Howl’s Moving Castle Review
by M. Handcock
**** 4 Stars
‘Howl’s Moving Castle is a beautiful, moving film (no pun intended) and one that I would recommend to anyone who has the time to concentrate upon the story-line – it isn’t one for background noise.’
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Voice Cast: Takuya Kimura, Chieko Baisho, Akihiro Miwa, and Tatsuya Gashuin.
Synopsis: A young milliner Sophie leads an uninteresting life until she is swept off of her feet by the powerful wizard, Howl. However, the story takes a turn for the worst when the Wicked Witch of the Waste takes an issue with their budding relationship – she transforms Sophie into an old woman using an ‘unbreakable curse.’ Sophie searches for Howl, believing he can help her, but in reality, she will be the one to help him.
Studio Ghibli films are somewhat of a gold standard in the animation world. The company prides itself on delicate imagery, beautiful soundtracks, and powerful stories that have truly had an impact on their devoted audience – Howl’s Moving Castle is no exception.
Personally, I would hold this film to the same level as other Ghibli greats, such as Spirited Away, Arietty, and My Neighbour Totoro, when comparing the gorgeous style of animation and complimentary music – it’s just incredibly aesthetically pleasing. Howl’s Moving Castle however, is not what some would call a ‘kid’s film,’ the story is so incredibly complex and deals with some adult themes such as war, feminism, old age, and the value of compassion. The film was released in 2004 and its anti-war themes were heavily influenced by the director’s (Hayao Miyazaki) opposition to the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 – he said he felt a ‘great deal of rage’ towards the USA in the period and wanted to create a film that would be poorly received by America. The film is ahead of its time in terms of its blatant depiction of ‘controversial’ opinions, such as an older woman being the leading character, many women in positions of power, and Sophie’s compassion towards all of the characters who have wronged her. Miyazaki also said in 2013, that the film was his favourite creation and that it conveyed the message that life is worth living.
Throughout the film it is not always easy to follow the story (especially if you’re not very good at reading subtitles), the story twists and turns, and loops back upon itself in an interesting way. For example, there is never a clear villain. Characters that seem good and true turn deceitful and evil and the seemingly bad characters are seen for their honest inner truths. For sure, the Witch of the Waste is posed as an antagonist throughout the story, but when you pass the midway point of the move, she isn’t a threat, and you can almost feel the compassion Sophie gives as she looks after her. Perhaps nearing the end, we can also see Howl as the villain of the story – for his lack of heart – or the kingdoms for the raging war (when in truth all they want is their crown prince to return home). In reality, the film shows no true singular antagonist, it is just the story of a woman as she faces the struggles and issues that come with life.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a beautiful, moving film (no pun intended) and one that I would recommend to anyone who has the time to concentrate upon the story-line – it isn’t one for background noise. The ending is also completely satisfying; if watched properly, it gives you enough information to feel content and without the need for a sequel like other animated movies I’ve watched.
Howl’s Moving Castle is currently available on Netflix and was rated U by the BBFC.