Friday, November 12, 2010

Howl's Moving Castle - A Ramble

I was first introduced to Howl's Moving Castle at a friend's house three or four years ago. I came in about 1/3 of the way through and was properly confused. The friend loved the book and couldn't reconcile herself with the movie. She gave me a good lecture on how much better the book was. ;-) I still came home wanting to see the rest, but my family isn't big into anime, so it got dropped somewhere.


I was at another friend's house and I saw it sitting on the shelf and I was like, "Dude! Can we watch this?" And we did. :-)


We were out at a gigantic mall and had just gotten high on cheesecake before we went book sniffing in Borders. We ended up both buying a copy of Howl's Moving Castle, partly because we wanted to read it and partly because it just smelled so good. Later we felt guilty, so decided to purchase them as gifts for each other. Somehow it felt less like a unwarranted expense.


I made my sister read it. So far everyone I had talked to liked which ever they experienced first. Book if they read first, movie if they watched first. I liked the movie better, although I enjoyed the book. My sister was far from eager to watch an anime film, but I actually got her drawing pictures from the movie before she even saw it. ;-)
It was getting bad. "I hate fish", "what a pretty fire", and other quotes kept hindering our communication. She simply had to see the movie...and by this time she really wanted to.
(I actually do not hate fish, btw.)

And, on Tuesday in the exhaustion of our recent experiences and the battle against nasty colds we watched it...snuggled up on the couch in the darkness.
It was amazing.

So, that's my experience with Howl's Moving Castle, but I'm pretty sure you want to actually hear about it, not my boring history in relation to it.

The Book
by Diana Wynne Jones and published in 1986 by a division of Harper Collins.

Rollicking, quirky, funny, unexpected, and just plain random. I loved the characters. I enjoyed the story, but felt like it lacked some of the depth and cohesiveness of the movie. It was was really was just plain good story telling, unapologetic and fun. Not a great work of literature, but a good story...especially if you like randomness.

It's uniqueness, surprise words, and characters make it pretty irresistible.

The Movie
Directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki (2004)
English version starring Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, Billy Crystal and Emily Mortimer.

You should see this movie even if you aren't a fan of anime (which there is no reason not to be unless you were scarred by the Pokeman me).

It's creative and winsome and beautiful.
It's not necessary to love, but I think it is necessary to appreciate. Besides...I'm pretty sure you'll love the characters at least.

The best movies (animated, action, drama, anything) you can watch over and over and still notice new things.
I wouldn't have expected this from a simple (but beautiful) film like this, but it is true. A lot of creative weaving was put into the details to make this story one much larger than two hours can hold, but at the same time very understandable and fun in those two hours.
I noticed new things every time I watched it.

I admit that some of the lines, especially of the romance, could be taken as cheese. For me, they worked. It wasn't taking itself too seriously and somehow Christian Bale (Howl's voice) can just pull of those cool lines that would seem cheesy by anybody else (think Batman Begins). To me it was awesome.

The movie is creative (almost disturbingly with it's flying battleships and hatted blob men), gives food for thought and conversation, has outstanding music, and is beautiful and colorful.
You should try it.

Book vs. Movie

The movie plot is drastically different than the book. I think I like the movie's better.

Normally I think the movie should stick closely to the book. After all, you could just make up your own story if you're going to change it that much. But in this case, I think everything was justified. (I also saw the movie first, so I'm going to be bias.) The most important thing is to stick with the characters. It is unforgivable when when a movie director takes a well loved fictional character and twists them to do something totally uncharacteristic. This is where Howl's Moving Castle comes clean.

The characters are very true to themselves. Howl and Sophie, while they might end up doing some things not in the book, are very true to the spirit of the Howl and Sophie on the printed page. Micheal is a much younger boy in the movie, but his lines and character are very similar. The bad characters are rather drastically changed, but that's okay. :-)

There were three things that were different in the movie that I really liked.

1) Howl, although girls are mentioned, is not always chasing them.

2) The whole Howl curse thing made a lot more sense and was a lot cooler. (Not sure how to explain it better than that.:-)

3) They break out of their various spells without using added magic. Wizardry in general is not portrayed very positively. Sophie does not have magical powers (which I liked better). Although there was a very clear line between "black" magic and not black magic, in the book, it was still used in ways that hardly seemed fair. And at the end Howl goes on being a wizard and Sophie is learning more about the power she has.

I liked how the movie, by the end, kind of seems to be saying that magic has created a lot of problems and when they reverse that magic, life is how it should be. Kind of almost like, Howl was grabbing to much power and that's how his whole curse thing started out.

I don't know how to explain this all very well, but it had a more Lord of the Rings message then a Harry Potter one. (Even if you love Harry Potter, you have to realize that there is a big difference.) It was just more "deep" and cohesive, I thought.

Special Issues

Howl is very interesting.
I love that he loves beauty and that his room is full of color and stuffed animals.
That is just down right awesome.
Near the end Calcifer says that Howl's heart is still that of a child. For some reason, I think this is the sort of child-like wonder G. K. Chesterton and N. D. Wilson would approve of. A fascination with the colorful and the beautiful and the unusual.

In the movie, the character development with Howl is well done and he is certainly more mature in the areas he should be at the end. He loses his selfishness and self proclaimed tendency to run.

Is the movie anti-war?
I don't think so.

Sophie is believable and relatable and still maintains uniqueness and individuality. She is polite and compassionate. Sophie and Howl seem to fairly easily forgive the Witch of the Waste and actually harbor her in their castle. Come to think about it, compassion and kindness play a big part in the movie.

What about the poor prince at the end? The once adorable turnip head? Sophie is his true love, but he is not hers. It's so sad. But you can't stay sad for long considering the circumstances. The Witch of the Waste is awesome in this scene, by the way. :-)

From the Movie

Sophie: "Let's run away. There's no use in fighting."
Howl: "Why? I'm done running away. Finally I've found something worth protecting with my life. Its you."

You can see more awesome quotes here, which for the sake of brevity, I shall not include.

In Conclusion

I could probably ramble on forever...but I'll quit.

I know several other people who have read the book that have not seen the movie, so we should be having some more parties soon. ;-) That will give me some more time for analyzing and enjoying.

If I was going to give this a review I would give the book about a 7 and the movie a 9.

If you watched it and/or read it, tell me what you thought.

Thanks for reading,
Miss Pickwickian


Esmeralda Gatsby said...

I love Calcifer.
Christian Bale? I am totally watching this now.

Elisa said...

I love that book and movie so much! Calcifer is amazing and Howl is down-right cool. :D I read the book and then my mom saw the movie at the library and got it. I have seen it countless times. :D :D

Kaye said...

This is the first time I've heard of Howl's Moving Castle. Ooh, his room has loads of stuff toys? I will watch this. Judging from your review, you see to really like it. :)

Mama Chocolate said...

I'd never heard about this either until you mentioned it. Now I really want to see it!

Shayleen said...

I read the book before I watched the movie and I still liked the movie better. It was really the first anime movie I'd seen and I fell in love with the style.

In the book Howl was much harder for me to like. I really wanted Sophie to give him a good slap in the face. :P In the movie he was a much better character. I really did like that they cut out all the girl chasing stuff. :P

You've made me want to watch it again! :D

Daughter of the King said...

I am in love with this story as well. The first time I ever saw this film I immediately off the bat became captivated and swept off of my feet by Howl and Sophie...and of course I've a soft spot for Calcifer! =) I've never read the it's on my books to read list.

Daughter of the King said...

P.S. If you loved Howl's Moving Castle you might just love the story of Chihiro in Spirited Away. The music in Spirited Away is beautiful and everything is so vibrant...the story also pulls from countless Japanese fairy-tails.

Daughter of the King said...

*tales* =)

Miss Pickwickian said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. I can't believe so many of you knew about this and didn't tell me! :-)

Daughter of the King,

I watched the preview of Spirited Away, but I hadn't heard much about it. Thanks for the recommendation. :-) Now I really want to see it!

Miss Pickwickian

Rosanne E. Lortz said...

Castle in the Sky is another Miyazaki film that is pretty interesting. You should watch it since you're taking the plunge into anime...

Miss Pickwickian said...

Not sure if I'm ready to take a complete plunge into anime, but I'm certainly ready to investigate more Miyazaki films. Thanks. :-)

Anonymous said...

Um. Um.
So, I'll take you at your word about the polite debating.
I saw the movie first and was weirded out. "What is this odd anime?" I demanded of my best friend. "Why is there a bird-boy with a chronic fashion obsession?" She had no answer. I wrote it off as Miazake silliness (as in, "Why is that one kid a dragon in Spirited Away?"). Nothing to worry about.

Many years later, I came across the book. It wasn't familiar. I have a notoriously awful memory. So I read the book and adored it. I do like randomness, and Diana Wynne Jones is the queen of randomness. Shortly after reading it, another friend was raving about the movie. So I watched it. And wept.

Now, I have been known to rage at movies that change the plot of the books they're based on, but I'll try and be objective here. Got a couple of points to air my oh so invaluable opinion.

1. Howl himself. Something that I loved, loved, loved about Howl in the book was that he wasn't a hero. He chased girls, he was cowardly, he was selfish, he was not the person you wanted in charge of saving the kingdom. Which is okay, because he wasn't the hero. Sophie was. And she dragged Howl into it.
In the movie, Howl claims to be cowardly, but he clearly isn't - we see him fighting a lot, without any prompting from Sophie. That...kind of made me sad. I liked feckless Howl. Maybe that's just my preference. But if Miazake didn't want Howl to be the coward he is in the book, he should, in my opinion, have gone whole hog and not even mentioned the cowardliness. Of course, then the plot would be even more different from the movie. Which brings me to...

2. The PLOT. Well, I expected differences, of course. But I remember watching the train go past and my jaw dropping. I turned to my friend and said, "Sophie lives near a train?!" The setting change would have been all right, except for the huge differences in plot. I know Howl's Moving Castle is hard to portray in film - the plotlines are far too...mixed up? Yeah, we'll go with that. But I was extremely confused by the fact that in the movie, the Witch of the Waste is nowhere near being the Big Bad. Leading into...

3. Themes, Lessons, Morality, call it what you will. I'm a rather old-fashioned girl. I like my villain to be visible. Sure, they can be sympathetic - Javert is one of my favorite characters in Les Mis because he's an antagonist that people can actually sympathize with. Plain old evil is nice too - don't even get me started on how much I admire the Lord of the Rings villains. But at the end of Miazake's Howl's Moving Castle, I had no idea who the real villain was. Both times I watched it. Mrs. Pentstemmon? The Witch of the Waste? Calcifer? The king, maybe? I frankly couldn't tell. Maybe there's a nice lesson about forgiveness in there, but the fact that Sophie and Howl forgave the Witch that fast doesn't give me an impression of compassion - just sloppy characterization. I do like the fact that the whole story is simpler in places than the book, easier to visualize. But at the end of the day? I wish I hadn't watched the movie.

Bethany said...

Thanks for the well thought out comments.
I had to go back and read this post... It seems like such an age ago and I've seen the movie a couple more times since then.

Normally I have a just wrath when a movie deviates drastically from the book, so I can certainly see your side of the issue.

I don't think my take can be soundly defended, when a lot of it boils down to preference and opinion, but here's a shot.

1. Howl Himself.

I get tired of the whole "bad boy" thing sometimes and, in the book, I didn't think Howl's transformation was very plausible. I was still sort of thinking, "Sophie! Don't do it...he hasn't proved himself yet."

Also, I get tired of the girl pulling the guy out of the grim.

The movie's portrayal gave me enough to get irritated with Howl, but still hold hope for him. I agree that he talks more about his cowardice then you actually see it... but you have to admit oozing green slim is hardly mature and he's conquests are mentioned a few times.
(i.e. The With of the Waste is one of his main problems and his consequences from messing with her affect Sophie and others around him.)

On a personal note, the whole thing with Howl going after Sophie's sister was just CREEPY. I mean...I just really didn't like that.

2. The PLOT

There were major changes...but imagine trying to put the book into a movie. You have about a hundred plot lines, numerous worlds, and completely different time periods.

Forgiving the Witch of the Waste seemed to fit with the certain childish aspect of the movie. But yeah...I see your point.

3. Themes, lessons, morality, call it what you will. :-)

Yay Javert! One of the most fascinating characters in all of fiction...just saying. :-)

We don't normally have archenemies and often times those messing up our lives may be doing it without spite (i.e. the king). The movie seemed to capture some of this.


There is certainly a lot to think about here. There are still puzzling pieces to me from the movie. I felt it was more organized and somehow had a "bigger" feel then simply a kid's film. The book was a wonderful, rambling read, but I didn't come away with much.

Both are notable. :-)

If nothing else, the movie certainly has a better soundtrack. ;-)

Thanks again for your comments! Sorry my reply is a bit rambling.