“Howl’s Moving Castle” is an animated film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The plot centers on a young woman named Sophie who, after an encounter with the notorious Howl, is turned into an old woman courtesy of the Witch of the Waste curse. The rest of the film follows Sophie’s journey as she joins up with Howl and other people that live in his monstrosity of a castle, including a talking fire demon named Calcifer, and a young boy named Markl, who oftentimes disguises himself as an older man. (“Howl’s Moving Castle” imdb page)
The visuals were a great mix of realism and fantasy. It was also interesting to have the protagonist of an animated film be an older woman (for most of it, anyway). While Miyazaki’s films often have female protagonists, this was a new move even by his own standards. Branching from this, it was also interesting to see a strong female character put up against a weaker male one. Howl might be a powerful wizard, but can also be a coward. It is only through Sophie that he is able to regain some of his courage. Sophie, by contrast, is shown to be a strong woman trying her best to deal with her transformation. This difference in character is never emphasized better than when Howl throws a tantrum over his hair changing color, stating outrageously: “What’s the point of living if you aren’t beautiful.” Not only is his idea of beauty so superficial that a change in hair color is a tragedy, but he says this to Sophie – a girl turned into an old woman.
The film also made use of the castle to further reveal Howl’s character. “They call it a castle, but once you step inside it’s a junk heap,” Sophie states. This demonstrates how the castle acts as a parallel to Howl in a way as he seems to enjoy showing himself off in a grander light than he truly ought to be.
In addition to these two, there are a slew of well-developed side characters that come across as charming. Even the Witch of the Waste, who appears to be a major antagonist early in the film, becomes more likable as the story progresses.
While I really did enjoy the film, I can admit that it is not perfect. The story is full of details which are often hit-or-miss. Many times they work in the films favor, while in others it can make the plot seem a little over-bloated. Clocking in at around two hours, it is difficult to cram so much information into such a tight frame. Also several moments were confusing, especially the somewhat hasty resolution with the ruler deciding to end “the silly war”. It seemed sort of rushed and out of place. Of course I may just have to watch the film again to pick on something I missed.
While I wouldn’t put this movie at the top of my Miyazaki list, it still packs enough visual splendor, strong characterization, and a level of detail that makes it impossible not to recommend it.