Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Akihiro Miwa, Tatsuya Gashuin, Oizumi Yo
Directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki, and based on the fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle is the story of Sophie, a young somewhat mousy girl who encounters Howl, a renowned wizard. Finding herself cursed to old age by the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself living in Howl’s fantastic moving castle, hopefully to discover a way to dispel the curse and restore herself back to her youth. Set against the backdrop of warring nations, Sophie encounters a variety of people, both magical and not, who have machinations and plans for the power that Howl yields as a powerful wizard. All the while she is not aware of how her strength of character will be revealed and how she may be the key to ending the war.
As one would expect, the art and design of a Miyazaki film is exquisite and beautiful. There is a painterly aspect to the animation that makes any single frame of film, a work of fine art. Beautifully rendered architecture and mechanical designs give a real visual flair to the environments and help flesh out this unique world. The animation itself is extremely smooth with detailed character designs and fluid actions. I cannot say enough how beautiful the film is despite multiple viewings, I still marvel at this achievement.
Departing a bit from the novel, the film nonetheless tells an engaging and wholly interesting story that resonates with pacifistic overtones. As the war in the film escalates, characters find themselves thrust into military conflicts, all the while dealing with their own issues. The timid Sophie we see at the beginning is liberated somehow, despite all the disadvantages she has as an elderly woman, and her interactions with characters reveal a strong and influential person bubbling beneath the surface. Typical of Miyazaki to use a strong female lead, Sophie exhibits terrific development and is probably one of the most dynamically portrayed characters in animation.
Joe Hisaishi delivers yet again a terrific score that provides one of my favorite themes ever in a film. It is both magical and epic to a degree, but altogether appropriate for the events onscreen. Voice acting is very good, with particular notice to the more than adequate English voice cast created by Buena Vista. Featuring voice talent by Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Billy Crystal, Josh Hutcherson, Blythe Danner, Lauren Bacall, and the late Jean Simmons, I dare say that the English dub is better than the original Japanese audio. It certainly fits the names and European look better at the very least.
A fun and beautiful movie, Howl’s Moving Castle has so much going for it that not much can be said negative about it. It’s an entertaining film with great characters that somehow manages to avoid being preachy with its anti-war sentiment and lets the audience develop their own take as opposed to spoon feeding. It is one of the hallmarks of Miyazaki to deliver such a unique experience as this, and this is a film worth revisiting over and over again.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Tales From Earthsea, Castle in the Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service