Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) Review

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Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Hauru no Ugoku Shiro
Japanese:
ハウルの動く城

IMDB Top 250 Rank: 189 as of 01/01/2013

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Based on Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Starring Voice Actors:
Chieko Baisho
Takuya Kimura
Akihiro Miwa

(English Dub Voice Cast: Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Josh Hutcherson, Blythe Danner, Jena Malone)

Running time: 119 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking home.

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My Opinion:

Version Watched: In Japanese with English subtitles then the English dubbed version

This is yet another of several Studio Ghibli films in the IMDB Top 250. It’s jumped a massive 40 places from 189 to 149 since I started my IMDB Challenge on 01/01/2013.

For anyone who has never watched a Studio Ghibli movie, there are certain ones I wouldn’t necessarily recommend as an “introduction” to the Ghibli universe. Some may seem very “odd” to the Western world and, although I’m a big fan of the films now, they do take some getting used to. I started on one of the strangest ones (and most loved, it seems): Spirited Away. I found Howl’s Moving Castle the most similar to Spirited Away of the movies I’ve seen so far and, if you’re a fan of one, I think you’ll like the other one as well. I believe I ranked Howl’s Moving Castle above Spirited Away when I did my Top Ten Studio Ghibli Movies (HERE) but that may change when I re-do the list after seeing the rest of the films.

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Subtitled vs Dubbed:

First of all, I’d like to say that I will ALWAYS recommend watching the subtitled version for every Studio Ghibli film. These movies are so different from the animated films of our culture & hearing the original language really preserves the magic feeling of the Ghiblis. There are a few where I’ve only seen the dubbed version as I saw them on TV and, of course, for the ones aimed at kids where you actually do watch them with a young kid, you obviously have to go for the dubbed version. Howl’s is one of the “not for young kids” ones so I highly recommend the subtitles on this one as I hated the English dub. It wasn’t quite as bad as with Kiki’s Delivery Service (I hated the Americanized cat!) but the annoyingly whispery Christian Bale “Batman” voice was SO wrong for the mysterious Howl (plus I hate Bale!) and Billy Crystal was extremely distracting as possibly my favorite character from the film, Calcifer the feisty fire demon. Now, I absolutely ADORE Billy Crystal & think he can do no wrong but, seeing as I’m a huge fan of Monsters Inc, it was very very odd seeing this strange little character in a Ghibli film sounding exactly like Mike Wazowski. That’s not the fault of Crystal, though – I know they hire big names in order to try to sell the film outside of Japan.

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Anyway! Howl’s Moving Castle is a weird one. The story reminded me in a way of The Wizard Of Oz where a young girl (Sophie, who in this case happens to have been turned into an old woman by a witch) goes on a strange journey with an odd assortment of characters (it probably helps that there’s a scarecrow called Turnip Head). No, wait – it’s far more messed up than The Wizard Of Oz… It’s more like Return To Oz.

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With a lot of the Ghibli stuff, it’s the characters that make them interesting as the storylines can be hard to wrap your head around and that was certainly the case for me with Howl’s Moving Castle. I’ve already mentioned Calcifer & Turnip Head but there’s also a cute dog named Heen, a sweet young boy named Markl and the Witch of the Waste, a creepy old woman with a huge face who reminded me of the witch Yubaba in Spirited Away.

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Then we of course have Sophie, another strong young female character like we so often get in Ghibli films (although not the best one – I’d go probably go with Nausicaä), and the intriguing manchild wizard Howl. Howl was a bit David Bowie-like (which I’d certainly not complain about), especially as Jareth in Labyrinth. Howl is kind of a hard character to actually like, unfortunately, until you get to know a bit more about him. Overall, though, I think the true star of the film is probably the “moving castle” itself.

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Summary:

I struggled with this review. I watched this back in September and have already forgotten a lot of the plot. I do think the story in this one is a little too complicated. I know Laputa: Castle In The Sky had a pretty complex story as well but, for me, I liked that one much more & had a lot more fun watching it. Spirited Away is complicated as well but really has one main theme (growing up) that doesn’t get lost in a convoluted plot like I feel the themes in Howl’s Moving Castle do. This is why I like writing reviews – I’m able to think more about a movie as I write about it and sometimes my opinion changes by the end of a review. Although I certainly enjoyed all the colorful characters and once again being a part of that strange Studio Ghibli “world”, Howl’s Moving Castle hasn’t stayed with me the way other Ghibli movies have and I think I ranked it a little too highly in my Top Ten – I’d put it below Spirited Away now & possibly even Ponyo. Definitely worth a watch for Ghibli fans, especially those who like Spirited Away, but it’s not my personal favorite.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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