It's a really intelligent film for children,
or for children at heart (and grandparents with their grandchildren),
playing the Shreck "I'm an ugly monster needing love"
chord, without the smartass punchlines. A beautiful and rich story
(maybe too complex for kids), constructed like a medieval fairy
tale (although the encironment looks like the 19th century), with
some great animated scenes, although generally based on stop motion
patches (instead of frame-by-frame hand drawn animation) which
gives a seamless flow to the vehicles. My favorite character is
the fire-spirit, very funny.
Ironically Miyazaki developped his story in an (imaginary) England?
The style is very european, even the monsters are not his usual
japanese style. Is it based on an existing legend? It's surprising,
but works very well because it's not a cross-culture hybrid.
What stroke me was his usual japanese inspiration doesn't show
much on his latest, if at all. Howl/Hauru is maybe the only character
with a japanese look (his animated attitude and look departing
from the ensemble in my opinion). The flying ships are also manga
typical (similar to what Oshii did in Avalon or Innocence, from
Apart from these minor details, I felt like watching a european
animation. The color scheme, the background design (faithful to
18/19th century english cityscape), the characters/costumes are
all definitely distinct from the japanese style. Even the wicked
witch is closer to Triplets of Belleville. The rubber monsters
seem to come from neither culture.
The story is actually inspired by a children tale (by british
author Diana Wynne Jones), which does not appear in the credits,
so I was wondering about this change of inspiration.
The castle being animated with stop-motion patches features a
greater detail definition and lighting, since they are not re-drawn
for every frame, while the characters are painted in plain colors.
Without animation expertise/fanatism, I found this film to be
perfect for children accompanied by their grandparents, like a
tender cross-generational link. It's more than that of course.
The popular theme of Shrek (I'm a monster and I want to be loved
for my inner beauty) takes a whole new dimension here, without
the heavyhanded sympathy forced onto us by Dreamworks, forcefuly
served by funny catchlines. Ghibli suggests a whole different
language for children, more poetical and symbolic, somehow more
mature, whereas Shrek's target of choice is more adult than kids.
The story is even a bit complex at times, because there are a
lot of secondary characters who appear only briefly, and their
ties to the rest of the story is unclear, or their appearance
So I wonder how kids react to that, but the main meaning of the
film flows naturally and everything seems evident without excessive
I'm thinkin of the flashback sequence to Howl's childhood, Sophie's
family members (almost entirely abscent in Sophie's mind throughout),
Sophie's unexplained age alteration (back and forth during her
supposedly unbreakable spell) or the partial hints to the war
between unidentified nations. All work on a subliminal level,
beyond logic inconsistancy, which is rather uncommon for children
The symbolic level of this story, comes out directly from medieval
fairy tales (Andersen, Grimm...) that Disney used to adapt, where
each character has a psychoanalytical function to relieve children
anxiety and develop their personality (see Bettelheim's book).
It's particularly brilliant here. We absorb the whole film like
a dream, without questioning the logic, the magic, nor the curious
leaps/blanks in the storyline.
Each character is very simple, almost one-dimensional, and intervenes
at a very precise moment along Sophie's journey : The sacrecrow,
the old dog, Calcifer, Suliman, the witch and the king.
Calcifer, the fireplace demon, is excellent! His animation is
really funny, yet more grotesque (in a manga way) than the others.
His japanese voice successfuly develops a delirious personality.
One "disturbing" detail is how the line between goodies
and baddies is so naively brushed off... as both Howl and the
witch, Sophie's archenemies (a subtle fear instilled by urban
legend and gossips), become her best friends in a wink, without
begging, without any extraordinary climactic battle that usually
defeats the evil side.
sidenote on the title : the english title is too much of a spoiler
(howl), I don't know what is the literal japanese translation,
but in the french version, Howl is called by its japanese name
(Hauru), and the title is Le Château Ambulant (The Walking