Reader Recommendations: “Howl’s Moving Castle”

Howl's Moving CastleHowdy folks. It’s been a little while since I first came up with this idea and had the inaugural post in the series (I posted the first, based on Le0pard13’s recommendation of “Rob Roy” three months ago, LOL), but I’m turning my attention back to it now, and I’m going to try to make it a more regular part of the blog here…

The Reader Recommendation series is intended to help me formally pursue all the great films that commenters bring up each week in discussion that I’ve never seen. If there’s a movie that comes up that I haven’t seen, but you think I should, just get in touch with me @ or let me know in the comments that you’d like to participate.

Janderoo92This time out, Janderoo92 helps me enter the great wide world of Japanimation with “Howl’s Moving Castle”. The film was written and directed by the famed Hayao Miyazaki and animated by Studio Ghibli. I’ve been anime and Japanimation averse, so far in my film watching life, so I’ll freely admit, this is the first Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki film I’ve ever seen. Jan has chosen this for our starting point, so let’s see how it turns out! Click through to see our thoughts on this film!

My questions in Bold. Janderoo92′s answers below each.

1) Do you remember when you first saw the movie?

I saw Howl’s Moving Castle this year, we streamed it on Netflix. It was probably the last of Miyazaki’s films that I hadn’t seen (we own many on disc, but Ponyo is the only one I’ve seen on the big screen, which is a pity). For someone who is not a kid who doesn’t know Miyazaki’s films, I think Howl might be the best one to see first.

2) Why do you think that it’s recommendable? What do you like about it?

Howl’s Moving Castle represents Miyazaki nicely in that the story is captivating and fun in its oddness and originality – yet the basic, fairy tale elements, including intense emotions and magical dimensions, are all there too. The film is aimed at a slightly older audience than Miyazaki’s well-known family oriented films, (Ponyo and My Neighbor Totoro), because of some warfare scenes and weaponry elements. I think the late 19th century European setting also makes it more accessible to those who are new to anime or might be a little predisposed against it. The voice casting is top-notch, with Christian Bale playing Howl, Billy Crystal as ‘Calcifer’ the put-upon fire spirit who runs the ‘moving’ part of the castle; Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons sharing the role of young Sophie and bewitched old Sophie and Lauren Bacall as ‘The Witch of the Waste.’ It’s a richly layered story with entertaining, 3-dimensional characters, and of course the hand-drawn animation is gorgeous.

3) Is the movie underappreciated, do you think? Or does pop culture have it fairly rated?

I think the Disney English Language version DVD’s of all the Miyazaki titles have John Lasseter at the beginning telling you why Miyazaki is a genius, and you can see Lasseter sort of willing you to love it as much as he does. In San Francisco, where kids and families have a pretty high awareness of the Ghibli merchandising machine, we pretty much do – but I know it’s a fairly unique market here and not representative of the rest of the US. I believe in Japan these films are totally revered, and as far as I know Howl is right up there, and Disney has certainly carefully and lovingly created the English language versions for this and all the Ghibli’s released here.

4) Is there any particular reason you thought I should watch it, or were you just surprised I hadn’t seen it?

Considering how much you really like the best of the American made animation features out there, it does surprise me a little that you haven’t boarded this bus thus far, and that’s why I urge you to give Howl’s Moving Castle a look. The films of Hayao Miyazaki are something that anyone who loves film ought to be checking out. I am not alone in feeling that Miyazaki is an animators’ animator. The level of achievement in the art and the storytelling is really up there in a class by itself.

5) Have you written about the movie yourself?

Why yes I did! (LOL. ) I have a food blog, meliovore, and did a write up of the importance of food in Miyazaki films called ‘Visual Feasts’ I have been toying with the idea of doing a movie blog but can’t quite commit yet.

Thanks! Janderoo92 (aka Janice)

Big thanks to Janice for recommending this! Now for my review!


Right up front – this movie was so good I feel like an ass for never have checked any of these out before.

“Howl’s Moving Castle” is an imaginative, fanciful story, gorgeously and lovingly illustrated. It was a joyous experience to watch, and is assured to spur me to thoroughly explore the Studio Ghibli catalogue. In fact, I started last night, killing two birds with one stone by checking out “The Secret World of Arrietty” for MAJOR Awards consideration.

I thought that I was in trouble with this when the opening menu had calliope music going, the Japanimation characters, and the titular “Moving Castle” in the background, but the film took all of about 10 minutes to completely suck me in. The drawings were beautiful and evocative… while the characters were incredibly creative. The story features a young girl, cursed to be an old woman by a wicked witch, who finds her way to the lumbering mechanical castle of a powerful wizard. She meets a bouncing, mute scarecrow, a talking fire, and a dog who may or may not be a spy. Together they try to figure out the curses that plague them individually, while also trying to evade the horrors of a raging war.

The dub I watched was voiced by recognizable American voices (including Christian Bale and Billy Crystal), which lent an air of familiarity to what otherwise was a very different animated experience. The story is far more leisurely than those told here in the west, and the art seems more… impressionistic. It’s obvious to me that it was crafted with great affection. That, literally, shines through. And all of the characters have a genuine sweetness to them that I couldn’t imagine in Western animation… there would have to be a much higher degree of cynicism for audiences here.

But above all else, “Howl’s” is a triumph of the imagination. It’s wildly unbound from convention and reality and boring realism. The characters, sets, settings, and plot elements are all wildly, crazily creative… in a way that I’m really at a loss to describe. All I can say is that it made for an extremely enjoyable watch… it’s the kind of film that will bring out the kid in you.

This IS very different from Western animation. But apparently in the best of ways. “Howl’s Moving Castle” was nothing short of a treat, and I have to give a HUGE thank you to Janice for recommending it! 😀


If you have a movie you’d like to recommend, give me a heads up in the comments or drop me a line @!

60 thoughts on “Reader Recommendations: “Howl’s Moving Castle”

    • Correction. HADN’T seen. LOL. 😀

      And…. you’re too late now, Janice beat you to it 😉 After yesterday, they’re gonna get crossed off like a checklist. LOL 🙂

      I’d suggest you pick one an we’ll put it in queue here Kim, but I want to stagger the animation in this series a little… I have a feeling I’m gonna get killed with Japanimation/Anime suggestions (since I’m a complete newbie). And I already have one lined up.

      Still, if you have interest, pick one out!

  1. I took my kids to see this when released to theaters in the U.S. a few years ago. They all loved it, especially my daughter. She then went on to explore other Miyazaki films. Excellent recommendation.

  2. Hoooooorrrayyyy! It makes me unabashedly happy to see that you took to it! Thanks very much for taking my recommendation. That seeing Howl will get you to watch the others is an awesome result too. Glad you appreciated the originality and creativity – knew I could count on you to pick up on the most salient points of what’s just mind blowing about Miyazaki. 🙂

    • Yeah… its pretty undeniable. I cant even imagine coming back at this… critically and bashing it or something. I just cant even see how someone could. Its obviously a work of great art.

      Its definitely going to get me after the rest (although that may have to wait until Year End stuff clears up 😦 ). I cant wait to watch more… even “Arrietty”, which was just written by Miyazaki, was great!

  3. I love the Miyazaki films and I think I did mention these too you a while back when you had a discussion on animation. One of the better ones to watch is My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. These are family oriented. More adult oriented than Howl’s is Princess Mononoke. I have almost everyone on Blu-Ray or DVD. I love them, the kids love them, the stories are easy to follow but very enjoyable. You just fall in the love the characters. In Spirited Away, the kids love the spirit No Face.

    There are lots of Japanese animations that are good, the Miyazaki got a lot of attention because of John Lasseter and his love for these films. Hence they are associated with Disney now.

    Watch them all. There’s isn’t a bad one. A couple of the following aren’t Miyazaki but they’re his studio, Studio Ghibli.

    Castle In The Sky
    Whisper of the Heart
    The Cat Returns
    Spirited Away
    My Neighbor Totoro

    All I can think of at the moment, but your the movie guy, you’ll find them all.

  4. I absolutely love all of Studio Ghibli’s movies. My favorite is ‘Castle in the Sky’ but all of them have their own charm. Fortunately a couple of movie theaters in LA were doing a retrospective of the movies and I got to see a lot of them on the big screen this year which was an amazing experience in itself.

      • In my experience, harder core fans of anime find the term Japanimation to be a dismissive term used to whitewash the genre. This is precisely why it is such a fun term to use when dealing with a harder-core anime fan.

        Of course, there are others that argued with me that Japanimation is just crap like Samurai Pizza Cats or Pokemon that was churned out to make money off of little kids, whereas Anime are full length features, or TV series, that are targeted towards a more mature audience. Usually these people cite Miyazaki movies, or Akira, or Cowboy Bebop, etc. and that’s about when I tell them, “Yeah, like Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon.” They may or may not flip out at me at this point.

      • 😀 Ok, that comment made me laugh. 😀

        Fun fun fun.

        I have to admit, I’ve been seriously anime averse to this point. There’s too much learnin’ to do to speak intelligently about it… we’ll see how this goes, I guess.

      • In that case, I’d recommend “Akira.” It’s kind of the grand-daddy of anime movies. It’s the one that really had a significant impact in the U.S. and set a high water mark for everything to follow. It’s way more adult than anything by Miyazaki, so prepare yourself for something way different. It’s great, though.

      • There are subgenres in the Anime world. There’s Manga which is the darker form of the Japanese animations. These are ones like Black Butler, Soul Leader, etc. Then there is Hentai, which is the adult ones. These have blood, demons, sex and all kinds of crazy things.

        Akira is a good one, it’s anime, Ghost in a Shell is another.

        And if you’re ever up for a few laughs, Ranma 1/2, it’s old but its pretty funny. There were some old ones in the US that were Japanese Animation, like Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers.

        Enjoy wherever your Anime travels take you.

    • LOL… EAAASY buddy. I’m not signing up wholeheartedly to the whole genre just yet. This particular studio seems to have a style that appeals… that’s… all Im saying at this point in time. LOL

      Not windin’ up like you with an anime wing on my house just yet!

  5. Nice way to jump into the anime pool, even though I haven’t seen it yet Grave of the Fireflies will likely be almost a complete 180 from Howl. It’s also my favorite Miyazaki movie. If you’re ever looking for a “so bad it’s good” superhero movie, I could probably point you in a couple directions. I also have plenty of anime recommendations, but it sounds like you’ve got that covered for a while.

    • I do, you’re right. I would totally appreciate some so bad they’re good recommendations, too. 😀 Wanna fire a few at me via email? LOL

      I’d appreciate the help getting this series up and flying Bubba!

  6. Cant go wrong with Miyazaki, I think we in the UK have been spoiled over the years, we had Princess Mononoke at my local cinema when it came out!
    There really is a different feel to Miyazaki’s movies, a connectedness to nature spirits and animals, Princess Mononoke is a personal favourite of mine, it’s quite dark in places and pulls no punches, not your run of the mill kids movies for sure, death, disease, blood, fierce animals and monsters, (but then again Disney killed Bambi’s mumand Simba’s Dad, so !) and the over riding eco-nature theme running thru it all, is a very important message.
    My 3 year old has sat thru Spirited Away without to much trouble, tho Princess Mononoke will have to wait a few years!, but he loves Ponyo too

    • Ok. So, adding Princess Mononoke to my list too. LOL

      As time allows, I’m going to have to search through his filmography and just hit them all probably. He’s obviously a master… and these are movies I’d be proud to own.

      I can’t speak to Princess Mononoke yet obviously, but you’re 100% right, this one didnt feel like your typical childrens movie to me. It had a certain maturity in its emotions that you dont get here. I have a feeling Western animation doesnt trust its audience as much, you know? 😦

  7. LOL. I’m really glad you like this movie. This is one of my top 100 favorite movies. I just love Howl. Love him! It is such a good movie. Now go watch some Cowboy Bebop! Now!

  8. Hi, Fogs and company:

    Nicely done, my friend.

    Miyazaki’s films are always a treat for me. Cut my teeth on ‘Princess Mononoke’ and have mightily impressed with his superb detail work amongst often lush, overblown backgrounds ever since.

    ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is amongst his best. Not just for telling a story well, but for showing and bringing to life a limitless imagination.

    Kudos to Janice for pointing you in the right direction!

    • “‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is amongst his best. Not just for telling a story well, but for showing and bringing to life a limitless imagination.”

      Yeah, EXACTLY. That’s what blew me away about it… I was like, wow thats so…. unique. Only I said that every five minutes. LOL. With the storyline, too. Definitely wasn’t happy just to paint a simple fetch and quest story and then move on, there were a lot of complexities involved. I was totally impressed.

      You’re right, definitely kudos to Janice. Big time. 😀

  9. Reblogged this on meliovore and commented:
    Wanted to share a little extra-curricular activity I’ve been up to via a favorite movie blogsite, Fog’s Movie Reviews. My reader recommendation was featured yesterday.

  10. Thanks, guys. As I think I let Dan know, I really felt like I was on a personal mission to get you to see at least one, so that you would not keep missing out on these films if they grabbed you as I thought they might.

    I have recommended Miyazaki and bought copies of Totoro or Nausicaa for friends here and there and have gotten exactly zero reaction. But I think they secretly just never watched them, which may be the biggest hump to get over, or found them too out there. So thank YOU and all the Fogs folks commenting here for ‘getting it.’

    • “I was on a personal mission to get you to see at least one”

      Glad you thought it was personal. If you had known about all these other folks, you could have led a revolution! 😀

      I did get it though, I definitely see the appeal now…

    • No I havent, and yes you can. LOL.

      Getting a nice healthy list though Duncan… just be forewarned. I’ll put you on it, and hit you up with an email with some questions when I’m getting close! 😀

      Thanks for pitching in!

  11. Great pick, Fogs/Janice! I think this was the second Miyazaki film I ever saw, and it’s a good one for sure. I’m not a big anime fan either, but man, you can’t go wrong with Studio Ghibli.

  12. Awesome film and great feature 😀 Though, definitely not one of my favourite Miyazakis. It’s good, but I found the story a little, well, boring! It looks stunning but just didn’t captivate me enough.

    Also I’m a stickler for watching the original versions of these films. The American dubs annoy me so very much. It just doesn’t have the same feeling.

    Urge you to check out Princess Mononke. In my opinion, Miyazaki’s best. Oh and of course, Grave of the Fireflies.

    • Grave of the Fireflies is actually coming up next in this series, courtesy of Eric over at The Warning Sign. 🙂 So we got that covered! Mononke maybe one day down the line…

      Maybe if I had seen a bunch of the others and then saw this one, I might have some context and be able to agree with you… but this blew me away Jaina! Cmon! This was crazy! Boring? Pffft! Geddouttahere…. 😀

  13. I think I’ve only seen three Japanese animated films, and this isn’t one of them — but I have been curious to check it out. Glad to see you liked it; since you’re as much a “holdout” on that as I am, it encourages me.

    Princess Mononoke I saw in the theatres, and it was pretty good. Little weird in places, but all right. Cowboy Bebop: the Movie was mostly good but had this weird kid character that was supremely annoying — “deduct a full star” annoying. Akira… a lot of people say it’s great, but to be honest, I think three fourths of its reputation is because it was one of the first ones to make it over here on video and people gave it a huge novelty boost — and it’s been riding that ever since. It’s just OK.

    • Ooooooh. LOL. That’s damning right there. That’s so sensible that it almost HAS to be true. Lol. 😀

      Yeah, I’m a holdout. But this one really won me over. “weird” is an applicable term, sure. But I guess I was in the kind of mood where it struck me as “different” instead. 😉

      • Can’t wait for you to take Brik’s recommendation and watch Akira. I agree with Morgan. However, my bet is that it falls into Awesomely awful territory for you.

      • WOW…. Now things are looking promising. DAMN! 😀

        Color me intrigued. Though in fairness, there are others on the list ahead of that one, so it’ll be a bit before I get to it. 🙂

  14. It is shocking that you hadn’t seen any Miyazaki. The art work and stories are amazing.

    Japanimation is a bad word. I didn’t read all the other comments. Someone might have mentioned it. Anime good. Manga good. Japanimation bad. Magnae and Manhwa are also acceptable but refer to Manga or Anime from Korea. The Priest live action movie was based on Manhwa.

    • LOL. Yes, commenters have alerted me. Thank you for having my back. Not sure I want to learn a whole new vocabulary just to start watching these things! LOL

      The foreign style of it all eluded me. These movies got lost in the shuffle of the Robo warriors and dystopin futures and all the othe anime stereotypes. LOL

      • My theory on why The Priest did not do well is because the American audience was confused by the combination of elements of typical Japanese Manga and typical Korean film elements.

  15. Howl’s Moving Castle is on my top 10 favorite movie list! Miyazaki’s films are the best for all ages. My favorite of his would have to be The Cat Returns. I’m a cat person and I love anime so it kind of suit me best! 🙂
    Enjoy the Japan/Anime world! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  16. I’m actually not fond of this film at all, in fact I think it’s a mess. But if you like this, then you gotta see Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. It’s the only other Miyazaki film I’ve seen and it’s awesome.

    • I’m going to be checking all of his movies out eventually. I’ve seen three now, and I think they’ve all been great… I’ve really enjoyed them.

      Here, the art and the imaginative story are so awesome in tandem that Im going to forgive it any plot issues it has…

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