This week’s Miyazaki Monday film is the 2004 film Howl’s Moving Castle:
Howl’s Moving Castle is the story of Sophie, a young woman who helps run a hat store. After unknowingly helping a powerful wizard named Howl, Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste. The Witch of the Waste turns Sophie into a ninety year old woman. Her quest to be freed from the curse lands her in the Wastes. In the Wastes, she meets a cursed living scarecrow (which Sophie calls “Turnip Head”). This scarecrow leads her to a moving castle that incidentally belongs to Howl (hence the title of the film). Along with Howl, the castle also has other residents. They include Markl, a young wizard apprentice, and Calcifer, a fire-demon who powers the moving castle. Sophie joins the crew and becomes a cleaning lady.
In the midst of all this, a war is going on that encompasses both Sophie’s home country and a neighboring country. The two sides have recruited magicians and Howl is one of those magicians that both sides are trying to have serve their cause. Through the course of the movie, Howl occasionally turns into a bird like creature to interfere in the war but this takes a toll on him. Meanwhile, Sophie learns more about Howl & the secrets of the moving castle. She also grows to love Howl. Sophie must protect Howl & find a way to break a curse all the while trying to survive the war raging around them.
This film is based on a novel by the same name that was written by Diana Wynne Jones. Interesting enough, Miyazaki wasn’t initially going to direct the film. However, when the initial person selected to direct the film was unable to direct, Miyazaki stepped into the director’s chair. Miyazaki also wrote the screenplay for the film. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2004. It was released in Japan on November 20, 2004. In the following year, it received a limited release in theaters in North America on June 10, 2005 through Walt Disney Pictures. The English dubbed version featured voices by such actors as Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal and Josh Hutcherson.
Howl’s Moving Castle was another successful film for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. It would go on to gross over $235 million dollars at the box office. It received critical acclaim from numerous critics and received several nominations and awards. It would receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature (however it would lose to Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit that year).
In my top 5 favorite Miyazaki films, Howl’s Moving Castle is on that list. It has a great story, the visuals are stunning as usual & the voice acting is top notch. It continues the tradition of quality film making that is a staple of Miyazaki’s work.