As Hayao Miyazaki’s follow-up to his critically-acclaimed masterpiece “Spirited Away,” expectations were high for “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and for the most part, reviewers felt satisfied. Upon its release in the United States in 2005, The New York Times heralded the film as “wildly imaginative, emotionally intense and surpassingly gentle,” while other publications praised its beautiful art style, thematic resonance, and fantasy worldbuilding. These reviews, more or less, were par for the course when it came to Miyazaki’s consistent and careful work.
For some reviewers, the second half of the film — especially the ending — wasn’t as enchanting as the film’s visuals would have you believe. In a less-than-generous review from The Washington Post, reviewer Stephen Hunter criticized its plot, writing, “When it finishes, you wonder why it went where it went, if it can even be said to have gone there.”
However, some reviews from this time indicate that the critics didn’t fully understand Miyazaki’s intent behind the film. In a criticism from Variety that complained about its second half being too long and narratively incoherent, they wrote, “What’s missing perhaps, is a more driving sense of Sophie’s quest to regain her youth.” This interpretation of the film’s meaning, while understandable given Sophie’s transformation back into a young woman at the end of the film, misses the point of her having changed and accepted adulthood through her experiences with Howl.