In the course of watching through Miyazaki’s films chronologically with my wife, I’ve greatly enjoyed gauging her opinion on each film. Not only have I figured out a lot about my wife’s taste in films, but in general it’s just been fun to talk about these movies together. I had been building up Howl’s Moving Castle to her as we steadily moved toward it, telling her that I thought it would be her favorite and that she would greatly enjoy it. I was right. She really liked this one.
Howl’s Moving Castle, more so than any of Miyazaki’s other films, is a simple fairy-tale love story. If it reeks of European folk-tale magic and setting, that’s probably because those were the sources of the original novel which Miyazaki adapted. I’m not familiar with the novel, personally, so I cannot judge this film as an adaption of the source, and can only judge it as a film. It’s a marvelous film, by the way.
The title character, Howl, is a self-centered, womanizing wizard who lives in a giant moving fortress. He is also wanted by the government as a weapon of war, and is being hunted by a witch, the Witch of the Waste, he turned into an ugly old hag. That’s the basic premise, but it becomes more complicated when Sophie, a young hatmaker, becomes involved. The Witch of the Waste ends up casting a spell on Sophie turning her into an old woman.
The movie is all about outward appearances and their reflections of our inner selves, which is very interesting. Sophie, a beautiful young lady with a simple heart, is turned into an old woman (possibly reflecting her personality “Well, at least my clothes suit me now!” she says). Howl is a handsome man on the outside but is selfish and conceited on the inside, and is slowly turning into what looks like a griffin. The Witch of the Waste is fat and ugly, and this is a direct reflection of her greedy and selfish personality.
Miyazaki wisely chose the source material it would seem, as, were I unaware that it was based on a book, I would assume he had conceived and written the material himself. It suits the European vibe his films have had before (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso), and it features the Miyazaki typicals: strong female lead, flight, imaginative creatures, and great supporting characters.
Howl’s Moving Castle manages to be one of Miyazaki’s most fun creations, but is also one of his most emotionally moving creations. The reliance on digital effects (Howl’s castle is pretty obviously a computer generated model with painted textures) is somewhat distracting, but never a detriment (if anything, it just makes me sad as I love the artwork in his films).
While this isn’t one of my favorite Miyazaki films, even a B level Miyazaki is better than your average movie. That isn’t to dismiss how great of a film this is, by the way, it’s just to point out that it isn’t his best him (Spirited Away, anyone?). This movie is so much fun it’s silly, and the English dub is great, which helps really seal and sell the experience.
Also, Turnip Head, how can I forget about Turnip Head?