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Howl's Moving Castle Review

Date: 2005 September 19 06:00

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Howl’s Moving Castle is due to be released in the UK on the 23rd of September, and to celebrate we have an early review. Please note that since the film is being compared to the book in places there are small spoilers throughout for both versions, though we’ve tried to keep them to a minimum.

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Sophie Hatter feels trapped, she feels plain and ordinary – and in some ways she hides away from the world using her mundane life as a cover, whilst her mother, and sister Lottie live life to the full. Sophie is quite suddenly torn from this safe and predictable life when she runs into the wizard Howl, who rumour has it, eats the hearts of girls. When Sophie and Howl first meet, Howl is being chased by the Witch of the Waste-Howl deftly avoids his pursuers and leads them away from Sophie but neglects to think out the consequences of his actions. The Witch tracks down Sophie and lays a curse upon her, which ages her dramatically. To resolve the situation everyone is going to have to swallow their pride and change, to put it simply Howl’s moving castle is a story about transformation and change.

Howl's Moving Castle Poster

Having read and re-read the original book by Diana Wynne Jones a disturbing number of times as I was growing up I was somewhat apprehensive, the plot of the book is extremely intricate and I was sure it would be impossible to convert directly to the screen. I believe I was somewhat correct, as the version Miyazaki brings to the screen is highly streamlined. The story we see on screen focuses far more exclusively on Sophie than the book does, and it’s sad to say the story looses a little something ,there’s sense of urgency in the book as events spiral further and further out of control that somehow seems missing from the film.

Centrally, there's still the same idea that we have much more control over our life than we think and that the implications of our actions are often further reaching than we intend. Sophie believes her life is boring and uninteresting and so her life stays so. In the book it’s an almost unnerving belief in the fairytales of her world, which keep her in her place, she believes that since she is a step-sister she is fated to loose out in life, in the film Sophie suffers a lack of belief in her self, that stops her from going out an enjoying life, Sophie is literally acting like an old woman. It’s this theme that Miyazaki seizes on; many of his films talk about youth and indeed several in particular Tottoro treats youth as something precious, and it’s something that Sophie has been squandering, and it’s heartbreaking when Sophie becomes an old woman her fears are literally exposed to the world. As the film goes on Sophie’s age shifts, depending on her emotions, which leads to some superb examples of comedy timing, though it does make the films end a little predicable.

Howl Looking Mean

Howl is extremely different in the film, the book dwells on rumours of his legendary nastiness as is able to conceal Howl’s hand in events for quite a while. The visual nature of the film means that Howl has to be introduced much sooner, and is almost immediately cast in the role of hero saving Sophie from the witch’s henchmen. This means a major transformation of the book from villain to hero cannot happen, so instead Miyazaki focuses on Howl’s vanity. Howl suffers from an extreme vanity that gives him an almost dangerous sense of over confidence. It’s this over-confidence that has created many of the problems the protagonists face in the film. Miyazaki makes Howl’s battle with himself visual, the more he uses the darker side of his powers the more he changes and becomes beast like. It’s this transformation, which is probably the weakest point of the film, there’s very little structure to the battle sequences, and whilst they looked amazing I wanted the plot to progress.

Unlike many reviews having been saying the film isn’t totally different from the book, there are several scenes taken almost directly from the book.My favourite scene, which as the book terms it ‘ Howl expresses his feelings with green slime’ is hilarious, and is almost certainly a swipe at bishounen in general.

Sophie and Howl

As you’d expect from any Ghibli film, Howl’s is lovingly animated. The backgrounds are superb, the style draws upon a vast array of European architecture giving the film an almost nostalgic fairy tale feel. There is also some fantastic use of computer animation. The castle itself is extremely impressive; it looks like the most natural thing in the world for it to be moving. The musical score from Joe Hisaishi is superb, adding strongly to the atmosphere of magic. The dub was good quality though a little inconsistent, in a few places the lip sync could have been better. Individually it was possible to see why each actor was cast, but the mix of accents seemed a little inconsistent, with mix of English and American as well as few Americans who I believe were trying to sound English- but who sadly seemed to be using accents only really found on 4kids dubs. That said the acting is still pretty solid, and the script contains some marvellous one-liners.

The ending also suffers a little from the amount Miyazaki has had to cut from the original book, Sophie’s ending is extremely predictable though the resolution of some of the sub-plots was clearly unexpected from those who hadn’t read the book and elicited a good chuckle from the audience. It would have been nice to have a few more clues or explanations at the end, since events suddenly seem to screech to a halt at the end. That said whilst not being in quite the same calibre as Miyazaki’s best it’s masterfully executed film. I would encourage any fan to try and see it in the cinema first it all possible.

Source: Otaku News
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