Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro) (2004)

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“Howl’s Moving Castle” is probably one of the weaker entries from Miyazaki. Miyazaki’s films have one thing for them that you can not deny. Originality. “Howl’s Moving Castle” is original, and it’s brutally entertaining, and that’s why I enjoyed this very much. Sure, I was watching the American dubbing (accidental, give me a break), but “Howl’s Moving Castle” possesses more unique fantasy elements and plot progression that really kept me in awe constantly. A scarecrow that follows our heroine like a lovesick dog? An old dog that weighs a ton? A little boy who masquerades as an old man? And a heroine who turns into an elderly woman sporadically? You take a look at Miyazaki’s universe and you’re nothing short of breath taken the entire time.

“Howl’s Moving Castle” is about life and about living it while you can, as Miyazaki once again instates the prevalent anti-war sentiment that becomes a backdrop incessantly interrupting our characters life. Our heroine is a young plain Jane named Sophie who confines herself to a hat shop all day long. Accidentally coming across a sorcerer named Howl, she’s cursed, in revenge, by the Witch of the Waste. This turns her into an old woman. As this old woman, she learns to live life and find peace. Something she never had with her youth and opportunities. Miyazaki makes such a poetic statement in that regard about how she discovers life through age, and realizes she could never do so through shallow youth. She’s then cooped up with different entities in Howl’s amazing moving castle. In it she finds a living fire that has to run Howl’s world, a young boy learning under Howl, and Howl.

Who is vain beyond belief, a coward, cruel, and utterly convinced that creating different magic mechanisms will keep his loved ones close by, because outside he’s an Adonis, but inside he’s just a hollow demon with nothing to offer. This is a man who can never see the big picture, and somehow he’s a rather intriguing character to behold. “Howl’s Moving Castle” is an entertaining entry from the man, Miyazaki, even if it’s not his best. I was a little more than disappointed, mainly because Miyazaki spends too much time on the characters, and their little foibles that, halfway into the film, there’s rarely any sort of forward progression, or development. We never learn enough about Sophie, we never learn enough about Howl’s sidekick Marco, and just when we’re getting the point where finally we can drive the story forward, “Howl’s” becomes almost too elaborate to explain to younger children.

I found myself lost on separate occasions wondering what motivation certain characters had toward the queen, and what the entire sequence involving Sophie going back in time through a portal to view Howl as a young boy, meant in the first place. “Howl’s” is a very good entry from Miyazaki, but it just never hits the right notes that “Totoro” or “Spirited Away” hit in their basic unveiling to the public. The magic is there, but the awe is missing in action, and Miyazaki doesn’t seem present. Even though it’s not the best of Miyazaki’s offerings, “Howl’s Moving Castle” is still a very good fantasy epic about life, war, and a young learning to live through old age. With amazing animation, an original story, and a satisfying climax, Miyazaki hits the mark hard with a few missteps along the way.