Howl’s Moving Castle

October 24, 2005 on 8:07 pm | In Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki Hayao, Studio Ghibli | 3 Comments

The second film after Miyazaki’s “retirement”, Howl’s Moving Castle is enjoyable, if a bit of a mixed bag.

Sophie Hatter is a young woman who lives as a milliner. She lives in a world at war – and it is never made clear quite why it is warring – and frequently hears tell of the wizard Howl, who eats the hearts of beautiful young women and the like. Sophie does not fear Howl, as she does not believe herself to be beautiful.

One day, Sophie meets Howl in an alleyway. Howl then inadvertently involves Sophie in his battle with the Witch of the Wastes, who later visits Sophie and “curses” her with the body of a ninety year old woman. What’s more, the curse does not allow Sophie to tell anyone that she has been cursed.
Heading out into the world, because she sees little point staying at home, an enchanted scarecrow leads Sophie to Howl’s Moving Castle: a home on legs, where the eccentric (but not heart eating) wizard sometimes dwells with the demon Calcifer and young boy Markl.

The rest of the film is rather hazy; I’m not particularly sure I know what it was actually about. Sophie falls in love with Howl, Howl’s a coward, and all the rest. From the reports that I have read, the war is actually something that Ghibli created for the story, so this is less of an adaptation of Dianna Wynn-Jones’s book so much as it is a use of the same characters and basic concept.

The problem with this approach is that such a haphazard treatment results in something of a haphazard film: to insert the conflict of a war without giving any reasoning behind that war, to have Howl playing all sides of the war without allowing us to understand the world’s approach to wizardry is simply unfair.

Miyazaki is a fan of the redeemable villain, but this reduces the Witch of the Wastes to a flat character who adds little to the film beyond being just about the ugliest thing that Miyazaki has done this side of Princess Mononoke’s demons, and at least they were organic. Miyazaki is also a fan of the ambiguous villain, and we get that in spades with Madam Suliman, whose purpose in the film is the very definition of “vague”. Its greatest crime is that it employs the “instant love” technique to motivate Sophie’s character . I’ll call the whole film vague and leave it at that.

Howl’s Moving Castle is an enjoyable film, but it feels kind of out of place in the Ghibli oeuvre. Ghibli has produced films based on books before, but this is the first foreign book they have adapted. That does not matter, as Ghibli films can provide any sort of atmosphere; the issue with Howl is that it does not strictly make a lot of sense; I really can’t say much more than that.


  1. This Miyazaki’s movie is so beautiful ! I lov that story, it’s very in the line of the Ghibli’s films.

    Comment by Syew — May 25, 2006 #

  2. Howl’s moving castle im sure is vague when you first see it, but i will ask if you were watching it with the dubbing or subtitles? The dubbing does cut out alot of wording as to fit in with the animation so maybe that what caused you to percieve it as vague? I can only say if you love studio ghibli as i do, this film is definately not a disappointment to any viewer whether you like Miyazaki’s other films or not. The world is warring because the opposing country to Sophie’s thought that her counrty kiddnapped their prince, ,this is not true as the prince was turned into turnip head as you see at the end! Howl simply plays the role of general good, hating the fighting he does all he can to oppose both sides! All i can say is you must not have actually paid attention when watching the film.

    Comment by Zoe — January 25, 2007 #

  3. One thing that is very inncorrect in this review is, a reason for the war was given. I know this because i watched the movie with subtitles, and with the origanl japanese and read the manga. At one part, when Sophie is going to the Waste, she passes a group of men talking. One says “You hear they say we stole there prince?” aka turnip head. Thats why the war is going on, because the other country/place/thing believes that they stole there prince.

    Someone has already stated this before me but it irks me so much when people speak as if they know everything about it. I’ve read the book, researched it, owned the manga’s and I am a Miyazaki junky. It fits perfectly well on my shelf with the rest of Miyazaki’s wonderful creations.

    Comment by Mat — February 1, 2007 #

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