Howl's Moving Castle (film)

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Howl's Moving Castle
Japanese release poster
Japanese ハウルの動く城
Hepburn Hauru no Ugoku Shiro
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by Toshio Suzuki
Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki
Based on Howl's Moving Castle 
by Diana Wynne Jones
Starring Chieko Baisho
Takuya Kimura
Akihiro Miwa
Music by Joe Hisaishi
Cinematography Atsushi Okui
Edited by Takeshi Seyama
Distributed by Toho
Release dates
  • 5 September 2004 (2004-09-05) (Venice)
  • 20 November 2004 (2004-11-20) (Japan)
Running time
119 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Budget ¥2.4 billion
USD$24 million
Box office ¥23.2 billion
USD$235 million (worldwide)

Howl's Moving Castle (Japanese: ハウルの動く城 Hepburn: Hauru no Ugoku Shiro?) is a 2004 Japanese animated fantasy film scripted and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film is based on the novel of the same name by British writer Diana Wynne Jones. The film was produced by Toshio Suzuki, animated by Studio Ghibli and distributed by Toho. Mamoru Hosoda, director of one episode and two movies from the Digimon series, was originally selected to direct but abruptly left the project, leaving the then-retired Miyazaki to take up the director's role.

The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on 5 September 2004, and was released in Japanese theaters on 20 November 2004. The film is one of only three (out of a current 18) Studio Ghibli films which were not released in July. It went on to gross $190 million in Japan and $235 million worldwide,[1] making it one of the most financially successful Japanese films in history. The film was later dubbed into English by Pixar's Peter Docter and distributed in North America by Walt Disney Pictures. It received a limited release in the United States and Canada beginning 10 June 2005 and was released nationwide in Australia on 22 September[2] and in the United Kingdom the following September. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 78th Academy Awards in 2006, but lost to Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.


Sophie, an eighteen-year-old hatter, encounters a mysterious and powerful wizard named Howl on her way to visit her sister Lettie. Upon returning, she meets The Witch of the Waste, who transforms her into a ninety-year old woman. Seeking a cure for the spell, Sophie travels to the Wastes and encounters a living scarecrow whom she names "Turnip Head," who leads her to Howl's castle. There, she meets Howl's young apprentice, Markl, and the fire-demon Calcifer, who is the source of the castle's energy and magic. When Howl appears, Sophie announces that Calcifer has hired her as a cleaning lady for the house.

Meanwhile, Sophie's country is caught up in a war with a neighboring country, following the mysterious disappearance of the other country's Crown Prince. The King summons Howl (Pendragon and Jenkins) to fight in the war. However, Howl decides to send Sophie to the King under the pretense of being his mother, to profess the cowardice of one of Howl's two aliases. Before leaving, he gives to Sophie a charmed ring that connects her to Calcifer. He also assures her that he will follow her to the palace in disguise. At the palace, Sophie runs into an asthmatic dog, Heen, who she thinks is Howl undercover. She also meets the Witch of the Waste, whom Suliman, the king's magic advisor, punishes by draining all of her power, causing her to regress into a harmless old woman. When, Suliman tells Sophie that Howl will meet the same fate if he does not contribute to the war, she protests in his defense, causing the Witch's spell to temporarily weaken to reveal her true form. Suliman realizes Sophie's true relation to Howl and her feelings for him. Howl arrives to rescue Sophie; Suliman tries to trap him, but with Sophie's help, they escape, taking Heen and the former Witch of the Waste with them.

Sophie learns that Howl transforms into a bird-like creature in order to interfere in the war, but each transformation makes it more difficult for him to return to human form. She fears that Howl is preparing to leave them, as his remaining time as a human is limited. Sophie's mother — under Suliman's control — arrives and leaves behind a bag containing a "peeping bug." The former Witch promptly destroys the bug by tossing it into Calcifer, who then becomes sick and weak, rendering him unable to protect the castle from being discovered.

A few hours later, Sophie permanently returns to her young form just as the city is carpet bombed by enemy aircraft. Suliman's henchmen invade the group's abode. After healing Calcifer, Howl tells Sophie that he is not going to leave because he wants to protect her. Deducing that Howl is trying to protect the castle and everyone inside it, Sophie moves everyone out, removes Calcifer from the fireplace and destroys the castle. She offers Calcifer her braid, allowing him to power a portion of the remaining castle. The former Witch realizes that Howl has given his heart to Calcifer and therefore clenches Calcifer, refusing to let go of him even when it burns her. A panicked Sophie pours water onto the Witch, which douses Calcifer, making him lose his power. The castle is split in two; Sophie and Heen fall down a chasm and are separated from Markl, the Witch of the Waste and Calcifer.

Making her way toward Howl's heart with the charmed ring, Sophie enters into the "black region" of the broken portal door and discovers how Howl and Calcifer met: as a boy, Howl took pity on a falling (dying) star—Calcifer—and gave it his heart. The act bound Calcifer to Howl indefinitely; however, by losing his heart, Howl was emotionally trapped in adolescence.

Sophie finds Howl, having now lost his human consciousness, in bird form. They head back to Calcifer with the Witch and Markl; a wooden platform is the only remaining part of the castle, which is moving along a cliff. The Witch gives Sophie Howl's heart and she places it back inside Howl, returning him to life and freeing Calcifer. With Calcifer gone, the remaining platform collapses and falls down the mountain making Turnip Head use his pole to brake the platform. Sophie kisses Turnip Head as thanks, which breaks his curse, revealing that he is actually the missing prince from the neighboring country and was trapped in the form of a scarecrow until he received true love's kiss. Howl wakes up and Sophie embraces him. Although Calcifer is now free, he returns to his former company, while Suliman decides to put an end to the war. Howl, Sophie, and the others are seen high above the bomber planes upon a new flying castle, while the bombers return from the war.

Voice cast

Character Japanese English
Sophie (young) Chieko Baisho Emily Mortimer
Sophie (old) Jean Simmons
Howl (Hauru) Takuya Kimura Christian Bale
Witch of the Waste Akihiro Miwa Lauren Bacall
Calcifer Tatsuya Gashūin Billy Crystal
Markl Ryūnosuke Kamiki Josh Hutcherson
Madame Suliman Haruko Kato Blythe Danner
Lettie Yayoi Kazuki Jena Malone
Honey Mayuno Yasokawa Mari Devon
Prince Justin/Turnip Head Yō Ōizumi Crispin Freeman
Madge Rio Kanno Liliana Mumy
King of Ingary Akio Ōtsuka Mark Silverman
Heen Daijirō Harada


In September 2001, Studio Ghibli announced the production of two films. The first would become The Cat Returns and the second was an adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones' novel, Howl's Moving Castle.[3] A rumor persists that Miyazaki had an idea to do Howl's Moving Castle during a visit to Strasbourg Christmas market.[3] Mamoru Hosoda of Toei Animation was originally selected to direct the film, but quit after Studio Ghibli's bosses refused to accept any of his concept ideas.[4] The film was shelved until Miyazaki took over.[4] The project resumed with production in February 2003.[3]

Miyazaki went to Colmar and Riquewihr in Alsace, France, to study the architecture and the surroundings for the setting of the film.[3] Additional inspiration came from the concepts of future technology in Albert Robida's work.[3] Miyazaki, a pacifist, said that the production of the film was profoundly impacted by the Iraq War.[5][6]

The film was produced digitally, but the original backgrounds were drawn by hand and painted prior to be digitized, and the characters were also drawn by hand prior to scanning them into the computer.[3] The 1400 storyboard cuts for the film were completed on 16 January 2004.[7] On 25 June the in-between animation was completed and checking was completed on 26 June.[8]

The complex moving castle changes and rearranges itself several times throughout the movie in response to Howl's eccentricity and the various situations.[3] The basic structure of the castle consists of more than 80 elements including turrets, a wagging tongue, cogwheels and bird feet, that were rendered as digital objects.[3]

Differences between film and novel

Diana Wynne Jones met with representatives from Studio Ghibli, but did not have any input or involvement in the production of the film. Miyazaki traveled to England in the summer of 2004 to give Jones a private viewing of the finished film. She has been quoted as saying:

It's fantastic. No, I have no input—I write books, not films. Yes, it will be different from the book—in fact it's likely to be very different, but that's as it should be. It will still be a fantastic film.[9]

The film is very different from Jones's original novel. The plot is similar, but it is flavored with Miyazaki's familiar style and characters, as well as several missing or drastically altered key plot points from the book. The plot is still focused on Sophie and her adventure while cursed with old age. The movie retains the novel's original story line of how Sophie gradually grows from thinking of herself as a plain, ordinary girl who pales in comparison to her popular and beautiful sister Lettie to ultimately coming to accept herself for who she is and thinking of herself as a beautiful woman. However, the main action of the film's story takes place during a war, and its plot is chiefly concerned with Howl's refusing to help both kings and sabotaging both armies' materiel for pacifist reasons. Also, the relationship of Howl and Sophie differs between the novel and the movie in that the two gradually develop their relationship through lots of bickering and quarreling in the novel while the movie does not portray this aspect as much.

Sophie herself is different in the film and than in the novel. For instance, Sophie's personality is a little more irate in the novel; she also possesses magic, unlike her counterpart in the film.[10]

In contrast, the novel is concerned with Howl's womanizing and his attempts to lift the curse upon himself (discovering later how his lethal predicament is entangled with the fates of a lost wizard and prince) as well as running from the incredibly powerful and beautiful Witch of the Waste, who is the story's main villain and not at all the old yet harmless character she plays on screen. Also in the book, the Witch of the Waste was later killed by Howl while the anime film keeps her alive in an old age. Another noteworthy difference is that Sophie, in the book, is herself an unwitting sorceress totally unaware of her power, with the ability to "talk life into things" like the hats she makes and her own walking stick; objects take on a life of their own the more attention Sophie gives to them.

The book detours for one chapter into 20th-century Wales, where Howl is known as Howell Jenkins and has a sister with children. This glimpse into Howl's complicated past is not shown in the film, but one of Howl's aliases is "The Great Wizard Jenkins".

In addition, Sophie has two sisters in the book, Lettie and Martha, not just one. Markl is called Michael in the book, is 15, and is in love with Sophie's youngest sister, Martha (in the novel, Howl also courts Lettie for a while). Suliman is actually a man from Wales whose real name is Ben Sullivan, not a woman as portrayed in the movie. The film conflates this Suliman as a powerful wizard in his own right who has gone missing after a confrontation with the Witch of the Waste, with Mrs. Penstemmon, the Professor who taught Howl sorcery and gives Sophie clues as to how to free Calcifer and Howl from their contract. Neither is an enemy of the heroine in the book. Besides Martha, several other characters were left out.[11]


The soundtrack CD was first released on 19 November 2004 by Tokuma. Artist Joe Hisaishi also composed and conducted a Howl's Moving Castle: Symphony Suite, an album published on 21 January 2004 which includes ten re-arranged pieces from the original soundtrack.[12] He and Youmi Kimura also composed Howl's Moving Castle CD Maxi-Single, a CD single published on 27 October 2004 which includes the film's theme song, sung by Chieko Baisho (the Japanese voice actor for Sophie), its karaoke version, and a piano version of the film's main theme, "The Merry-Go-Round of Life".[13]


Howl's Moving Castle received highly positive reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports 87% approval, based on 172 reviews, certifying it "Fresh".[14] The film also holds an 80/100 average on Metacritic. USA Today critic Claudia Puig praised it for its ability to blend "a childlike sense of wonder with sophisticated emotions and motives"[15] while Richard Roeper called it an "insanely creative work". Other critics described it as "a visual wonder", "A gorgeous life-affirming piece", and "an animated tour de force." Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, gave it two and a half out of four stars, and felt that it was one of Miyazaki's "weakest" films.[16] Helen McCarthy in 500 Essential Anime Movies says that natural world is "beautifully represented here", with "some absolutely breathtaking mountains and lakeside landscapes". She also praises the design of the Castle and adds that Miyazaki added his own themes to the film: "man's relationship to nature, the futility of war, and the joy of flight".[17]

Top ten lists

"There's a word for the kind of comic, dramatic, romantic, transporting visions Miyazaki achieves in Howl's: bliss."
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone[18]

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2005.[19]


Year Award Category Result Recipient
2004 61st Venice Film Festival Osella Awards for Technical Achievement Won Howl's Moving Castle
Mainichi Film Awards Best Japanese Movie Overall Won Howl's Moving Castle
Japan Media Arts Festival Excellence Prize, Animation Won Howl's Moving Castle
2005 Tokyo International Anime Fair Animation of the Year Won Howl's Moving Castle
Tokyo Anime Awards Best Director Won Hayao Miyazaki
Best Voice Actor/Actress Won Chieko Baisho
Best Music Won Joe Hisaishi
Maui Film Festival Audience Award Won Howl's Moving Castle
Seattle International Film Festival Golden Space Needle Award 1st Runner-up Howl's Moving Castle
2006 78th Academy Awards Best Animated Feature Nominated Howl's Moving Castle[20]


Gore Verbinski cited the film as an influence for Rango.[21]


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  11. Howl's Moving Castle (book)
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External links