Hayao Miyazaki obviously has a strong liking for steampunk films, as shown by Castle in The Sky, and fantasy stories, as can be seen with his films My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away.
Well, with his 2004 anime Howl’s Moving Castle, he merges these two genres to create an interesting tale about a young woman named Sophie (Chieko Baisho) who, while living in a steampunk world, is cursed to look like an old woman by the Witch of the Waste (Akihiro Miwa) after encountering the mysterious wizard, Howl (Takuya Kimura).
Searching for a cure, she is reunited with Howl, his apprentice Markl (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a demon named Calcifer (Tatsuya Gashuin), and a living scarecrow, and goes on numerous adventures with them in Howl’s titular moving castle.
The beginning of Howl’s Moving Castle is strong, with the characters and world being introduced well, and the inciting incident of Sophie being turned into an old woman set up as being essential to the plot.
Not only this but the combination of fantasy and steampunk in this world is fascinating because of how it shows the magical and the technological interacting.
The animation that shows off these various technologies and magic spells is incredibly well done, as I was in awe at the first shot of Howl’s Castle.
Along with this, the characters are also likeable, although I will say that the romance between Sophie and Howl does not exactly feel right.
The setup for it is there with their first meeting but their following interactions never really gave me the feeling that they were falling in love.
Despite not really getting a romantic vibe though, I still did like Sophie and Howl’s interactions, along with a lot of the other character interactions, especially Sophie’s conversations with the silent, living scarecrow.
However, I will say that the way the scarecrows story ended felt extremely abrupt.
And this is really my big problem with Howl’s Moving Castle, the third act.
Many of the plot points in this act left me thoroughly confused.
For example, as I said, the inciting incident of the film is Sophie being turned into an old woman.
But, she seems to change between old and young across the film and this is strangely never addressed by the other characters or the plot.
By the end, I assumed it had something to do with love, or night, or a combination of the two but I don’t really know.
Not only this but the direction the story goes gets really confusing as well with, of all things, time travel being introduced and it is never explained how that happens.
Howl’s Moving Castle also has a villain problem, what with the main threat being setup as the Witch of the Waste, before this is undermined and a seemingly new villain takes the stage, only for this new villain to be absent for the rest of the film.
From the midpoint to the end, the film slowly devolves to the point that I was dissatisfied with the ending.
This is not to say I disliked Howl’s Moving Castle, on the contrary I still think it is a very well done film what with the way it begins, the brilliant way it mixes steampunk with fantasy, and the animation.
But, the plot slowly begins to unravel as the film goes on, until it gets genuinely confusing to the point that I thought the story could have been handled better.
I would still recommend Howl’s Moving Castle though because of its numerous good qualities.