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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Hollywood Rewind | Howl’s Moving Castle: The delightful film where Christian Bale’s Batman found his ‘voice’

Christian Bale, Billy Crystal and Emily Mortimer-starrer Howl's Moving Castle is a delightfully warm and funny film about a wizard called Howl and a young girl called Sophie. The film won an Oscar nomination.

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi |
Updated: January 24, 2022 8:50:35 am
christian baleHowl's Moving Castle released in 2004. (Photo: Toho)

If you have happened to watch the animated film Howl’s Moving Castle before or after Christian Bale‘s rendition of Batman in Christopher Nolan movies, you would find a strong and strange connection between the two features. A year before the world was introduced to the iconic gruff voice of Bale’s Batman in Batman Begins (2005), the Academy Award-winning actor had tested the grounds by using the tone in the widely acclaimed Japanese fantasy film, based loosely on British author Diane Wynne Jones novel of the same name.

Directed by the prolific animated filmmaker and storyteller Hayao Miyazaki, who also happens to be the co-founder of the famed Studio Ghibli, Howl’s Moving Castle is an exquisitely drawn movie that despite being slightly slow-paced, delivers the goods. Christian Bale voiced the main character Howl in it, with Emily Mortimer plays his love interest, Sophie. The plain-clothed but honest and smart Sophie is one day turned into a 90-year-old by a witch. Seeking to take shelter in an unknown place, Sophie is taken to Howl’s moving castle by a scarecrow. The plot is as crazily delightful as it sounds. Every literal and metaphorical door opens into a new world full of possibilities. Despite its obvious fairytale structure, the film doesn’t ignore real-world issues, most importantly that of the devastating effects of war. With great care, Miyazaki points out the fruitlessness of fighting a battle via his protagonist Howl.

Howl is a somewhat vain, flamboyant but ultimately compassionate wizard who is drawn to the great war in effort to mitigate the crisis, all the while handling some personal troubles of his own. His heart is missing, he fears losing his good looks and there are ‘girl troubles’ too. Howl’s magic self is beautifully contrasted with his frailties as a sentient being. And all of these complexities are brought on screen by the talented Bale, who perfectly captures the constant dilemma of being a human. His voice sounds tired and low as Howl comes home in tatters after a long day, or that tinkle in his laugh after delivering a confident line or two in order to impress the lady — Bale’s voice changes as Howl goes through the motions of being himself. According to IMDb trivia, Chrsitian Bale was so blown away by Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001), that he resolved to do any role in the new movie. However, he had not expected to land the leading part.

Howl’s Moving Castle is also a gentle critique of how ageing is perceived in the society, as we see our heroine Sophie become a cane-carrying 90-year-old. At first aghast at her appearance, we see Sophie reconcile herself to looking aged, instead focusing on how she doesn’t have to bother about anything anymore. Sophie found a freedom in being old that she never did as a young woman full of insecurities. As her elderly version, Sophie was able to let go of that extra baggage of vanity and appearances, finally coming into her own as the leading lady of her life. Despite having no magical prowess of her own (unlike the novel’s Sophie), Miyazaki lends her the superpower of empathy and affection, and even a certain determinedness that her younger self lacked. Made up of such small and big themes, Howl’s Moving Castle is a warm, funny watch that remains as timeless and appealing as it did when it first came out.

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You can watch Howl’s Moving Castle on Netflix.

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