Thursday, December 12, 2013

Anime Review: Howl's Moving Castle

HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE: The story is entirely different from the book

When Sophie Hatter unwittingly attracts the attention of a wicked witch, she finds herself in a terrible curse that transforms her into an old woman. She is forced to set out to find a way to break the curse, and soon enough, she finds herself in the ever-moving castle in the hills. Before she knows it, she is drawn to a bargain with a fire demon, a looming war between nations, and most of all, to Howl, the terrible wizard. But it seems that there is more to Howl than first meets the eye.

As they say, the movie is always different from the book, so it isn’t very surprising that Hayao Miyazaki put the story in diverse directions -- for better or worse. One of the core elements from the book that have been eradicated are Sophie’s relations with her family, particularly to her sisters Lettie and Martha.

In my opinion, the plot points that include Lettie and Martha are really interesting, so it is such a shame that they were not included in the film. Other core elements that have been left out include Miss Angorian, Mrs. Fairfax, Mrs. Pentstemmon, Howl’s family, Gaston, Howl’s guitar, and the skull.

Another thing that makes this Studio Ghibli film different from the book is the characterization. First, Marco is not a little kid in the book. His name is not even Marco. His becoming a little kid in the film is understandable, because his being a teenager in the book is only important because of Lettie and Martha. Second, Calcifer is not a mascot in the book. This is also understandable, because it is obvious that Hayao Miyazaki is trying to give off a comedic impression in the characters. Third, the Witch of the Waste is not a joke in the book. Again, this is also understandable, because she isn’t that important in Hayao Miyazaki’s story. Overall, the characterization is much gentler in nature compared to the book.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hating on the film. I understand that the eradication and alteration of these plot elements is necessary, because they are not significant to the story Hayao Miyazaki wants to tell. By not including these elements, the story becomes entirely different from the book.

Entirely different from the book

But the problem is, the story lacks conflict, primarily because most of the conflicts have been in the eradicated and altered plot elements. The book is just more solid because it has a ton of foreshadows, conflicts, and revelations. And when Hayao Miyazaki decided to tell a story of his own, removing the important plot elements of the book, the story just felt weaker.

I admit though, that I enjoyed the unique touches of the anime. Hayao Miyazaki’s trademark aerial machines and battles are there, and the storytelling is pretty much Hayao Miyazaki style as well. I also like the idea how the concept of having a heart has been included and presented in a nice way.

Overall, Howl’s Moving Castle pales in comparison to other Hayao Miyazaki works. It does have the magic, because of the concept of having a heart. But it fails on giving me the epic impression I felt on Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and Castle in the Sky. It had so much potential to be an epic because of its unique world.

I know that I shouldn’t have compared it to the book, but I was just disappointed. I really loved the book, and I think the adaptation would have been a lot better if Hayao Miyazaki remained loyal to the source material. But it just can’t be helped. After all, as they say, the movie is always different from the book.

If you want to read my review of the book, you can find it here. I also wrote a character analysis of the book version of Howl here.

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  1. I might watch Howl's Moving Castle after watching more of Miyazaki's better works, but it is not at the top my list.

    On a side note, I have watched Perfect Blue and Summer Wars the other day, both are really good movies if you haven't seen them, although Perfect Blue is a little out there.


    1. I heard that Perfect Blue is where the creator of Black Swan got his idea. I'm actually planning to watch that too. And Summer Wars! I've heard a lot of that too, but I haven't seen it yet because I can't find a place to stream. Thanks for recommending! I'll watch them soon and hopefully I could also review them here. I heard good feedback on Millennium Actress and Grave of the Fireflies, so maybe you could also check that out.

    2. Yes, Darren Aronofsky, the director of Black Swan, actually bought the rights to Perfect Blue so he could recreate a scene from Perfect Blue in another one of his earlier movies, although I have not seen either of Aronofsky's film. If you are interested in the English dub of Summer Wars, below is a link to the movie on Just Anime Dubs, that is where I watched it. Also below that I posted a link to Perfect Blue from the same site. They both have relatively good quality video as well.


    3. Thank you! Really. Now I don't have a problem. I'll check them out soon enough.