Howl’s Moving Castle

Hey guys!

I’m really sorry that I haven’t been blogging due to other stuff that I’ve been preoccupied with.

So with my return to blogging, I was wondering what kind of post I should do and I decided to do an anime movie review on another of Miyazaki’s works, Howl’s Moving Castle.

I had high hopes for Howl’s Moving Castle when I first decided to watch it because I was watching it after Spirited Away, which completely took me by surprise and well, blew me away haha. I didn’t expect Howl’s Moving Castle to be so… fuzzy and vague.

What I consider as good stories are stories that you understand once they’re told to you because they’re clear and the story flows so you get the continuity and shift of the story. Howl’s Moving Castle isn’t like that. A lot of the story is fuzzy and vague that so many questions are left unanswered even till the end of the movie. I found myself confused and completely bewildered when the credits started rolling at the end of the movie because I was so puzzled at the ending.

This movie is just those kinds that make you think to put two and two together and I guess I don’t really like movies like these. I prefer movies that just explain the story to me clearly – that’s good storytelling. But I tried hard not to hate this movie, simply because it isn’t an original work of Miyazaki’s – this story is adapted from Diana Wynne Jones’ book of the same name. And I found that I couldn’t hate the movie because of Howl – he’s so darn handsome as many of friends said ^^

Howls-Moving-CastleSo Howl’s Moving Castle is about a hatter, Sophie who meets Howl, a powerful wizard on her way to visit her sister. Her encounter with him changes her life forever after that. The Witch of the Waste who seems to have romantic feelings for Howl, visits Sophie’s shop but Sophie refuses to entertain her because the shop is past its opening hours. Angry, the Witch transforms Sophie into a 90-year-old woman.

Seeking a cure for her curse, Sophie leaves home to go to the Wastes to look for the Witch. There, she meets a scarecrow who takes her to Howl’s moving castle. She meets Calcifer, Howl’s fire demon who runs the house and Howl’s apprentice, Markl. Calcifer offers to break her curse in exchange for her help in releasing him from the spell he’s under that bonds him to the castle – if she figures out the secret contract, the spell will break and Calcifer would break her curse.

During this time, Sophie’s country has begun to go to war with a neighboring country because of the disappearance of the other country’s Crown Prince. Howl receives summons from the king to fight in the war from his various assumed identities and the fighting is intense. He is terrified, however and asks Sophie to pretend to be Pendragon (one of his identities)’s mother and tell the king that her son is a good-for-nothing so he would give up on him.

Sophie goes and on the way there, she meets the Witch of the Waste who mocks her and the two of them have a mini competition to see who gets there first haha. Both of them enter a room with a single chair in it and the Witch makes a beeline for it immediately, completely exhausted from the previous staircase. Sophie goes into another room, led by a dog whom she assumes is Howl, following her in disguise.

There, she meets Madame Suliman who tells her that Howl was her last apprentice and that his heart was stolen by a demon. She tells Sophie that if this carries on, he would end up like the Witch of the Waste, who had made a deal with a demon before too. She warns Sophie that if Howl wishes to serve the kingdom, she would teach him how to break it off with the demon, if not, she would strip him of all his powers as she had done with the Witch of the Waste, who was reduced to just a harmless old lady.

Sophie finds this all very ridiculous and starts to talk back, saying that even though Howl is heartless, selfish, cowardly and unpredictable, he’s straight as an arrow and only wants to be free. She tells Suliman that Howl won’t turn into a monster and will battle the demon on his own. As she says all of this, she slowly regains back her youth and Suliman clearly sees her for who she really is and that she’s not Pendragon’s mother, but that she’s in love with him.

Howl then comes in the disguise of the king but the real king turns up and his identity is revealed. He takes Sophie away and escapes, along with Suliman’s dog and the Witch. Sophie crashes into the castle and clears away the crash-landed plane with help from Markl and the scarecrow.

Howl returns home and announces that they’re moving because if they stay put, Suliman would find them. They shift to Sophie’s old home and Howl gives her a present: a doorway to a beautiful meadow that he calls his secret garden. She admires its beauty but it doesn’t last long – they are interrupted by a warplane searching for Howl and he quickly takes her back through the doorway while he stays to fight.

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They are soon visited by Sophie’s mother who unknown to them, is a spy for Suliman and plants a peeping bug in the house. It is immediately discovered by the Witch though, who feeds it to Calcifer. It is poisonous to him though, and he seemingly nearly dies out. The war becomes more intense with bombs dropping from the skies everywhere and demons roaming the streets freely.

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Howl returns briefly, curing Calcifer and telling him to look after the house before leaving to join the fight again. Sophie stops him, telling him not to go but to run away instead but Howl tells her that he’s done with running away because he found someone he wants to protect: her.

Sophie then does something I would never understand: she tells everyone to move out, even taking Calcifer with her. The moment Calcifer leaves the doorway, the castle collapses. Sophie finds an opening into the now collapsed castle and tells Calcifer to wait while she throws him some firewood and tells him to move the castle to where Howl is.

Okay, how dumb is that? You make the castle collapse then go back inside and tell the fire demon to move the castle now in that dilapidated state? This, I don’t get.

Calcifer tells her that it’s ridiculous and that he can’t power the house with no roof but Sophie showers him with praise on how he’s so capable and strong that it boosts his ego. He requests that Sophie gives him something of hers and she offers him her hair. Calcifer takes her braid of hair and lifts up the house but the only part of the house that can be moved is only a small portion of the old castle.

The Witch, seeing Calcifer lift up the ‘castle’, realises that Howl had given his heart to Calcifer. She takes the heart and refuses to let it go until Sophie splashes her with a bucket of water. The water hits Calcifer too, making him lose his magic and power. The ‘castle’ is split into two and Sophie and the dog, Heen are separated from the rest of the group.

Desperately wanting to find Howl, Sophie is led into a doorway by the ring that howl gave her as a protective charm and is shown how Howl and Calcifer met. When she returns to reality, she finds Howl who has completely lost his human consciousness and tells him to take her to Calcifer. Sophie and Heen are reunited with the rest of the group and she asks the Witch for Howl’s heart. She gives it to her and Sophie places it back in Howl. Calcifer is released and Howl comes back to life. The scarecrow who has followed them is also given a kiss from Sophie as gratitude and to their surprise, it transforms into a young man who reveals that he is the missing prince from the neighboring country. Heen shows Suliman the discovery of the missing prince and how everything turned out well in the end and she decides to put an end to the war.

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– Final Thoughts – 

This isn’t really my favourite movie simply because I don’t like complex movies that aren’t straightforward and simple. I did read up on it from several sources after watching the show though, to help me understand the story better and it kind of made more sense after that. But still. Stories like these aren’t really my thing with wars and endless fighting. I felt that there were too many unexplained things and that Sophie really did some crazy things that didn’t make sense at all.

If you’ve never watched or read the story of Howl’s Moving Castle before, watching the movie once wouldn’t explain to you why Howl had to fight in the war, or why making a deal with a demon would cause his doom or why the ring that Sophie had showed her that weird memory of Howl’s past. Or that’s just me, because I need information served to me point-blank. I guess if you can infer then you’d be able to find and guess all the answers to those questions.

I didn’t like Sophie’s character much, there wasn’t anything much admirable or outstanding about her. And I didn’t like her voice actress, to be honest. Maybe the only thing that I felt happy for her was when she found her confidence and she regained her youth because she was in love. I also did sympathise with her when Howl made a fuss out of his hair changing colour and telling her that there was no point in living if you weren’t beautiful. However, I felt that overall, as a character, I couldn’t relate to Sophie and I didn’t find her as endearing as I did with Chihiro from Spirited Away.

Howl was the only redeeming factor about this movie, I felt. I like his voice actor and I liked his mysteriousness. The ambiguity about his background made me curious to know more about him and of course, Howl has a charming personality and a pretty face, what’s not to like? He’s like a little boy, young at heart and straightforward in the things he wants and that’s what I liked about his character.

I liked Markl too as he came to love Sophie more and more and started treating her like family. His voice actor sounds so adorable too haha.

Lastly, the theme song of Howl’s Moving Castle is really good. I didn’t really notice the other soundtracks of the movie but that’s perhaps they weren’t outstanding enough for me to take note of. Joe Hisaishi’s music is magic, as usual.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to watch this show again for its story but I definitely would watch it again, if I feel like watching Howl in action.

Rating: 6.5/10 overall

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10 thoughts on “Howl’s Moving Castle

  1. I really enjoyed Howls Moving Castle, though I absolutely hated Spirited Away. I agree many things about the movie make no sense, but I still liked it. For me, the most confusing thing was the witch, because I couldn’t tell if she was good or bad or what.

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  2. Haha yes I agree with you, now that you mention it. We were never told if the Witch was good or bad in the end. I don’t exactly like the story but somehow I can’t bring myself to hate it. I guess we’d just have to read the book to find out all the answers ourselves or just leave it as it is and appreciate it 🙂

    P.S. Why didn’t you like Spirited Away though? I’m curious to know 🙂

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    • I think the reason I didn’t like Spirited Away was because it really confused me. I honestly couldn’t follow what was happening and to tell the truth, I found it just a little bit creepy.

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      • I see ^^ I guess Spirited Away did have its confusing moments but I remedied that by reading it up too after watching the movie. Somehow, I didn’t feel as confused as I did with Howl’s Moving Castle. I think it’s just the movie in its entirety that I loved because of its characters, how much I related to them and of course, how much the story itself made sense. But Spirited Away was set in a fantasy world so there wasn’t much reality to it I guess 🙂
        I think how we could see Chihiro grow into a responsible and more matured young girl was the main thing of the story ^^

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      • I guess also the reason I didn’t like it was because I’d never watched anything like it before, and I was quite young at the time. When I watched Howls Moving Castle it was only like a week ago and I’d watched anime and stuff before that.

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      • Simply put, if you are a Westerner, Spirited Away has zero cultural connotations/references for you and it wouldn’t make since. As a Westerner who majored in Asian Studies, I had no issue understanding it. If you are curious, do some google searches on Japanese folklore and kamikakushi (literally hidden away by god(s)). It’s the same with other movies like The Gurdge (Juon) or the Ring, one wouldn’t understand the significance of the Japanese Black haired vengeful spirits that references kaidan tales such as Yotsuya Kaidan (written in the 1800s) without knowing Japanese culture.

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      • Thanks for your suggestion! I’m Asian though haha. I just felt that the story flow wasn’t very clear to me and therefore the pieces of the story couldn’t piece together in my head. Howl’s Moving Castle is a brilliant work of art though, as is Miyazaki’s other works 🙂

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  3. Ohh I see 🙂 Then maybe you could watch Spirited Away again, in its Japanese audio with English subs because the translation is better. You’d understand it better and the soundtrack is absolutely beautiful ^^

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