Howl’s Moving Castle is the latest Studio Ghibli release from acclaimed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki. Dustin and I saw the film with its original Japanese dialog and subtitles at one of the theaters here in town.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about the movie. It was as beautiful as Spirited Away and as mysterious as Princess Mononoke. Miyazaki has the incredible ability to create a modern animated film that looks like it was originally drawn decades ago during the early years of animation.. on the surface. Suddenly, though, you see the enormous amount of detail each and every scene incorporates. On animation alone I’d be tempted to say that this film surpasses Spirited Away.
It’s the story, however, that differentiates the two. While Spirited Away had a fairly straightforward plot, Howl’s Moving Castle has a plot full of twists, turns, subplots, and dead-ends. Overall it is a fairly simple story: Sofie, a young girl working in her late father’s hat shop, gets cursed by the Witch of the Waste and turns into an old woman. Sofie then sets out to find Howl to have the curse removed. I won’t give any more of the story away, as you should definitely see it yourself. I will say however, that there are plot elements that just do not seem to flow well with the rest of the movie. At some points, I was left wondering what I had missed.
This confusion led me to read the book by Diana Wynne Jones that was the basis for the movie. It is an excellent book and an easy read; I think it took me around five to six hours straight to finish it. The book differs greatly from the movie and while it does provide some useful additional information, most of the more puzzling movie scenes are not in the book at all. If you do read the book before you see the movie, don’t be surprised when the two bare little resemblance to each other.
Overall, I think I still think Spirited Away is my favorite Miyazaki film, with Howl’s Moving Castle coming in a close second. Perhaps if I see it again, or in English, I might change my mind. If you have not seen it yet, it is definitely worth the eight plus dollars of admission to see it in the theater.