Reader Recommendations: “Howl’s Moving Castle”

Howl's Moving CastleHowdy folks. It’s been a little while since I first came up with this idea and had the inaugural post in the series (I posted the first, based on Le0pard13’s recommendation of “Rob Roy” three months ago, LOL), but I’m turning my attention back to it now, and I’m going to try to make it a more regular part of the blog here…

The Reader Recommendation series is intended to help me formally pursue all the great films that commenters bring up each week in discussion that I’ve never seen. If there’s a movie that comes up that I haven’t seen, but you think I should, just get in touch with me @ or let me know in the comments that you’d like to participate.

Janderoo92This time out, Janderoo92 helps me enter the great wide world of Japanimation with “Howl’s Moving Castle”. The film was written and directed by the famed Hayao Miyazaki and animated by Studio Ghibli. I’ve been anime and Japanimation averse, so far in my film watching life, so I’ll freely admit, this is the first Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki film I’ve ever seen. Jan has chosen this for our starting point, so let’s see how it turns out! Click through to see our thoughts on this film!

My questions in Bold. Janderoo92′s answers below each.

1) Do you remember when you first saw the movie?

I saw Howl’s Moving Castle this year, we streamed it on Netflix. It was probably the last of Miyazaki’s films that I hadn’t seen (we own many on disc, but Ponyo is the only one I’ve seen on the big screen, which is a pity). For someone who is not a kid who doesn’t know Miyazaki’s films, I think Howl might be the best one to see first.

2) Why do you think that it’s recommendable? What do you like about it?

Howl’s Moving Castle represents Miyazaki nicely in that the story is captivating and fun in its oddness and originality – yet the basic, fairy tale elements, including intense emotions and magical dimensions, are all there too. The film is aimed at a slightly older audience than Miyazaki’s well-known family oriented films, (Ponyo and My Neighbor Totoro), because of some warfare scenes and weaponry elements. I think the late 19th century European setting also makes it more accessible to those who are new to anime or might be a little predisposed against it. The voice casting is top-notch, with Christian Bale playing Howl, Billy Crystal as ‘Calcifer’ the put-upon fire spirit who runs the ‘moving’ part of the castle; Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons sharing the role of young Sophie and bewitched old Sophie and Lauren Bacall as ‘The Witch of the Waste.’ It’s a richly layered story with entertaining, 3-dimensional characters, and of course the hand-drawn animation is gorgeous.

3) Is the movie underappreciated, do you think? Or does pop culture have it fairly rated?

I think the Disney English Language version DVD’s of all the Miyazaki titles have John Lasseter at the beginning telling you why Miyazaki is a genius, and you can see Lasseter sort of willing you to love it as much as he does. In San Francisco, where kids and families have a pretty high awareness of the Ghibli merchandising machine, we pretty much do – but I know it’s a fairly unique market here and not representative of the rest of the US. I believe in Japan these films are totally revered, and as far as I know Howl is right up there, and Disney has certainly carefully and lovingly created the English language versions for this and all the Ghibli’s released here.

4) Is there any particular reason you thought I should watch it, or were you just surprised I hadn’t seen it?

Considering how much you really like the best of the American made animation features out there, it does surprise me a little that you haven’t boarded this bus thus far, and that’s why I urge you to give Howl’s Moving Castle a look. The films of Hayao Miyazaki are something that anyone who loves film ought to be checking out. I am not alone in feeling that Miyazaki is an animators’ animator. The level of achievement in the art and the storytelling is really up there in a class by itself.

5) Have you written about the movie yourself?

Why yes I did! (LOL. ) I have a food blog, meliovore, and did a write up of the importance of food in Miyazaki films called ‘Visual Feasts’ I have been toying with the idea of doing a movie blog but can’t quite commit yet.

Thanks! Janderoo92 (aka Janice)

Big thanks to Janice for recommending this! Now for my review!


Right up front – this movie was so good I feel like an ass for never have checked any of these out before.

“Howl’s Moving Castle” is an imaginative, fanciful story, gorgeously and lovingly illustrated. It was a joyous experience to watch, and is assured to spur me to thoroughly explore the Studio Ghibli catalogue. In fact, I started last night, killing two birds with one stone by checking out “The Secret World of Arrietty” for MAJOR Awards consideration.

I thought that I was in trouble with this when the opening menu had calliope music going, the Japanimation characters, and the titular “Moving Castle” in the background, but the film took all of about 10 minutes to completely suck me in. The drawings were beautiful and evocative… while the characters were incredibly creative. The story features a young girl, cursed to be an old woman by a wicked witch, who finds her way to the lumbering mechanical castle of a powerful wizard. She meets a bouncing, mute scarecrow, a talking fire, and a dog who may or may not be a spy. Together they try to figure out the curses that plague them individually, while also trying to evade the horrors of a raging war.

The dub I watched was voiced by recognizable American voices (including Christian Bale and Billy Crystal), which lent an air of familiarity to what otherwise was a very different animated experience. The story is far more leisurely than those told here in the west, and the art seems more… impressionistic. It’s obvious to me that it was crafted with great affection. That, literally, shines through. And all of the characters have a genuine sweetness to them that I couldn’t imagine in Western animation… there would have to be a much higher degree of cynicism for audiences here.

But above all else, “Howl’s” is a triumph of the imagination. It’s wildly unbound from convention and reality and boring realism. The characters, sets, settings, and plot elements are all wildly, crazily creative… in a way that I’m really at a loss to describe. All I can say is that it made for an extremely enjoyable watch… it’s the kind of film that will bring out the kid in you.

This IS very different from Western animation. But apparently in the best of ways. “Howl’s Moving Castle” was nothing short of a treat, and I have to give a HUGE thank you to Janice for recommending it! :D


If you have a movie you’d like to recommend, give me a heads up in the comments or drop me a line @!

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