Howl’s Moving Castle (2005)

In Animation on June 10, 2005 at 7:22 am


Howl’s Moving Castle
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki, Diana Wynne Jones
US Release: June 2005

Finally it’s released in US theaters. I love the book by Diana Wynne Jones, though it was a long time ago since I read it and my memory is failing me on the details. But my impression was still strong, hence I was very disappointed with the Miyazaki adaptation. He took too much artistic liberties yet didn’t do a good job, particularly with the characterization and changes of the story, both plot and theme-wise. First of all the entire part about the ongoing machinery and war destruction was entirely Miyazaki’s own insertion as a ‘war is senseless and stupid’ commentary that wasn’t even concluded in a satisfactory way.

Then the biggest let down was the character of Howl. In the book, Howl is a very lovable and hilarious character: childish, narcissistic, irresponsible, whiny, flamboyant…but when the times come it was a great paid off when his depth and motives were revealed. In the movie he was just a confusing ‘kidadult’ pretty boy with a brooding presence.

In the film Sophie was reduced into a shy low self-esteem bystander who innocently got caught inbetween, realized she is a strong and beautiful woman through true love. Witch of the Waste was reduced to this jealous love rival who later redeemed as a harmless grandma. In the book, the Witch of the Waste was a nasty villain all the way, and she cursed Sophie to rid of a threatening rival: Sophie didn’t realize she actually has the extraordinary power of giving life by talking to inanimate objects. Sophia also did not break the old age curse until the last 2 pages, though the constant shifting of her ages according to her emotional state in the film was a nice touch. The film never introduced the Sophia-as-a-witch aspect so Sophie and fire demon’s pact won’t make sense.***

In the book the climax was an illusion-conjuring battles between Howl and his master that would have been more cinematically spectacular and original compare to the tiring bomb dropping monster warship scenes reminiscent of any war film. All in all it was especially disappointing because, as this article pointed out, The book is more Miyazaki-esque than the film. Plot and characters could have been so much richer and more interesting as they were the notable strength of the book aside from the imaginative magic (the house portals part was nicely done though). The design of the fire demon was quite blah~ and every time he spoke I can only think of Billy Crystal, not the character. But the English cast was very good (Christian Bale over Kimutaku anytime), in fact I have the tendency of preferring Miyzaki films in English (I can’t stand anime’s girl voice).

Anyway it was still delightful to watch , but it could have been so much more (more epic, more wondrous magic battles and more heart).

***Here’s what I remembered: in the book, the fire demon Calcifer was originally a shooting star that’d die as it hit the ground. Howl gave Calcifer his heart so the fire demon will live on as Howl lives, and Howl can wield the demon’s power. But Howl was losing his humanity as the heart left him too long, so the fire demon wanted to break the pact. But once the heart is returned to Howl the fire demon will die so Howl refused. When Calcifer met Sophie he recognized her power and he took a chance to ask her to break the pact since she seems to have the power to give life.

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