Starring: Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Akihiro Miwa
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Running Time: 119 mins
Howl’s Moving Castle is a Japanese film about a young woman who is cursed with an old body by a bitter witch, leading her to seek refuge in a strange moving castle in the wastelands, where a handsome but insecure wizard lives.
With its boundless imagination that puts it in the upper echelons of Studio Ghibli’s history, and a big, hugely entertaining fantasy adventure, there’s a lot of fun to be had with Howl’s Moving Castle. As beautifully animated as any film from Hayao Miyazaki, and as delightfully strange as we’ve always come to expect from the director, hardcore Ghibli fans will be right at home with Howl’s Moving Castle, even if it isn’t always as powerfully riveting as some of the studio’s greatest works.
Let’s start off with the animation. As always with Studio Ghibli, this film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The beautiful hand-painted backdrops work perfectly in this hugely imaginative and fantastical world, whilst the crisp and detailed animation of some of the characters and landmarks, from the old women to the moving castle itself, bring an impressive level of drama to the table as well, making this one of Ghibli’s most visually intriguing films.
However, it seems that the brilliant animation is actually one of the few things that this film shares with most of the director’s movies. Normally, you can separate Hayao Miyazaki’s works into two classes – one that centres on small, intimate ‘real-world’ stories (i.e. My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service), and the other that focuses on dramatic fantasies on a massive scale (i.e. Princess Mononoke, Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind), but Howl’s Moving Castle falls somewhere in between.
Its strongest side definitely comes in the more personal story that follows an unconfident young woman hit by a terrible curse, and yet quickly adapts and blossoms as a result. The story here shows that being old doesn’t have to be a complete hindrance, and the way in which we see our main character face up to suddenly becoming elderly with such strength and character makes her hugely likable right up to the end.
As a result, it’s a wonderful watch as we see someone who lacked confidence and strength early on grow so much over the course of the film, and becomes so comfortable no matter what the situation is. It may seem a little odd at first, but it’s a very uplifting and emotionally riveting story that you won’t see too often on the big screen.
On the flipside, we have the bigger, more fantasy-oriented story. Whilst the character-driven plot I just talked about is the main focus of the film, there’s a lot else going on following the world of wizards, witches and wars.
For me, that side of the story was a lot of fun, because it’s just so full of imagination, and keeps building more and more new and colourful ideas and worlds for the characters to interact with, constituting the perfect sort of plot for a proper blockbuster fantasy adventure.
However, my biggest problem with this movie does also come from this side of the story. As fun as it is to watch as an adventure, I really didn’t feel all that riveted by the nitty-gritty of what was going on. Maybe that’s because I was so engrossed by the more personal story of the young woman, but I felt a little frustrated, particularly in the film’s last act, when it switches its focus towards the fantasy side, all the while bringing in a level of dramatic heft to proceedings that I just didn’t feel was merited.
Overall, I really enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s a hugely entertaining fantasy adventure full of life, colour and imagination, all animated beautifully by none other than Studio Ghibli. Its story features an engrossing and often touching character-driven development, as well as a big, action-packed and entertaining fantasy plot, although it doesn’t always manage to pull that off in as serious a way as it tries to in the latter stages, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.