Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Based on Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
The town is abuzz with talk of the war. Which naturally leads to talk of the wizards the king is dragging in to help with the war efforts. Which then leads, of course, to talk of the Wizard Howl–notable for holding out on the king, for living in a moving castle that roves the wastes, and for only coming into town to seduce beautiful young women. Not that young Sophie cares for such gossip; she’s always been a homely, responsible girl, and Howl’s not the least interested in that sort of woman. That’s what they say, anyhow. When Sophie runs afoul of a rather nasty witch and finds herself burdened with a curse that makes her appear (and feel) like an old woman, she leaves her home and wanders into the wastes where she happens to run right into Howl’s castle! Given a courage she never had when she looked young, Sophie elbows her way in and firmly settles herself as the new cleaning lady (and yes, they desperately need one!). What she finds while there is a prissy, womanizing, rather hopeless young wizard, to be sure, but there’s more to Howl that gossip would suggest, and Sophie’s bound to find it out.
I absolutely love Howl’s Moving Castle! Of course, it’s a fusion of two things I absolutely love already: Diana Wynne Jones and Studio Ghibli. The story is one of those amazing cases where the book and the movie–while having some characters, ideas, and events in common–are essentially unique and can be regarded as completely separate stories. They’re different enough that I can enjoy both without constantly comparing the two (and so, I will review the book another time). Ghibli’s Howl is incredible: a blend of the absurdly humorous, the epically fantastic, and the sweetly romantic that creates something greater than the sum of the parts. The scenery is gorgeous in the extreme, especially the mountain landscapes. The machines are fascinating (slightly steampunk, but not quite)–from the classic Miyazaki flying machines to the train running through town to the cobbled-together castle walking on four legs. A strong anti-war message permeates the story (but not overpoweringly)–again classic Miyazaki/Ghibli, it seems. The soundtrack is also amazing, absolutely beautiful (Joe Hisaishi, what else need be said?). Perhaps most outstanding in this movie are the characters: Sophie, who always underestimates herself. Calcifer, the stubborn fire-demon who’s actually quite cute (and very good for comic relief). Cute little Markl, Howl’s apprentice. And of course, Howl himself–indecipherable, devastatingly beautiful, selfish, secretive, overly dramatic, too concerned about his looks, yet somehow so much better a person than he seems like he could be. (May I just say, I love the green ooze tantrum?!) All in all, Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my absolute favorite movies, one I come back to regularly and never find disappointing. You should check it out!