I should really stop procrastinating with these reviews.
About eighty minutes into this, I was only minimally entertained by what I was watching. The characters’ motivations felt superficial and the lovely animation/fantasy aspects were doing little to evoke any feeling from me. One scene, however, flipped a switch in my brain in just the right way: a flying aircraft was on its way to bomb some specific area. The female lead remarks something along the lines of “Is it heading towards the garden?” to which Howl responds, “Does it matter?” His response, added with the gloomy picture of a death machine flying in the darkened sky, gave me an epiphany:
“This film is allegorical!”
Suddenly, it was fun to watch! The characters’ motivations didn’t feel as superficial (unfortunately), the transformative magic made more sense, the characters’ roles held more weight. Howl’s Moving Castle was no longer a typical romantic adventure with nice animation; it became a picture of wartime and the ways it affected the people within. Granted, not all of my theories are completely grounded, but it was great fun to try and look at the things the film tried to present in a somewhat subtle way. The use of age, action, gender, and even animals went a long way to concocting my own puzzle of mental stimulation. This will definitely be in need of a rewatch at some point, as eighty minutes in, I may have missed a lot of further evidence to support my educated guesses.
Still, fanciful talk of metaphors aside, the film is pretty standard from a narrative structure. The characters and their hijinks are only charming to some extent, and particularly noteworthy with me is the female lead’s infatuation with Howl… because he did some magic with her…? Didn’t really feel much of a romantic attachment there—more of a humanistic endeavor. And the ending—BLECH! Far, far too happy an ending for the sake of happy endings. Felt far too convenient with everything that had happened up to that point. The warring nations up and just fucking quit. Okay?!
I feel there’s more here than with other films from Studio Ghibli, but it’s hampered somewhat from narrative familiarity and no standout performances among the characters. I’d recommend it simply for the study case, but I know many have nostalgic attachment to this film in particular, seeing as it aired on Toonami back in the mid-2000’s about seven-hundred times. Good, but not quite great—and that’s only if one picks up on the subtle moral messaging.
Final Score: 6.5/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!