Anthony’s Notes: “Howl’s Moving Castle”

Corey already did an excellent review, so this is just my personal impressions after having just finished the film.

“Howl’s Moving Castle”, going by reviews and the Rotten Tomatoes score, is considered “lesser Miyazaki”, as Corey said. This utterly baffles me. Thus far in the Miyazaki retrospective it’s one of my favorite films.

I think it’s that people miss the point of it. I’ve seen people criticize the ending before; “Howl’s” ends on a  happily ever after note after several scenes that seem to make such an ending completely impossible. Some people thought it was a cheat, or a cliche, or a cop-out.

This is because they do not understand fairy tales. Fairy tales end in two ways: They either have grotesque endings (see much of the Brothers Grimm if you want examples of those), or they have happy endings. That’s it; there’s no in-between ending for a fairy tale, no “mostly happy” ending. Fairy tales exist to make a particular point: True love conquers all. Work hard and persevere and the universe will reward you. Be lazy or evil and suffer horrible consequences.

And the point of “Howl’s Moving Castle” is that Sophie’s love for the people of Howl’s Castle, and Howl’s love for Sophie, redeemed and saved them all. That’s the message, and to not give it a fully happy ending you lessen it. People who argue that it’s overly simplistic don’t understand what Miyazaki was doing. When you look at the ending of “Howl’s Moving Castle” from the perspective of the fairy tale, it not only succeeds, it succeeds brilliantly. The ending couldn’t be more perfect.

Some criticize the story as over-complicated. I suppose that’s a matter of taste; I was never at a loss as to what was happening. Some of the stuff that happened to Sophie near the end of the film seemed to come sort of out of nowhere, but again, it’s a fairy tale; in fairy tales, a certain amount of coincidence or randomness is allowed so long as it services the main point – like the animals in “Cinderella” coming together to help Cinderella with her chores.

And yes, the anti-war message was more simplistic than it was in “Princess Mononoke”, but fairy tales exist to make simple points, and there’s no denying that the imagery of Howl’s transformation into a hideous bird-monster was powerfully effective.

The film was not as good as “Princess Mononoke” or “Spirited Away”. It didn’t have the moral or metaphysical depth of either of those films. But looked at from the perspective of what Miyazaki was attempting to accomplish, it was a smashing, brilliant success, and for that reason – to me, anyway – it is not only NOT lesser Miyazaki, but in fact stands as one of his very best films.

  • Lorenzo Fossi

    I agree with your analisys and would like to add that studio Ghibli did an awesome job in translating the book to animated form (the book has very little of the scenery and worldbuilding of the movie) and that It’s awesome tabletop RPG setting folder.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    The book has,a great deal more worldbuilding, scenery, and plot. Miyazaki did not want it. His WWII analogy was fighting with Diana Wynne Jones the whole time, because her point was to prevent war.

    He did the same thing with Kiki, but there he was imposing order on the formless and episodic. In Howl, he imposed chaos. I can live with it, but it is wrong to make your own personal issues the story.

    It also eliminated Howl’ s Welsh Earth family and Welsh friends, which are most of his motivation. He needed help and even rescue, but he was not helpless and heartless, really. He had reasons for his odd behavior, which Miyazaki stole from him.

    • Bellomy

      His WWII analogy was fighting with Diana Wynne Jones the whole time, because her point was to prevent war.

      I am going to very very very very strongly disagree with you here. “Howl’s Moving Castle”, the film, is anti-war; in fact, it’s anti-war to the point where some criticize it for being TOO anti-war, with not enough nuance (which I reply is perfectly acceptable when telling a fairy tale). The entire reason Howl disappeared and transformed in the movie is that he was trying to prevent both sides of the war from killing one another. The movie ends with the discovery of the missing Prince, who ends the war. There was no argument with Jones. Miyazaki merely made a subplot he found interesting more substantial in his adaptation.

      In Howl, he imposed chaos. I can live with it, but it is wrong to make your own personal issues the story.

      I have a few possible responses here, but I’ll content myself with saying that the author of “Kiki’s” hated the changes Miyazaki made, but Jones found the movie to be a high compliment to her work; if she is not morally outraged over Miyazaki’s changes I won’t trouble myself over it.

      It also eliminated Howl’ s Welsh Earth family and Welsh friends, which are most of his motivation. He needed help and even rescue, but he was not helpless and heartless, really. He had reasons for his odd behavior, which Miyazaki stole from him.

      My sister read the book (which she liked very much) after seeing the movie, and told me all about it. She mentions the Welsh friends, which Miyazaki did indeed cut out.

      But I still think you’re missing the point. The reason Howl is stuck in adolescence is actually very consistent with his character: At great personal risk and with no obvious benefit to himself, he saves Calcifer from dying and has their hearts bound. This very noble and selfless act has also gotten him stuck in a state of perpetual immaturity, contrasted with Sophie’s perpetual old age – the two almost literally complete each other.

      His odd behavior is not odd for oddness’s sake; he has prevented himself from growing up in order to save the life of a demon who generally doesn’t even take the time to act grateful. This is consistent with his character – he might be immature and selfish, but he’s also a kind and compassionate man who will do whatever he could to help those he loves.

      So you’re not giving Miyazaki enough credit. He simplified the story, but he knew what he was doing.

      • Overgrown Hobbit

        Agreed. First-rate analysis – his story is not DWJs, but it is a consistent whole, using Mrs. Jones’ story as the starting point. In our family, the onlybMiazaki better-loved than HMC is Spirited Away.