Howl's Moving Castle (2004) Poster

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Try to decode the story ...
kengoogloo5 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Probably many people find the story confusing. I felt the same way when I saw it in the theater for the first time! The story seemed arbitrary and I couldn't connect the pieces together (much like I saw "Ashes of Time" for the first time). But when I watch it again on the DVD, I realize the movie is probably about one thing: personal freedom.

Howl is a free person. He doesn't has a heart and even his home (which is usually characterized as a stable point in one's life) can move :-) He is disguised as different wizards in different counties, and when Sophie asks him how many identities he has, he said "Enough to guarantee my freedom". When Sophie confronts Suliman, she comments Howl as "selfish and cowardly and unpredictable, but he's straight as an arrow. He only wants to be free." But in Miyazaki's world, nothing is black and white. According to Suliman, Howl's power is too great for a person without heart, and he will eventually becomes a monster (some political figures come to my mind).

Sophie, on the other hand, is bounded by responsibilities. She is young, but her heart is old. She refuses the invitation from her friends and keep working at the hat shop. When her sister asks her "Are you going to spend your life in that shop?" She replies "It meant so much to papa. Besides, I'm the eldest.". Even her sister asks her to "look out for yourself". When Sophie is turned to an old lady, it actually set her free because the good thing of being old is that one has "so little to lose" She becomes more adventurous and takes control of her life. She is very assertive as being the cleaning lady in Howl's castle and even tames Calcifer to cook her food. For Howl, his turning point comes when he refuses to move his castle anymore (I'll leave it to the reader as why he does that) By the end of movie, he regains his heart. He feels terrible because it is like "trapped under a stone". And Sophie says, "Yes, a heart is a heavy burden".

There are other wonderful things in the movie. For example, this is probably one of the few movies that tell me what it is really like to be old. But I do want to highlight the thread about personal freedom as it will help you to tie up the pieces of the story.

Since there are 1000 words limit in the comment system, I'll write more in by blog:
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A wild and surreal trip into the mind of a master.
surenm20 March 2005
I think this is possibly Miyazaki's most intriguing movie. All of his other films are very linear and even though their highly varied worlds may be visually stunning and highly creative, I feel the dreamy world of Howls Moving Castle is by far the most captivating, bizarre, and imaginative of all the worlds Miyazaki has ever envisioned.

What I love about this movie is that it's highly emotional without a great deal of logic or plot or story to get in the way. In this way the film is simple, pure, and extremely beautiful. It is as if the characters go from one emotion to the next, in a world that is as random as one's own dreams. Some people have complained about the lack of plot or story or serious character development, but even though the characters are fairly static, their emotions and the physical changes they undergo as they go through these emotions brings out a higher truth that is seldom given such artistic and natural freedom.

I think this is a very smart movie in many subtle ways and it's one that I look forward to watching again on the big screen and then on DVD. Although it flirts from theme to theme to theme with a kind of animated attention deficit disorder, the landscapes and utter unabated surrealism left me stunned and never bored.

Also, from a quizzical character design perspective, Howl is certainly one of if not the most beautiful characters that Miyazaki has ever created. Howl is an interesting departure from Miyazaki's more classical wabi-sabi anime style that most of his heroes and heroines are drawn in as Howl is definitely a very contemporary bishonen.

If you're looking for quaint settings, dynamic characters and a very involving character or plot driven story, you're not going to necessarily find them here, but you will find an equally stunning and pleasing movie if you let yourself go and enjoy this passionate, heartfelt and surreal Miyazaki dream.
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This is art
soanim8ed6 June 2005
Howl's Moving Castle is as marvelous and magical as Miyazaki's other great work. Something in Disney's advertising or the description I read gave the false impression that it was going to be sub-standard work meaning it was still going to be better than anything DreamWorks Animation was doing (Madagascar was sooo pedestrian).

While not as awe-inspiring as Spirited Away or action-packed as Mononoke, it does work on the level of Kiki's Delivery Service as a girl is forced to be better than she thinks she can be (well, that's not a big surprise, that's all his films). And as with all Miyazaki stories, the story teaches without being preachy. And the lessons learned are represented in character changes and in the character's physical appearance as well. It's that same attention to detail that has made Pixar so great.

The animation is wonderful. The castle is itself is a mesh-mash of so many haphazardly arranged pieces that an engineer would have an aneurysm just sorting them all out and yet it works. Through magic, of course. The magic being Howl's and the authoritative hand of Miyazaki's direction. The airships (wow, airships in a Miyazaki film? Who would have thunk?) are great variations of one's he's used before and there are some rather dark and beautiful scenes of a world at war.

Most of the voice work was very strong including Christian Bale (Howl) and Emily Mortimer (as the young version of the heroine, Sophie). The voice that surprised me was Billy Crystal as Calcifer, the little flame that could. He's the heart of the castle and only annoyed at his first few scenes then becomes a very likable character.

There a few clunky moments in the plot line where transitions between story points weren't very strong, but overall it's another outstanding film from Studio Ghibli. Even my 40 year old partner, who had spent the day mountain biking, was dead tired and had never seen a Miyazaki film stayed awake for the entire 2 hours. When we left at 3:30 in the morning still jabbering away about all the imagery and meaning, we realized we had seen true art.
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For those who love the book – or wondered about it
cornishogre-110 July 2005
When I read some four years ago that Diana Wynne Jones had sold the rights for Howl's Moving Castle to a Japanese animator, I wondered. The book (one of my very favorites, which I re-read at least once a year) takes several fairy-tale conventions and merrily turns them upside down. Ms Jones refuses to allow her imagination be neatly pigeonholed as hard sci-fi or straight fantasy, juvenile or adult. This story (as all of her stories) revels in word play. I really wondered how it would all come out translated into Japanese.

I'd never heard of Miyazaki. Then I saw Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, The Cat Returns, and Kiki's Delivery Service. Wow. I think Ms Jones and Mr. Miyazaki must be kindred souls. His movies share a lot with her novels – a whimsical sense of humor, impossible to pigeonhole into a category, magic and mischief, and a firm respect for the audience's intelligence. I began to pace the floor in anticipation of the movie.

I saw the movie today. I was not disappointed. The soul of the story is intact, Sophie and Howl and Calcifer are nearly as I imagined them. Yes, there are some plot adjustments. Think of it as the Series 12C version (for those who have read Ms Jones' Chrestomanci books.) The main elements are there, some re-arranged, some changed, yet with a full understanding of the original. Much like the 2004 version of Peter Pan – much was changed, but the soul is the same.

For those who wonder, here are the differences between the movie and the novel. I've tried to phrase them carefully to avoid spoilers for either fans of Ms Jones's work who have yet to see the movie, and those who have seen the movie and have yet to read the book:

• Why the witch bespells Sophie

• Where the door opens when the dial points to black

•Sophie's sister Martha, and the plot line involving sister Lettie are not in the movie • Mrs. Pentstemmon, Miss Angorian, Mrs. Fairfax are also missing, but elements of each are woven into other characters in the movie • Michael (Markl) is a different age • The battles – magical and military – are quite different (but equally spectacular) • The dog appears at a different time, with a different, yet just as mysterious, agenda • The scarecrow's relationship with Sophie is different • Thelevel of technology is different. (I did miss the 7-league boots)

My advice: go see the movie. It's magical and beautiful and funny. Then, if you are a Diana Wynne Jones fan, check out the rest of Miyazaki's films. Now is a great time, as many of his films are available on home DVD. If you are a Miyazaki fan, hie thee to a library or bookstore try Ms Jones' books. (There is a sequel to Howl's Moving Castle – Castle in the Air.)

And enjoy!
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My favourite Miyazaki!
WritelySo23 February 2005
What an amazing achievement! This is by far the best example I have ever seen of animated characterization. The expressions and the nuances and the emotion captured in this film are truly breathtaking. I love all of Miyazaki's work, but in Howl's Moving Castle he has managed to take it to a level that to me sets the standard.

It has all of the classic stunning Miyazaki panoramas, rich settings, exciting and unusual machinery, and brilliantly conceived creatures that are often humorous and fanciful. The characters are all very expertly crafted and developed, but what really enchanted me were their expressions and the subtle but powerful ways that he chose to elaborate on their connections and emotions. It is very difficult to describe, but they come to life in such a powerful way as to seem entirely real and unique.

He achieves this within the medium - not by really imitating or parroting film or live action, but by artfully exploiting the medium to enhance and capture the subtle interactions that make up relationships. He shows his audience what his characters are thinking and feeling by carefully chosen gestures and facial expressions, rather than relying always on dialog, etc. I was completely swept away by this skillful use of animation - I have never anywhere else seen anything that begins to come close to it.

The story is fantastic - I haven't read the novel, but it had all of the elements I have come to enjoy in Miyazaki's work - there is the humour, the lighthearted moments, the strong, insightful, loyal, and honourable characters, the lyrical drama and action sequences. The pace is perfect - it flows nicely and is always exciting, suspenseful - I got very caught up in the characters and their struggles and hopes. The themes were expertly handled with Miyazaki flair - and always richly meaningful and perceptive.

I can hardly wait to see what this brilliant artist creates next!
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Terrific Miyazaki, although not his best
life_on_screen12 January 2005
"Howl's Moving Castle" opened here in France on Jan. 12th (as "Le Château Ambulant," natch), and I saw it at an avant-première. As a raving fan of Miyazaki and of Diana Wynne Jones, I feel lucky to be an American living in France -- I see there's no release date announced yet for the U.S. Sorry, folks, and blame Disney!

I understand the feelings of viewers who have criticized the movie as trite. I find it's less imaginative, in terms of character development and emotional profundity, than Miyazaki's best masterpieces. However, even a pedestrian Miyazaki movie is infinitely more rich, frightening, imaginative and humane than any six Disney films put together, and there's a lot to love in "Howl's Moving Castle."

I am glad I didn't reread Jones' book before seeing the film; even going on my six-year-old memory of the novel, I can see the movie's a very loose adaptation, and I think Jones fans would do best to try to take the movie on its own merits instead of looking for a faithful adaptation. That said, Miyazaki is surprisingly successful, at moments, in capturing the richness of the novel's characters: the peculiar co-habitation of charm and terror in Howl the sorcerer and his demon companion Calcifer, and the pragmatic strength of will that makes us love Sophie, the protagonist, who embodies both the fairy-tale archetypes of the young girl and the old woman at once.

Miyazaki's directorial trademarks are here in spades. Most of them lend strength and power to the film: his passion for open landscapes, his vision of the power and horror of war, the uncompromised way his movies work to empower children, and especially girls. A few of them are just Miyazaki quirks that fans will recognize with amusement (walrus mustaches, cobbled European squares, and flying machines for everyone!) Richer and stranger, though, are the very successful integration of two things that Disney animation never even approaches: the way even a children's story can blur lines between an enemy and a friend, and the cohabitation of the monstrous and the sublime. Enemy, ally, monster, beloved: Miyazaki gives both visual and moral weight to these disturbing contradictions, and certain scenes in "Howl's Moving Castle" evoke a frightening sublimity I have never seen elsewhere than in "Princess Mononoke."

I think the film suffers from a slightly hurried pace, especially with respect to the protagonists' character development, and the result is a loss of the subtlety that makes Jones' book such a gripping fairy tale. Her Howl is more ambivalent, and her story is a more complex investigation of adolescent heartlessness and the growth of the heart. The ending, which falls back too much on clichéd imagery and deus-ex-machina, also could have been better handled. All that said, "Howl's Moving Castle" contains lots of treasures and will, I think, stand up to repeated viewings. Miyazaki fans will be delighted, and kids around the world should be given the chance to taste this latest rich, respectful children's tale. (Be warned, though: there are moments as terrifying as those in "Princess Mononoke," and younger kids will need their parents with them.)

On a final note, as few hardcore fans of Japanese anime will need to be reminded, the movie is doubtless best seen in its original version with subtitles. The Japanese voice acting is terrific -- although the voice of "young Sophie" doesn't strike me as anything special, the actors playing the aged Sophie, Howl, and especially Calcifer are fantastic. Calcifer is a magnificent creation and should delight even the most conservative fan of the novel. I have serious doubts that the inevitable English-language dub will do the nuances justice.
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Another wonderful movie from Miyazaki
whitetigah6 September 2004
(first of all: sorry if my English is not the best out there, but it's not my native language)

I was lucky enough to see the world premiere (at Venice Film Festival, September 5, 2004).

Not only the art and animation is breathtaking (with almost no CGI), but the story is also above Miyazaki standards.

The characters are wonderful, each one with his (or her) own personality. Among them the best is for sure Calcifer, the Fire Demon, who is actually an almost all-powerful being, but is often underestimated by the other characters ("If you don't obey, I'll pour water on you!").

The music is one of the best parts of the movie. Even if you don't notice it, it is always there, always conveying the right feeling.

Bottom line: this is an excellent movie. If you liked other movies by Miyazaki (such as Mononoke Hime, Spirited Away, Laputa Castle in the Sky...) you cannot miss it.
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Thank you so much for this movie Mr. Miyazaki
Andrea_R1 October 2004
I Don't get words to express what I felt when coming out of the cinema, Howl's Moving Castle is an absolutely fantastic film and has even out Laputa and Totoro as my favourite Miyazaki film.

The story is amazing and the characters and creatures are as excellently crafted and fun to watch as ever. The voice actors and music are perfect Joe Hisaishi in my opinion is the best contemporary composer.

My only criticism (very little) is maybe the ending (last minutes) that rises suddenly, far from the habitual perfection of the catharsis final of the Miyazaki's films but nothing important

The movie has a really bad thing of the film: THE LONG WAITING TO SEE IT AGAIN!

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They tried to save each other ...
chsorley27 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this twice, because there was no way I could understand the plot (especially in the second half) after only seeing it once. The first time around I got too carried away watching the animation, but the second viewing helped me understand the story a lot better, as I managed to pay more attention to all the dialogues.

Honestly though I still don't know exactly what happened in the last half an hour or so. I'm going to read the book, and I'm sure I will enjoy it but don't know how useful it's going to be. The film's said to be wildly different from the original setting.

It really doesn't matter, because I don't seem to mind seeing the film once again (& again). The animation is so beautiful & I find the characters cute gorgeous, funny & very heart-warming.


I figure that the face of the old Sophie changes & she instantly looks younger when she feels excited / happy / alive, even as a very old woman (she looks young when asleep, but I wonder if it's only in Howl's vision).

It breaks my heart that she looks sad & immediately turns back into the old Sophie when Howl tries to tell her sincerely "you are beautiful". But then both Howl & Sophie must fight the war to save each other & the rest of their newly-formed family incl. their old enemy & the dog. The curse is already gone by the time Sophie comes back to present from the past through the door, finds the wounded Bird Howl & kisses him. She won't look old any more.

Still, I also like the fact that earlier in the film, after the initial shock, Sophie was clearly able to enjoy herself being old. Think she was already in love with Howl when he came back to the Castle & found her, but she didn't have to be nervous or anything because she knew she was no longer a shy 18-year-old.

And Sophie's first encounter with Howl in the back street ... did he say "There you are, SWEETHEART"? Has he actually been looking for Sophie ever since he (as a still very young boy) saw her & heard her cry FIND ME IN THE FUTURE. That's clever, and most romantic.
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I really enjoyed this film!
deegola23 February 2005
It's hard to make any movie that follow after 'Spirited Away' So, when you watch, you have to try and keep an open mind....which is hard to do since the characters, and the whole feel of the film seems so much like his previous works.

But what fun this film is! And interestingly beautiful. I could watch most any of his movies, just to look at the beautiful scenery. I love some of the incredible imagination that goes into his works.

I could easily recommend this film. No, it's not the better than the rest, but I feel it's definitely worth your time.

I look forward to seeing the film again, maybe I will understand some things a bit better.
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A poetic anti-war cartoon.
chiarasf14 September 2004
In a time of war and falsity here it is a dancing poetry from Japan against all the cruelty and pain. The moving castle leads us to a magic place where life has a strong value and elderly people have an important role to play. Also in an apparent hostility or in a scarecrow, Hayao Miyazaki gives us the chance of finding a friend and not letting the dream go down. The perfect technique and the emotional stream are in complete harmony. If the jury of the Venice Film Festival had been more far-seeing, it would have given a more prestigious prize to this masterpiece.
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scififan_uk27 September 2005
First, I must confess that I have never seen Spirited Away so I cannot make any comparisons. Second, I must say this is one of the best films I have ever seen!

What made me enjoy the film so much? The imagination, the romance, and the realistic way Sophie is portrayed - her insecurities, how she copes when she is cursed, and how things change physically as she is transformed into an old woman. And then there's the humour - the Witch of the Waste was hilarious! I never thought I could be so taken by a children's film, but I enjoyed the movie so much I went back and saw it 3 more times, which I've never done before.

I can highly recommend Howl's Moving Castle.
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Look in an another view point
ngchiho30 July 2005
Since 1984, that 20 years ago, I have watch every movie Miyazaki make and mostly on cinema. Howl's is a long wait for me since the Spirit Away. After I seen this movie, it is still very enjoyable to me but there is something in my mind still questioning. Miyazaki want to tell us a love story, that we are sure but may be there is some more. After i read a local film review, the question is entirely clear now I seen this movie into another perspective.

Yea, Sofi is the main character and the story are spin around her adventure. However, Miyazaki seem want to look into the aspects of modern Japanese man through Sofi view point. Howl is a powerful wizard; however his life is not as happy as other thinks. Every success had a price. He was chased by 2 waring parties who want to own his power, he living in a mess inside a moving castle which was keep hiding from one place to another place. Only thing that keep him going is his great style of hair and the believe that he is looking handsome. That why Miyazaki choose Takuya Kimura as Howl casting, in fact, Kimura is a top idol star in Japan which is share a similar burden as Howl, he is handsome, he is popular but he is not free, all the decisions are subject to his manager company, he could not date a girl openly. Yet Kimura married Kudo Shizuka despite all the opposition from his manager company. That strike the similarity that love shall triumph all. Even the war could be stop and the teacher of Howl would not stop him at the end.
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Amazing, yet it moves forward to fast.
abramzjeremenko6 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I am a big fan of Studio Ghibli, especially this one. I would consider one of my top five. The character are beautifully created, and show many characteristics. For example, one of the main characters, Sophie Hatter portrayed, in my opinion, the idea that even if you're old, feel old, or even no matter how you look, we are all kind, warmhearted, amazing, or even young on the inside. I'd even say that her character shows that we look how we feel.

On one note the story is amazing, beautifully designed, and crafted perfectly, however, I feel as though the whole thing was too fast. As in, I couldn't fully grasp the whole picture. I can see how the fast pace can make the movie more intense and exciting, but it mostly made the movie slightly bad for me.

I do recommend people watch this movie, because almost all of the Studio Ghibli movies are amazing. Some are very depressing like Grave of the Fireflies, but it was still a good movie. So if you want a movie that is has a good plot, character development, and even just camera shots that bring out a the characters, I suggest you watch this.
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One of the best animated movies of ALL TIME - classic status, STAT!
AloysiusWeasley23 October 2007
First off, if you're at ALL a fan of animation, Studio Ghibli, or even just catching a movie that will bring you back to times when things were simpler and people weren't just up for the 'snatch and grab and screw everybody else', you need to see this movie RIGHT NOW. I will admit to being biased, since this *is* my favorite movie of any (animated or not), but honestly, whether you're 7 or 70, this movie is a guaranteed delight. Every time I see this movie, I'm immediately overwhelmed by feelings of wonder, delight, creativity, and hope, and I must say I've definitely seen this movie over 60 times. It doesn't get old, and it's one of those movies where every time you see it, you see something new in the background you'd never noticed before.

Okay, on to actually telling you about the movie! The animation and musical score are so far above average it's not even funny. I could watch this with it on mute, and I'd still be struck by the wonder of all the scenery, and the excellent emotional responses of the characters. I could listen to the music from this for HOURS, and if you're any sort of creative person (writer, poet, musician, artist, etc.) it WILL inspire you. Also, I haven't seen the subbed version yet, but unlike many dubbed anime, you will NOT feel like you're being talked down to!

Now, this movie is based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones. This is one of the handful of movies where I've watched before I read, and unlike most book to movie adaptations (I loathe nearly all of them), this movie stands on its own with excellence. The book is most certainly a bit different (you will get more of a background on the characters and plot), but for once, I can actually say I loved both equally. It's not necessary to read the book first by any means, but make sure you don't neglect to do so! As a writer, I work with words and their nuances constantly, but even I have immense trouble trying to find words to describe the utter fabulousness of this movie! I'm honestly trying to take a step back and take a critical look at it, but there are NO flaws, no things I would have improved. I wish this movie had actually been released to the public to see in the theaters (I would have had to drive 7 hours to see this when it first came out, and I live very close to a large city - we're talking practically NYC and LA release only!), so many more people could have been struck by the wonder this movie inspires.

So if you need an uplift, rent this movie ASAP. Better yet, buy the DVD - it is quite difficult to obtain outside of stores that specialize in anime and the internet, but it is VERY worth it - the DVD has awesome extras and lots of artwork used in the creation of the movie. I PRAY this isn't the last movie Hayao Miyazaki directs!
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Best Ever
cursedgnomes8 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This movie was absolutely perfect. The animation, the voices, the acting. Everything.

Sophie is a girl who does things because she is expected to, not at all because she herself wishes to. When the Witch of the Waste turns her into a ninety year old woman, she immediately sets out to cure her curse. She chances upon Howl's moving castle, and after striking a deal with the fire demon Calcifer, she becomes the new cleaning lady. Fraught with adventure, wizardry politics (of a sort), and endearing romance this movie has everything.... I only wish it were longer. Or for several more just like it.

If you haven't read Diana Wynne Jones' perfect fantasy novel, you should, and read it before you watch this film (if you can wait that long). It will help you in understanding the movie to it's full extent. I was at first afraid that Miss Jones' novel would be turned into something wholly unrecognizable, and without any of her original humor. But Miyazaki captured all of her characters beautiful, and was able to make a great movie, without losing any of the characters' original charm.

***spoiler alert***

My spoiler is for concerned parents, who might wish to know if anything could be considered objectionable for young viewers' eyes. I can name a few things at least. The battle scenes are not particularly horrendous or frightening, except for the black blobs that come after Sophie and the other characters. There are 'mad wizards' who have turned themselves into 'demons' for the war effort, and they attack Howl a few times. There is also a scene where Sophie has a vision/dream of Howl in a monster like form, and he has scary looking teeth. Madame Suliman is a strange 'head wizard' sort of person, who almost viciously destroys any wizards who stand in her own/or the war's way, and there is a scene in the film where she hypnotizes Howl and begins to turn him into a 'monster' so she can steal his magic and, as it appears this way, kill him. This scene in particular might be frightening for very young viewers.

***end of spoiler***

All in all, I did not find these things particularly frightening, and upon viewing the film yourselves, you might find it perfectly harmless. Nevertheless, I advice that you watch the film yourselves before showing it to your younger children. Older kids shouldn't have any problem with it at all.

This movie deserves more then ten stars. And I think the Oscars should give more awards to animated films then just Best Animated Film. They should start doing best Director of an Animated Film, best voice acting in an animated film (male and female naturally), and best animated film soundtrack. If they did that, more people then just California would tune in to watch.

All the voices were excellent, and the animation superb.

From start to finish I felt it was exactly what I had hoped for and wished it could be. Thank you Hayao Miyazaki-San for a truly great film.
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Overwhelming and beautiful
moratt12 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
To me the movie was simply stunning. I have seen most of Miyazaki's movies and still enjoy this one as much as any of the others. Yes, I agree that quite a few of the ideas have been used before - but not in the same context. I disagree that the faceless ink-like servants are anything like 'Null-Face' from Chihiro, and the overall feel of the movie is very different.

The Ghibli trademark of beautiful landscapes is here in large amounts, some of them will make your eyes water with longing for being there, making the images of war even more gruesome.

Some parts of the movie may seem confusing to children and adults alike. It's a bit like a good poem: You might not understand it entirely, but it feels right. Leave daytime logic at the doorstep, this is a fantasy made from images of your childhood dreams and with the same surreal logic.

The war in 'Howl's Moving Castle' is largely unexplained. It is simply going on, killing and destroying. Had this been a Disney movie, we would have known the reason for it and probably even sympathized. Here it is only hinted at, which may seem confusing. But it is entirely on purpose: War IS meaningless, absurd, unnecessary, if you ask Miyazaki.

If you want straightforward action, good and evil easily distinguished and distilled into separate characters, skip this one. Skip any of Miyazaki's movies. Good and evil are present in all his characters. There is no villain to hate, apart from war and greed itself which always ruin people in Miyazaki's world. But oh, what a world that is.
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A fantastic fairy Tale from Miyazaki
Raven_Summersong14 June 2005
Howl's Moving Castle is another addition to the magic of Miyazaki's long list of masterpieces. Based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones, the film takes the basic premise of the story and takes it into a new direction.

The basic story is this: 18-year-old Sophie is a hatter who believes she is an ordinary nobody. But when the witch of the waste curses her to be trapped in the form of a 90-year-old woman, Sophie must go on a grand adventure to find a way to break the curse. Along the way she meets a strange cast of characters including the living scarecrow affectionately dubbed "Turnip Head", a wisecracking fire demon, and a mysterious and tragic wizard named Howl.

Fans of the book will realize right away that Miyazaki takes great liberties with the source material. While I found this fine, (as the film weaves the tale in a splendid fashion) I did wish that perhaps he had titled the movie differently and added "Based on Howls Moving Castle" as the film is more a taking of the IDEA of the book and using it to form a story, than a faithful adaptation of the novel. However, the changes Miyazaki makes works for the film brilliantly, and I have found I like the movie and the book equally.

A tale full of magic, romance, excitement, and wonder, this is a highly recommended film for lovers of fairy tales and mythology, as well as Miyazaki fans. It will engage both young and the young at heart.
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Hayao Miyazaki casts his spell on us
jotix1002 July 2005
The genius of Anime films, Hayao Miyazaki, shows why he is one of an absolute masters of the genre. Taking Diana Wynne Jones' story "Howl's Moving Castle" and creating the magnificent film for our delight, is something that no other man could have accomplished with as much flair and panache as Mr. Miyazaki has done.

The film has such a great look that at times we wonder if one is really seeing an animated film, or not. The images we watch on the screen have such detailed and rich look that we wonder how did Mr. Miyasaki could have accomplished it.

Not having seen the Japanese version, the English one that was released here offers great voices to go along with the many characters in the film. The big surprise was Jean Simmons, an actress we haven't see much lately who does a great job with the older Sophie. As the young Sophie, Emily Mortimes is wonderful and her voice suits the character so well. It was also a stroke of genius to have cast Lauren Bacall as the Witch of the Waste, as she seems to be having a great time acting her. Billy Crystal was delightful as Calcifer and Josh Hutcherson is perfect as Markl. Christian Bale is an amazing Howl. In minor roles we hear the voices of Blythe Danner, Crisping Freeman and Jena Malone, among others.

This Anime film will delight young and old fans of Hayao Miyazaki who can look forward to a great time at the movies with this film.
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Made me feel like a kid again
Scarlet_Onyx16 June 2005
I saw the commercial for the movie a few days before the premiere and it just grabbed me - I had to go see it. Howl's Moving Castle is pure magic.

First, it has an entertaining and charming storyline, but not something that I would consider deep. That's okay though because I didn't go in expecting to find a profound message hidden in there somewhere. There's plenty of humor, including commentary on old age that even my mother chuckled at. Secondly, the animation is amazing. The settings, the people, the vehicles - all are detailed and interesting. I'm told there is 3-D sneaked into it as well and I didn't see anything painfully obvious so bravo on incorporating it successfully.

I said it makes me feel like a kid because it didn't rely on logic. I mean, it has a castle that walks on little stick legs and looks like a pile of junk held together with who-knows-what. But the sheer weirdness of it fit the movie. I didn't once sit there and try to puzzle out how it could move - I accepted its ability to walk. I think we too often expect something as illogical as magic to work by rules.

Not that there weren't things that couldn't be improved upon. The characters were a bit flat: they didn't really develop a great deal as time went on, but again this wasn't a deep movie. Bale's voice for Howl might not have been the best choice as it sounded a bit too deep and forceful for the slender wizard. The rest of the character voices were more or less fine. Jean Simmons did a great job and Billy Crystal's always good with the funny lines. The ending was a bit rushed as if they realized they only had a couple of minutes to wrap things up so a few things happened so quickly that they seemed more like an afterthought.

All in all, it was an enjoyable experience and I was really happy to see it and come out with the feeling that magic still does exist somewhere out there.
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A somewhat lesser yet imaginative fairy tale from Hayao Miyazaki.
JTurner8227 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
With HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, Hayao Miyazaki takes a popular British children's book by Dianne Wyanna Jones and transforms it into yet another breathtakingly gorgeous and sumptuously animated work of art. Indeed, from the opening shot where we see the title structure--a bizarre amalgam of iron, steam, and unexpected surprises--loom ominously out of the mist, audiences will find themselves on a roller coaster of visual delight and imagination.

The story, set in a 19th century British countryside, involves a young woman named Sophie who is literally swept off her feet by the handsome yet enigmatic wizard, Howl--despite warnings from her fellow friends that this "lady-killer" of a magician eats the hearts of young girls alike. Soon after, Sophie finds herself cursed by the jealous Witch of the Waste--where she is transformed into a ninety-year-old crone. Forced to flee from her hometown, "Grandma" Sophie (who occasionally reverts from old to young as the film progresses) takes refuge in Howl's fortress, where she makes a pact with a wisecracking fireball known as Calcifer in order to break his own curse, and likewise, her own.

The plot gets a little bit more complicated from here on out, with various side-stories that involve a war, a stern queen who wants Howl to serve in her name, and--wouldn't you know--Howl conquering his inner demons of despair and selfishness through true love. Yet this kind of complex-storytelling has been a well-known trait of Japanese animation, and should be no different here.

Fans of the novel that this film is based on have argued that Miyazaki's movie is a poor interpretation of Jones' story (apparently he changed things from the original to suit his imagination). Not having read the book, I can't comment on what parts of the story have been altered or which remain faithful, but as a genuinely huge fan of Miyazaki's work, I have to say that his adaptation is a charming delight on its own ground. Probably the best way to appreciate this film is to approach it as an inspiration for a masterpiece of animation, and not as an undistorted incarnation of Jones' world.

This is not to say, however, that Miyazaki's HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE is flawless--far from it. For fans spoiled by his more action-packed classics such as NAUSICAA and CASTLE IN THE SKY, this film offers little in the way of exciting set pieces. The overall story unfolds at a leisurely pace; this worked in favor of his more quieter, gentler children's tales such as MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, and of course the surrealistic SPIRITED AWAY, but here it sometimes comes off as a bit of a detriment. Given the war subplot and a few occasional action-sequences, one would expect HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE to at least have a grand climax. Regrettably, it concludes in a manner that is slower and more drawn-out than SPIRITED AWAY does, undermining its potential for an epic fantasy. I lay this blame, however, on myself; I had unrealistically high expectations for this film, and so I couldn't help but feel a little bit let down by the finale.

Still, in spite of its pacing problems, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE has a lot to offer in the way of visual fiestas, characters that one can identify with, and of course, Joe Hisaishi's richly romantic underscore. This may be a lesser film from Miyazaki, but HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE is nonetheless leaps and bounds above the weakest animated features out there and certainly better than the cute but inspired THE CAT RETURNS though not as memorable as his more well-known works. Nonetheless, it earns my highest recommendation; see it on the big screen while you still can, for it's one of the ultimate ways to truly experience this film.

On another matter, I am reluctant to choose a favorite out of the Disney/Miramax-produced English tracks for Miyazaki's movies because I have found every one of them to be of five-star quality and always a pleasure to listen to (even the ones that some folks are somewhat divided about, notably PRINCESS MONONOKE, CASTLE IN THE SKY, and KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE). But for the record, Disney once again provides a very capable cast to lend their vocals to the characters and two skillful people to direct them (PIXAR's Pete Docter and Disney's own Rick Dempsey).

As Howl, Christian Bale displays charisma, emotion, and charm; he tends to speak softly, except for when he throws a fit about his hairdo, but this actually works for his character. Emily Mortimer is excellent as the sweet, sincere young Sophie, as is elderly Jean Simmons as her 90-year-old counterpart. This triumvirate is amply supported by the gravel tones of Lauren Bacall as the Witch of the Waste, Josh Hutcherson as the childlike sorcerer Markl (who can make himself look older than he really is), Blythe Danner as Madam Suliman (an astonishingly minor part for a role that appears to command great presence), and longtime Anime voice-over (and huge Miyazaki fan) Crispin Freeman in a brief cameo at the end. (You can also hear him play various roles in the English version of GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES.) Yet as with all the Disney/Miyazaki dubs, there is always one actor who will steal the spotlight from the others (not that this is a bad thing; I don't mind!), and this time it's the ever-amusing Billy Crystal. As the wily fire-demon Calcifer (who reminded me a lot of Phil Hartman's Jiji from KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE in both sarcasm and tone), Crystal scorches up the scenery and provides all the best moments as well as laughs (hey, he's hot). All told, yet another A+ grade Disney production on a solid little movie from Miyazaki.
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Original and Thoughtful
jdesando17 June 2005
Now I know why everyone was excited about Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar winning animation, because his new Howl's Moving Castle, adapted from a British novel by Diana Wynne Jones, is more original and thoughtful than any American entry in that genre. The visuals of flat, classic animation with slow-moving characters and painterly backgrounds are alone worth the experience, the castle itself an imaginative hodgepodge of chicken-legged monsters from Russian folklore and cumbersome war machines from Star Wars. As the director has said, "I've told the people on my CGI staff not to be accurate, not to be true. We're making a mystery here, so make it mysterious."

The plot is almost inscrutable as it depicts a kind of late nineteenth-century European city in which hat shop girl Sophie alternately is wooed by a cute wizard, Howl, and cursed by a witch to be shifted into an old crone's body. Her Dorothy-like wandering with, among others, a pogo-sticked scarecrow, takes her to the titular castle of Howl, where she cleans, keeps order, and longs for Howl. Ultimately she confronts a sorceress, Madam Suliman. War ensues but can't defeat the power of love.

The real strength of Howl's Moving Castle is in character diversity and development with a vain, kind, and immature hero; villains morphing into lovable friends and a fire that talks like Billy Crystal and surpasses Eddie Murphy's wisecracking donkey. These are just some of the touches of this hip Asian anime that comments on the folly of war promoted by very neocon-like leaders and the endlessly interesting conflicts between the good and bad angels of each character. Shape-shifting heroine Sophie says, "I don't want to live if I can't be beautiful!" Now there's my kind of self-centered lady, heroic and callow in the same film.

No one-dimensional characters for this director, perhaps the most gifted animator in the world.
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Howl Stole My Heart
foxly-122 August 2005
What can I say? Howl is a beautiful, gentle person. The character movement is as magical as the storyline. Miyazaki's finest. I'll be buying it on DVD. Seen it five times in Japanese. Will be watching in English in theatre as well. Just wish the DVD would be released sooner than Spring 2006 :(

I identify with Sophie, she has a good heart and is beautiful, but doesn't know it. A selfless character anyone could appreciate.

Loved the "villains" and the curses were so creative, so enriching for a fantastic setting, storyline, and those characters!

Calcifur is lovable. Still curious about where Howl's apprentice came from and his story. The setting is marvellous.

I share the sentiments about war expressed by the main characters.

Exciting, romantic, pure enjoyment. It will leave you feeling satisfied as though you'd just been on an adventure of your own and it had an ending that made you feel complete. You can't help but truly feel for the characters. :-) Turnip Head was such a great idea. Oz has nothing on that guy. The castle will blow your mind. The character animation is enthralling, the backgrounds are idyllic. Excellent humanistic storyline! Every writer/director has something to learn from Hayao Miyazaki. If I could e-mail him I would praise him and tell him how his stories always have touched my heart.

All in all, Howl could steal my heart any day. I will watch it again and again.

Quote: "I'm hopeless. I'm not handsome anymore. I want to die."
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Great movie!
Eddieh1979-121 August 2005
Everything was great about this movie. Easy to love characters, great storyline, extremely creative ideas, brilliant artwork and name it, this movie has it. This movie will be inspiring anyone who watches it. Christian Bale and Billy Crystal fit the parts perfectly and it's great to watch a movie that doesn't have overly popular voice actors like "John Goodman" or "Robin Williams". This movie appeals to kids as well as adults. I took my 3 year old daughter to see it and she was completely drawn into it. This movie has an intelligent sense of humor that makes you honestly want to laugh, and not some shallow "slapstick" humor. There is plenty of action and drama to be found as well. You will have your emotions going all over the place while watching this. At first I was skeptical about the idea of a "moving castle" as the title implies, but once you watch it, things will make sense and you wouldn't want the plot to be any other way. The directing/writing of this movie makes Tim Burton look like an amateur. Go see it! And if you can't find a theater nearby...then sorry about your luck! Write an angry letter to Disney or request it at your movie theater.
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Somewhat disappointing
WizardX18 January 2005
I'm a big fan of Miyazaki's work, and having seen everything else he's done, I had to see Howl as soon as I could locate a subtitled version. Unfortunately, I must rank it among his weaker efforts. It's certainly not a BAD film - I don't think the man is capable of that - but after the brilliance of Mononoke, and Spirited Away, I was disappointed.

The big problem, putting it bluntly, is that the movie makes no sense. It's possible the fansub I was watching mangled it, but I can't imagine a way for the script to be written to make the events cohesive. It takes the dream-logic of Spirited Away, but takes it to a point that it becomes nearly impossible to get "into" the movie. With Spirited, you always felt like there were rules to the world, even if as an outsider you didn't understand them. This never seemed the case with Howl.

Furthermore, Miyazaki seems to have dipped into his bag of stock tricks a bit too often. There's little in here that you haven't seen in some form in his previous films. There doesn't appear to be anything new he has to say with this film, it's just retreading the themes that have run throughout his work. I could easily forgive Mononoke as being a thematic remake of Nausicaa, since I feel his message had grown sufficiently in the decade separating those films to be worth repeating. That's not the case here.

But, as I said, it's still not a bad film. I suspect people who haven't seen all of Miyazaki's canon will find it quite enjoyable. The richness and nuance of his character animation continues to grow. No one makes more expressive animated figures than Miyazaki, and the characters alone nearly carry the film. And supported by another wonderful score by Joe Hisaishi, as in all of Miyazaki's works, there are moments of staggering beauty rarely seen in films of any genre or style.

And despite the incomprehensibility of the plot, he makes it compelling and watchable, even as you have no clue what's going on or why.

So, I give the movie an above-average rating and a recommendation, simply on the strength of being a Miyazaki film. The worst of his movies is still better than just about anything else out there. But the purists are likely to be a bit disappointed.
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