Howl's Moving Castle is a great introduction to Studio Ghibli.

Story

Howl's Moving Castle tells the story of a young hatmaker named Sophie whose encounter with the Witch of the Waste turns her into an old woman. She then encounters a wizard named Howl and ends up on the adventure of a lifetime. 

The best way to describe the story is with two words, magical adventure. Yes, the plot is on the strange side but it's refreshing. I have ever watched a movie like this and it kept me engaged throughout.

Voice Acting

I was today years old when I found out that Christian Bale played Howl in the dubbed version. That is pretty cool information to know. And even though I didn't watch the dubbed version, the voice cast is stellar with so many familiar faces (well, voices) from Josh Hutcherson to Jena Malone and Emily Mortimer. The subbed version I watched has a lot of emotion, Chieko Baisho who plays Sophie, manages to mould her voice to fit with whatever stage her character is in whether as an exasperated old woman or a terrified young one. 

The other standout performance is Takuya Kimura who plays Howl. You can actually hear the change in voice as his character grows and changes throughout the film and those vocal shifts make the movie more immersive and emotional.

Writing/Direction

This is one of those movies you can either take at face value or read into the deeper themes and it works on both levels. 

There are a few themes and lessons to break down from the movie. The first one is the VERY obvious anti-war stance. I found out that the director, Hayao Miyazaki was opposed to the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003 and it's clear in how Howl reacts to being recruited by the kin. He doesn't want to do it, so much so that he sends Sophie as his mother to convince the king that he is a coward. The movie also makes it clear to you that war is not something that is clear. The movie never actually addressed why the war is going on, only that it is happening and from the little I know not he film (that I researched as I wrote this) that was done deliberately.

There are also themes of personal and interpersonal growth. Both Howl and Sophie go through so much in this movie and because of that, they end the movie in a different place than when they started. Sophie is passive and meek but at the end of the movie, she is more assertive and willing to fight for what she wants. And when you look at Howl, he is aloof and detached at the beginning of the movie but as the movie goes on, he finds that there is something worth protecting and fighting for and even says as much. A review I read described the characters are "inflexible but adaptable" and I think it sums them up perfectly.

The movie also makes it clear to lay it on us that appearances are not what they seem. Take Sophie for instance, even though she is inside the body of an old woman, she is still youthful and energetic. The same could also be said about Howl, you see him fluctuate between the charismatic wizard and dark raven, and the movie makes a point to let you know that the real Howl could be either of them.

 Animation

When most people talk about Studio Ghibli movies, a talking point is how good the animation is and I see why. This film looks really unique. The visual style of the film is very distinct. The characters look fluid when they move while the castle looks also looks mechanical. The two are a nice juxtaposition. The poster is also a good example of how the colour scheme fits in with the movie. The castle itself is colour with more cool colours like brown and grey, which the background is filled with vibrant blues and green. There are also scenes in the movie that depicts war that look completely different from the scenes that come before it.

I also have to mention the attention to detail in this movie. One scene, in particular, that takes place in Howl’s room is a great example of this.

This frame is stunning and I’m thinking about the sheer amount to time that went into drawing and animating this one frame. And even though the room is cluttered and busy, you never lose sight of what you're supposed to be looking at.

 I don't know that I have seen a movie that looks like this. It's a lot softer than the anime I have watched (honestly, it's not that many for me to make a statement like that) and the colour scheme lends itself to the more fantastical elements of the story, which make sure the tone of each scene is consistent. 

Overall Thoughts

As the title suggests, this was my introduction to Studio Ghibli. And I know what you're about to ask, "How have you never watched a Studio Ghibli movie?" And the answer to the question is pretty simple. Throughout my life, I've consumed a lot of westernised media, and now that I'm older, I'm diversifying what I watch, from Korean Dramas to Anime. And I knew that I had to watch a Studio Ghibli film at some point, so here we are. 

And Howl's moving castle is great. It has pretty much everything you would want in a movie. A fascinating premise with lasting themes, great voice acting that carries the emotional weight of the film and stellar animation. I really should have watched this movie sooner, but hey no time like the present right?

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