Studio Ghibli Challenge #15: Howl's Moving Castle (2004) Anime Movie Review
If you rank all Studio Ghibli male heroes, you know that Howl will be in the top 5, to say the least. I am not really sure if anyone hates him as a character but in my opinion, he is more than what he looks.
You cannot forget as well this film's worldbuilding. There is no doubt that Howl's Moving Castle's fictional world is a work of art. And maybe it's one of the best ones out there. It is just a visual masterpiece.
Then again other than Howl and the fictional world this film is set in, the story is more than that. Deep inside its plot is a message that should be understood.
The story begins when Sophie a young milliner encounters a wizard named Howl who is going to visit her sister. When she goes home, the Witch of the Waste transformed her to look like an old woman. To break the curse she sets off to look for Howl. Along the way she meets a scarecrow, she named Turnip Head who told her the way to the mobile castle of Howl. Upon entering, she encounters a young apprentice of Howl named Markl and a fire demon named Calcifer which is the source of the castle's power and energy. Sophie and Calcifer make a deal that he will break the curse in exchange for breaking his link with Howl. When he appears, she disguises herself as a cleaning lady.
In a turn of events, the kingdom where Sophie lives is in turmoil with another nation and is searching for its missing prince. The king asked for the help of Howl but instead, he sends Sophie. Before leaving, he gives her a ring that leads her to Calcifer. Sophie meets both the King, Sulliman and the Witch of the Waste. Sulliman then punishes the Witch and drains her of all her magic transforming her back to her old age. He warns Sophie that Howl will receive the same fate if he doesn't obey the king's orders. Howl arrives to rescue her. Sulliman tries to reveal his true monster form, but with Sophie's help, he was able to remember what he looks like. Howl, Sophie, Sulliman's dog, and the Witch of the Waste escape the kingdom.
Sophie learns that Howl is bound by Calcifer. He has been transforming into a large bird-like creature to stop the war that is happening on both sides. The more he uses the transformation the more he struggles on transforming back to his human form. He then linked Sophie's home to the castle. A few days after a bombing raid while Sulliman's men attacked her house. Howl arrives to save them. Sophie then removes Calcifer from the fireplace and the castle collapsed. During their escape, Sophie got separated from the group. She uses the ring as her guide but immediately discovered a part of Howl's past wherein he catches Calcifer as he falls from the sky like a shooting star and gives him his heart. Sophie then reunites with Howl and the others. The Witch of the Waste returns his heart and frees Calcifer. Sophie's curse was broken and after that, she kissed Turnip Head. It turns out that the scarecrow was the missing prince. He heads home and stops the war. The movie ends with Sophie, Howl, and the others now riding a new castle and venturing off to a new place.
This may be one of those Studio Ghibli films where the action immediately sets in just a few minutes in the film. And it continues on until it ends. The in-between scenes are all like a rollercoaster ride.
All the characters in this film are good. Sophie being your non-typical protagonist combined with a typical hero in Howl is quite a good combination. Calcifer, The Witch of the Waste, and Markl were all adorable as well. But surprisingly the one I liked most is Turnip Head who is for the most part just a wandering scarecrow with no dialogue whatsoever. A pretty unique character I must say.
The primary theme of this film is Pacisifism. The character of Howl despite his good looks and prince-like figure really hated wars. He wants to stop it more than he cares about his life. Hayao Miyazaki mentioned that he was angry when the Iraq war erupted and made this an inspiration to create the film. Even though it would leave a distaste for the American audience, I think he did it just fine. If you are really inspired to do something or just to send a message, you just gotta do it with 100% conviction. This is I think what solidifies Howl's Moving Castle as one of those movies that deliver the right message to the right audience. Because once again, in wars no one wins.
What also sets aside this film from others that Miyazaki created is that it gave more importance to old people. We have been used to seeing San from Princess Mononoke or Sheeta from Castle in the Sky who are terrific characters but at the same time, we know that when it comes to learning, they are more than ready for it. In the case of Sophie, she became old and basically, all her activities became a little bit harder for her to accomplish. But then again just like other characters, Sophie is pretty much the same.
It was stated before by Hayao Miyazaki himself that Howl's Moving Castle is his favorite, and I won't really contest that. It definitely deserves a monument for just being an absolute classic.
It's not my most favorite Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli film but I have so much respect for it. I respect it not just because of the message it delivers but also the brilliant designs and animation. In my opinion, the overall design of the castle of Howl is my favorite. It is so detailed that whenever it's shown in the movie you can't just gaze your eyes off of it. No wonder there are figures that were made out of it.
Howl's Moving Castle is definitely one of the studio's technical marvels.
I absolutely love and respect the film. It's one of a kind compared to others and at the same time, it belongs to those classics that the studio has created. So if you are still thinking about whether or not you will watch this film, don't fret, it is a definite must-watch.
A pretty solid 4 out of 5 stars.