to Edmonton, I knew that now I could see Miyazaki on the big screen.

The film opens on Sophie (Mortimer), a young woman working in a hat shop in a vaguely European town at the outbreak of a war.  Sophie seems to suffer from a serious lack of confidence, as she just spends her days toiling in the back room and putting herself down.  Then one day, she has a chance encounter with the enigmatic wizard Howl (Bale), and this makes Sophie the target of the wrath of the Witch of the Waste (Bacall).  The Witch casts a spell on Sophie, turning Sophie into an old crone (now the voice of Simmons).  Wanting a way to break the curse, Sophie quests into the Wastes, where she soon finds herself taken in by Howl and she becomes the housekeeper of the titular castle.  Here, she gets to know Howl and finds that he’s a rather angst-ridden soul.  With the war on, Howl has been summoned to fight in the King’s army, but Howl doesn’t want to.  Our good man Howl is a draft-dodger.  But, it’s not long before Sophie starts turning Howl’s life around, and the lives of those around her:  Howl’s apprentice Markl, a fire demon named Calcifer (Crystal), and a voiceless scarecrow that Sophie dubs Turniphead.  Together, they find out how to break all of their respective curses – and discover a little something about themselves.

I have finally seen a Miyazaki film on the big screen, and it is good.  The moving castle is truly one of the most intriguing concepts ever to be seen on the screen.  I do have to agree that it’s a notch or two below Spirited Away.  It’s like Studio Ghibli’s take on Disney fair…this is Miyazaki’s Beauty and the Beast.  But then, some of that may be due to the translation.  Like Spirited Away, this was dubbed by the folks at Pixar, with Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter directing the American voices.  Bale once again has bowled me over, making a Howl a commanding yet tortured soul.  My only objection has to be Billy Crystal, who just acts far too much like…Billy Crystal.  All in all though, this a very good film and I enjoyed it immensely.

3 Nibs