Studio Ghibli Presents
This is the latest film from Studio Ghibli and marks a huge departure from Miyazaki’s previous works. Expect the same visually stunning animations, the same pro-environment, pro-peace back drop, but a different more light hearted, playful, sense of humor, which resounds throughout the film.
I watched this film in Japanese with English subtitles at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley before the mainstream theater release in the United States. It was actually released in Japan in 2004 but it seems there is always at least one year of lag time between the Japanese release and the United States release of anime. Walt Disney Pictures is the North American distributor although you might think they created it with the way it’s marketed.
Just the Beginning
The hero is, Sophie, a plain young girl who lives an ordinary, routine life as a hat maker. One day, as Sophie tries to visit her family in the city, she ends up encountering a wizard, Howl, and helps him escape the clutches of the Withering Witch and her henchmen, (which look very similar to the Night Walker when he loses his head in Princess Mononoke). This incurs the Witches’ ire and she curses Sophie causing her to age into a very old woman and preventing Sophie from being able to tell anyone what has happened.
Sophie at first tries to hide her aged condition from everyone by hiding in her room and saying that she is ill, but she quickly realizes the futility of this, and sets off in search of the wizard, Howl, and his magic moving castle which keeps him one step ahead of his enemies. On the way, Sophie befriends an enchanted scarecrow who rewards her for helping him by providing her with a walking stick and assists her in jumping aboard the moving the castle.
Once aboard, Sophie meets a fire demon whose magic powers are the source of the moving castle’s magic. The fire demon tries to make a deal with Sophie to free her of her spell if she will free him. Sophie is so exhausted, she simply falls asleep and when she awakens she meets a young boy, who is an apprentice to the wizard, Howl. At long last, Sophie meets, Howl, again at last, and begins working as his cleaning lady.
Sophie’s adventures begin as she tries to keep the magic moving castle clean, and as Howl tries to protect his little household from the Withering Witch, and an impending war by changing into a giant, black war bird. Throughout the film, Sophie’s appearance gradually and slowly returns to her youth the deeper she falls in love with Howl. Unbeknownst to Sophie, she is completely free from the spell when she sleeps at night.
Probably one of the most visually stunning scenes, occurs when Howl takes Sophie to visit his idyllic childhood retreat surrounded by wildflowers, a crystal blue lake, and snowy, cloud kissed mountains. I was amazed at how realistic the water and the greenery looked.
And one of the funniest scenes occurs when Howl pitches a huge temper tantrum when his hair is turned all different colors of the rainbow after Sophie accidentally switches the bottles of dye during one of her cleaning expeditions. Even more hilarious, is Sophie’s scandalized expression, when Howl loses the towel covering him, as Sophie helps Howl calm down into a soothing bath.
My favorite character is a fat, little, old dog that Sophie mistakes for Howl and that becomes her best friend. Indeed, the second most hilarious scene, occurs when Sophie in her aged condition carries the fat, old dog up a very long flight of stairs when preparing to visit the King’s wizard. It’s rich that after all that effort, Sophie discovers that not only is the dog really just a dog, but it turns out the dog’s owner is the King’s wizard.
Go See It!
This is truly an engaging and clever story, which is based on the book with the same title by British novelist, Diana Wynne Jones and the action occurs against a backdrop of a fantastic, beautiful, magic realm. There are lots of plot twists and surprises along the way. Most surprising of all, is the happy ending for all the characters, which is atypical of most Studio Ghibli productions.
Check out the link to
Apple’s Trailer for the film, which will be released in English without subtitles. You will need Quicktime installed to view the trailer. There is also an official site at Disney but the trailer’s on that website kept hanging up and would not work.