Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ogoku shiro) is a 2004 fantasy animated film based off of the 1986 novel of the same name.



Sophie, a hatter, is a responsible-yet-plain 18-year-old girl who goes to the bakery to visit her sister when she encounters by chance a mysterious wizard named Howl. This encounter arouses the evil Witch of the Waste, who later enters the hat shop and transforms Sophie into a 90-year-old woman. As the curse prevents her from telling anyone of her condition, Sophie decides to leave and seek out a cure.

Along the way, Sophie meets upon the hill a scarecrow (whom she names Turnip-Head). She passes the mysterious Moving Castle and enters it. At this point, she meets an enchanted fire demon named Calcifer, who powers the castle and recognizes that Sophie has been cursed. Calcifer offers to break the curse in exchange for Sophie's help in breaking the spell he's under, which keeps Calcifer bound to the house. She also meets Howl's apprentice Markl.

When Howl appears, Sophie announces that she is the castle's new cleaning lady, hired by Calcifer because he was sick of how dirty the castle was.

Meanwhile, in Sophie's home country, the beginning of a war has sparked against another neighbouring town - following the disappearance of the other realm's Crown Prince. Slowly the war begins to creep into Sophie's country itself. Howl receives summons from the King, who orders his various assumed identities to fight in the war. However, Howl comes up with an idea to send Sophie to pose as his mother, announcing what a coward he is and that he would be useless. At the palace, Sophie runs into a asthmatic dog, Heen, who she thinks is Howl undercover. She also meets the Witch of the Waste. They begin to race up the stairs. Once they are inside the castle, the Witch of The Waste finds herself a place to sit down - only to find her magical powers drained by Madame Suliman as a punishment. This causes her to regress into a harmless old woman with little memories of her past actions. Suliman tells Sophie that Howl will meet the same fate if he does not contribute to the war. As Sophie vehemently protests these measures, the Witch's spell temporarily weakens due to the love in her words. This causes Sophie to change briefly to her younger self, then regress back to her older persona. Madame Suliman realizes Sophie's true relation to Howl and her romantic feelings towards him. Howl then arrives to rescue Sophie, Suliman tries to entrap Howl, but with Sophie's help, they manage to escape.

Sophie learns that Howl is able to transform himself into a bird-like creature to interfere in the war, but each transformation makes it more difficult for him to return to human form. Sophie fears that Howl is preparing to leave them, as his remaining time as a human is limited, he returns to interfering in the war. Sophie's mother shows up and is actually under Suliman's control and leaves behind a bag containing a "peeping bug" under her orders. The former Witch of the Waste discovers it and promptly destroys the bug by tossing it into Calcifer. Unfortunately, Calcifer gets sick after eating the bug, rendering him unable to protect the castle from being discovered.

A few hours later, the city is carpet-bombed by enemy aircraft while Suliman's henchmen invade the hat shop. After arriving just in time to protect the hat shop from the bombing, Howl draws the guards away just after healing Calcifer. He tells Sophie he is not going to run away anymore because he has something he wants to protect before leaving to interfere with the war. Deducing that Howl must be saved, Sophie moves everyone out of the castle and removes Calcifer from the fireplace, destroying the castle. She offers Calcifer some of her braided hair to give him enough strength to power a portion of the castle. They head toward Howl when the former Witch of the Waste discovers Howl's heart within Calcifer. Sophie pours water on Calcifer to make her let go of the heart, making Calcifer lose his power. The segment of the castle is split, and she and Heen fall down a chasm.

Making her way toward Howl's heart, Sophie enters through the door into the black region, Howl's childhood. She sees a recollection of how Howl and Calcifer meet: Howl eats Calcifer, who then gains his heart. Sophie finds Howl, having now lost his human consciousness in bird form. They head back to the group, and Sophie asks the Witch for Howl's heart. She gives it to her and places the heart back in Howl, resurrecting him and freeing Calcifer. She kisses the scarecrow who reveals that he is actually the missing prince. Heen shows the scene of their happy end to Suliman, and the war is finally over. Howl, Sophie, and the others are seen high above the bomber planes returning home from the end of the war.

Voice castEdit

Picture of Emily Mortimer dressed in white against a green background

Emily Mortimer, who voiced the young Sophie in the version of the film dubbed into English

Character Japanese English (Disney Release)
Sophie (Sofî) (young) Chieko Baisho Emily Mortimer
Sophie (old) Jean Simmons
Howl (Hauru) Takuya Kimura Christian Bale
Witch of the Waste (Arechi No Majo) Akihiro Miwa Lauren Bacall
Calcifer (Karushifâ) Tatsuya Gashūin Billy Crystal
Markl (Marukuru) Ryūnosuke Kamiki Josh Hutcherson
Madam Suliman (Sariman) Haruko Kato Blythe Danner
Lettie Yayoi Kazuki Jena Malone
Honey Mayuno Yasokawa Mari Devon
Prince Justin/Turnip Head (Kakashi No Kabu) Yō Ōizumi Crispin Freeman
Madge Rio Kanno Liliana Mumy
King of Ingary (Kokuô) Akio Ōtsuka Mark Silverman
Heen Daijirō Harada Frank Welker

Music Edit

Gallery Edit

Release and receptionEdit

Box officeEdit

The film premiered at the61st Venice Film Festival in 2004, and was released in Japan on 20 November 2004. The film grossed $14.5 million in its first week of release in Japan alone. The film was distributed in Japan by Toho, and made $190,000,000 in that country. It was distributed internationally by various companies, and made approximately an additional $45,000,000 outside Japan, for a worldwide total of $235,184,110. The film was later dubbed into English by Pixar's Pete Docter. It was distributed in the United States by Buena Vista, a subsidiary of Disney. It was released on DVD on 10 March 2006. It was one of the most commercially successful Japanese films ever made. Soon after its release, it became the third most financially successful film in Japan, behind Titanic and Spirited Away.

Critical receptionEdit

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an 87% approval rating based on 172 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Exquisitely illustrated by master animator Miyazaki, Howl's Moving Castle will delight children with its fantastical story and touch the hearts and minds of older viewers as well."The film also holds an 80/100 average on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews."

USA Today critic Claudia Puig gave the film a positive review, praising it for its ability to blend "a childlike sense of wonder with sophisticated emotions and motives". Helen McCarthy in 500 Essential Anime Movies said that the natural world was "beautifully represented", with "some absolutely breathtaking mountains and lakeside landscapes". She also praised the design of the Castle and added that Miyazaki added his own themes to the film: "man's relationship to nature, the futility of war, and the joy of flight". Joel Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal called the film "a moveable feast of delights". Richard Corliss of TIME magazine wrote, "Palaces and shimmering lakes, warplanes and fire sprites all come to life at the breath of Miyazaki's graphic genius." Writing for The Boston Globe, Ty Burr said, "At its best, 'Howl's Moving Castle' offers a rich fantasy of adolescent escape, of romance in the old and epic sense. At its worst, it's the most amazing 12-course meal you can't bring yourself to finish." A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote, "Admirers of [Hayao Miyazaki's] work, which is wildly imaginative, emotionally intense and surpassingly gentle, will find much to appreciate in this film because it demonstrates, once again, his visual ingenuity and his sensitivity as a storyteller. For newcomers to his world, "Howl's Moving Castle" is a fitting introduction to one of modern cinema's great enchanters."

Conversely, Roger Ebert, also of the Chicago Sun-Times, gave it two and a half out of four stars, and called the film a "disappointment" compared to his recent movies. Jonathan Trout of the BBC said, "Youngsters and Miyazaki fans will coo at the world's depth and rich surreality, but opaque plotting, and a tendency to mope with Sophie whilst Howl is off affecting events let the momentum of the first act vanish into thin air." Writing for Salon, Stephanie Zacharek said, "the plot of "Howl's Moving Castle" meanders so listlessly that its details become less and less charming. Miyazaki's storytelling style resembles that of a breathless young tot who's fearlessly exercising his newfound powers of expression." Stephen Hunter from The Washington Post criticized the plot of the film, saying "There is no story, or rather, there's no force to the story, which meanders almost casually this way and that for no apparent reason." However, he said that the movie also empowered young women, and was "beautiful beyond telling." David Rooney, writing in Variety, stated that "the narrative motor roars ahead in the opening hour and is more erratic thereafter," and suggested that better translation would help. Literary scholar Matt Kimmich stated that the film came across as "uneasy compromise between two plots and two imaginations," referring to Jones' original story and Miyazaki's style of animation and storytelling. However, he stated that those scenes which were not dependent either on Jones' original plot or Miyazaki's added plot threads found "a visual humor that recalls the verbal wit and lightness of Jones's novel," and that the "animation manages to free itself from the demands of the two plots—and flies."

Top ten listsEdit

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

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

  • 2nd – Ella Taylor, LA Weekly (tie)
  • 4th – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
  • 5th – Tasha Robinson, The A.V. Club
  • 6th – Lawrence Toppman, The Charlotte Observer
  • 6th – Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader (tie)
  • 8th – Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun
  • 8th – Michael Wilmington, The Chicago Tribune
  • NA – Peter Rainer, The Christian Science Monitor (listed alphabetically)

Accolades Edit

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
(Readers' Choice Award)


Howl's Moving Castle
Japan Media Arts Festival Excellence Prize, Animation Won


Howl's Moving Castle
2005 Tokyo Anime Award Animation of the Year Won


Howl's Moving Castle
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
Saturn Awards Best Animated Film Nominated Howl's Moving Castle
2007 Nebula Award Best Script Won


Hayao Miyazaki (script),
Cindy Davis Hewitt, and Donald H. Hewitt
(English translation)

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