It was forever ago since I last posted a movie review and it’s high time I post one again. No surprise, it’s another Studio Ghibli movie. Spirited Away was a lucky encounter that introduced me to the world of Hayao Miyazaki (the studio’s head) but it was Kiki’s Deliver Service (another chance encounter on Disney Channel) that spurred me to finally check them out. I watched a total of fourteen movies and some of my favorites are Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Whisper of the Heart, Arrietty, From Up On Poppy Hill and of course, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. But enough blabber, this post is about Howl’s Moving Castle so let’s talk about that.
Studio Ghibli movies have always been a little trippy and Howl’s Moving Castle is no exception. Based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones (which I reviewed a few weeks ago), the movie tries its best to showcase the world of wizardry as created by Jones. What made me love the movie is the absolute crazy experience of watching it. I saw the movie first before reading the book so I had no idea where the story was going. There’s always the element of surprise and weirdness that kept me entertained.
The cinematography is also top notch. What makes Hayao Miyazaki, the animation’s director, above his peers is his treatment for animated movies. He never comprises the scenes and presents it like an artistic real life movie. I’ve noticed there’s a certain sad tone to his movies and perhaps that’s what makes them so memorable.
Ultimately, what made me love the movie was the unapologetic ‘Happily Ever After’ ending I got from it. You see, Studio Ghibli movies almost always end up quite bittersweet—and I’m a sucker for that too that’s why I became a fan!—but since HEA’s from them are so rare, it took me by surprise that Howl’s Moving Castle had one. I did not expect that at all because the movie was a quintessential Studio Ghibli: lots of crazy, weird stuff going on, spooky characters and elements in the story. So for it to have a fairytale ending? Sweet. After reading the book though, I realize now why the ending is so different from the usual Studio Ghiblis. It’s because it’s not Miyazaki’s story.
Anyway, movie adaptations are known for butchering stories but this one is different. For a two-hour movie, I would say Miyazaki captured the story’s essence as best as he could given the limited time frame. It may not be as accurate as some had hoped but the characters’ most important traits are reflected in the movie.
The most recognizable would be Howl Jenkins Pendragon’s (the male lead) vanity. The name itself is very pompous sounding but while he is vain, Howl is also kind. He isn’t very obvious about it but Howl actually cares for his friends (the other tenants of the castle). One scene that proves this is when Howl cooks food for their visitor, old Sophie.
No wonder he’s vain. Look at him. He’s perfect. Anyway, Howl is also known for his tantrums of epic proportions. One time, he turned himself into slime just because his hair was orange instead of blonde. I admit, he’s got a reason to be mad because he used the wrong potion after Sophie cleaned the bathroom and replaced the vials. But to actually let his ire known to the entire household? That’s a whole new level of drama queen and I love him for it! (Also being a self-centered jerk gives him a lot of room for redemption later on and it would be so much sweeter).
Now let’s talk about Sophie Hatter, my favorite character in the movie and the whole Studio Ghibli-verse! Sophie is a self-deprecating, depressive loner who has settled to what she thinks is her lot in life: a hat shop owner. She never goes out, never has fun (actually declines invitations to hang out), basically a girl who leads a sad life. She reminds me so much of myself and perhaps that’s why I love her.
After being cursed to become an old woman, Sophie, ironically enough, starts living her life. One can say her curse was a blessing in disguise. Without it, she wouldn’t have the courage to go on an adventure, find a way to break the spell and along the way, meet friends and the most important of all, discover herself.
These new characters will help Sophie find her way as much as Sophie will help them find theirs too. I think this is what drew Miyazaki to the story. Much like Spirited Away, it isn’t just about one character’s journey. It’s a cumulative effort to reach their end goals and it wouldn’t be successful without one and the other.
I;ve been talking about so much other stuff that I forgot to mention the most beautiful part of the story: the moral lessons. It’s worth taking note how much the characters have grown (every single one of them) from the start of the movie to the ending. In fact, you can always count on Studio Ghibli movies to center around life lessons. If you have impressionable kids, teenagers, you should make them watch these movies to help them navigate the coming adulthood. I wish I saw these movies when I was young. Then maybe, my life would be better now.
To end this review, here is a bunch of gif’s I made featuring Howl and Sophie, aka, the couple with the funniest dynamic in the Studio Ghibli-verse.
*gifs all mine