movie film review | chris tookey

Howl's Moving Castle/ Hauru no ugoku shiro

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  Howl's Moving Castle/ Hauru no ugoku shiro  Review
Tookey's Rating
4 /10
Average Rating
6.50 /10
Young Sophie: Emily Mortimer , Old Sophie: Jean Simmons
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Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt . Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones

Released: 2005
Origin: Japan
Length: 120

Based, much too loosely, on Dianna Wynne Jones’s novel of the same name, here’s the latest from Hayao Miyazaki, the veteran, visionary and, in my view, grotesquely overrated animator of Spirited Away.

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Like all his movies, it begins well enough, with striking visuals and an intriguing premise. Our heroine is Sophie (huskily voiced by Emily Mortimer), an 18 year-old milliner who’s dissatisfied with her looks and her life. She lives in a quaint, Middle-European world of Ruritanian princes and soldiers, witches and wizards, old-fashioned steam trains and futuristic flying machines. Her country is at war with a neighbouring kingdom, for reasons which remain obscure.

She is transformed by a jealous witch (Lauren Bacall) into a bent, wizened, 90 year-old crone (voiced by Jean Simmons). She wanders the local moors, where she is befriended by a pogoing scarecrow and taken to a peripatetic castle – a wondrously Terry Gilliamesque creation prowling the landscape on four mechanical legs.

Here, our heroine becomes housekeeper to, and falls in love with, Howl (Christian Bale), an emotionally confused wizard with rock star hair, low standards of domestic hygiene, and a tendency to turn into a large bird of prey when least expected. She also encounters his resident demon Calcifer (Billy Crystal) and a very young apprentice who likes to dress up as a dwarf (Josh Hutcherson).

As long as the film is showing the emotional growth of its heroine, as she comes to terms with looking and feeling old, it’s enchanting; but Miyazaki’s usual faults – poor story-telling, lousy pacing and an inability to establish the ground-rules of his fantasies - mean that the story jerks along seemingly at random, leaving important questions unanswered and sudden shifts of characterisation (and age) that make little, if any, sense.

Not only children will be baffled, and the movie is wildly over-extended at just under two hours. For the first hour, I was held by the look of the film. During the second, I was increasingly bored and irritated. The ending, though it will rightly be criticised for being rushed and perfunctory, struck me as a considerable relief.

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