HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (HAURU NO UGOKU SHIRO) (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is the latest film from Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki. The story focuses on Sophie, an eighteen-year-old girl who is transformed into an elderly woman when she confronts the Witch of the Wastes. Her best hope for being changed back to her age is to visit the wizard Howl. While in Howl’s home Sophie meets the fire demon Calcifer and strikes a deal with him that, if successful, will return both to their normal forms.
Miyazaki films are always beautifully and imaginatively animated. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is no exception. The mechanical castle, war planes, and their unusual weapons are exceptional creations. It’s almost a given that the storytelling in Miyazaki’s films is dense and somewhat confusing, but in the end it usually comes together. That’s where HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE parts company with its predecessors. Most of the time I had no idea what was happening or why it was happening. The visual power of Miyazaki’s animation is as strong as ever, but it’s all for naught when you can’t make heads or tails of the story on screen. Neither the heroine Sophie nor the mysterious wizard Howl make for engaging characters. Sophie is mostly an observer while Howl is a big question mark. Walt Disney Pictures has taken great care in making English language dubs of previous Miyazaki films, and I presume they’ve again done the same for HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. (I saw the subtitled version, which is also playing at the Drexel Theatre.) Whether spoken or printed, I can’t envision either version making much sense.
(Review first aired on the June 21, 2005 NOW PLAYING)