Howl’s Moving Castle [ハウルの動く城] (2005)

I watched Howl’s Moving Castle in the theaters before I launched this site, so I didn’t review it back then. I was too lazy to trek across town to watch the subtitled version, so I went to the theater near my apartment, which was playing the dubbed version.

The film was released on DVD, and I watched it again, this time in Japanese with subtitles.

It’s not hyperbole to call Miyazaki Hayao a magician. The first time you watch one of his films, it’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the visuals — so much detail and such great imagination. It’s also easy to overlook any shortcomings in the storyline.

The first time I watched Howl’s Moving Castle, I was taken in by the animation. I wanted to catch all the little things that I didn’t pay much attention to the bigger picture. The second time I watched it, I could pay more attention to the story, and I nearly fell asleep.

Miyazaki’s films are paced very deliberately. Even something as action-packed as Princess Mononoke unfolds at a pace that requires 2 1/2 hours of viewing time.

Howl’s Moving Castle exceeds the two-hour mark by about 10 minutes, and there’s a sense it could have picked up the pace a bit more.

But I have a nagging suspicion — am I really second-guessing the story?

My Japanese teacher from a few semesters back said she watched the film in both Japanese and English, and she said she understood the story better in English.

If I were to watch this movie a third time — a second time in English — would I still feel the same? I may experiment to find out.

Jette wrote a review of the film a while back, and it hits a lot of points that makes me like the film.

The way Sophie’s curse wavers reminds me of Eve in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. In the comic book, Eve transforms from young to old and back again within a few panels of each other.

The moving castle also demonstrates what I love about Miyazaki’s work. It doesn’t just walk the way its pictured in the film trailers — a nod to Baba Yaga’s walking house with chicken legs? — but it exists in multiple places at once, a nice play on the concept of "moving".

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Miyazaki film if the characters weren’t multi-dimensional. The Witch of the Waste starts off as a super villian, but after a dramatic transformation, her villiany grows only out of immaturity. Although Sophie’s curse turns her into a 90-year-old woman, she turns it into a liberating opportunity. As flamboyant and reckless as Howl is, what he calls cowardice is really a sense of principle.

Compared to other Miyazaki films, Howl’s Moving Castle is on par with Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke — all three are epic with very obvious didactic storylines. If anything, that overt message weighs all three films down.

But Miyazaki is a magician. He can dazzle you with his visual style, even if it distracts you from faults in the story. But when story and visual comes together — as it does on Spirited Away — it’s potent.

Howl’s Moving Castle doesn’t achieve that potency, but it’s still an enjoyable film.