On Howl

My family watched Howl’s Moving Castle the other night; the recent Ghibli films are pretty much all the anime my folks are willing to watch. (We watched the English dub—which was generally tolerable*, much like the other Disney dubs I’ve heard.) Marin actually read the book Howl was based off of—written by Diana Wynne Jones—before watching the movie, and had some interesting comments about the translation. (I had some thoughts as well, but they’re nowhere near as interesting.) Of course, you might not want to read past the ellipses until you’ve seen the movie, if you don’t want to be spoiled.

[* Save for one two-word sentence, uttered by Howl. (You’ll know it when you hear it. Seriously.) I’m convinced it’s only in the English adaptation, though I haven’t yet taken the time to double-check.]

Whatever else you walk away with, though, keep in mind that Calcifer rules. Look forward to meeting him, if you haven’t already.

First of all: what’s up with Miyazaki putting war into damn near every film he makes, these days? (OK, Spirited Away is an exception.) I appreciate that he doesn’t care for it, but still! There was no war in the book, according to Marin; the Witch of the Waste remains the antagonist throughout, rather than having her powers revoked to become an oddly endearing character.

Other changes from the book were also noteworthy, albeit nowhere near as fundamental as the addition of war to the plot. The scarecrow (“Turnip head,” at least in the English dub) is a frightening character to Sofie, who can’t understand why he follows her. More significantly, in the book Howl never knew that old Sofie was the young gal he interacted with at the start of the movie; all he knew was that she had some sort of curse—and so any feelings he developed for her were based on the strength of her character.

The movie also leaves giant gaping questions unanswered: why did Howl give Calcifer his heart? (Calcifer was a shooting star that Howl happened to catch. The shooting stars were dying as they fell to Earth, so Howl gave Calcifer his heart to avoid that fate.) Where did the black door lead? (To Howl’s childhood home, complete with references to his actual name.) How did Sofie finally break her curse? (Marin won’t tell me; says I should read the book. Bah!)

And zOMG, those two words in the English dub that I mentioned earlier? It’s amazing how the addition of the words “it’s you” kills all the subtlety in Howl’s “I’ve found something to protect” scene. It takes a strong dose of pain to put me into the fetal position, but those two words did it. Wow.

Griping aside**, though, Howl’s castle was visually spectacular. Hot damn. The characters of Sofie and Calcifer were wholly endearing—words cannot express how much I like Calcifer—and even the Witch of the Waste became enjoyable, once enfeebled. (Howl I’m oddly indifferent about.) I also enjoyed the technique of varying the effect of Sofie’s age as her curse affected her more and less strongly, though (on the first viewing, mind you) I wasn’t able to really figure out what was the crucial factor in allowing her to temporarily reverse her curse.

[** Honestly, I don’t mind/care if the movie follows the novel exactly; I do mind, however, that the movie doesn’t make complete sense on its own.]

For all the good and bad, though, I’d definitely be game to watch Howl again—so I guess, overall, I’m positive on the experience. The story isn’t necessarily great, but the animation certainly is—and it is fun.

 

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