Howl's Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki

May 2012 Lisette Westerveldt

So, as you may have already surmised, this will be my last of three reviews on what I consider to be Hayao Miyazaki’s three best films. Although I am sad that I will no longer be able to publicly gush over my love of Miyazaki, I am also extremely excited to write about this third film in particular.

So without further ado, I present to you my personal favorite, Howl’s Moving Castle!

As is the case with the previous two films, the protagonist of this movie is female. Sophie Hatter is an eighteen year old girl living in the magical (and a bit steampunk-esque) kingdom of Ingary, where fairy-tale creatures like witches or spirits are not uncommon and are accepted as a part of the daily life. Shy and rather unconfident, Sophie is the eldest daughter. As such, she has resigned herself to spending the rest of her life toiling away in her family’s hat shop. This all changes however, when a chance meeting between Sophie and the notorious wizard Howl ends with Sophie turning into an old lady—courtesy of the Witch of the Waste. The worst part is: she can’t tell anybody about it.

In hopes of finding a cure somewhere else, Sophie leaves the hat shop and ventures across the countryside. She ends up finding work as a cleaning lady for Howl, who lives in mobile and magically enchanted home. From there, Sophie becomes involved in all sorts of crazy adventures, while also befriending new friends along the way and learning more about herself in the process.

And since I don’t want to spoil too much, I’ll cut the summary short there.

In comparison with the other two films, I’d say that while it lacks some of Spirited Away’s technical brilliance and the some of the sheer ferocity of Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle nonetheless stands out in its intensity and imagination. To borrow the words of one critic, Bruce Westbrook, who said it better than I could possibly ever try to, the film was “So richly detailed and colorful that one almost aches from the beauty.”

And it really, truly is. Howl’s Moving Castle is two hours of pure magic, in terms of both how the story plays out and in animation. The scenery and setting for the entire movie was also so, so, so beautiful; I’m pretty sure (and I kid you not) I spent half the time with my mouth wide open, just positively drooling at Miyazaki’s genius.

Oh and the characters. I don’t think I’ve ever found a cast of characters as funny as this one in any of Miyazaki’s films. They are a wonderful range and mix of both quirky and delightful, from the spunky Sophie to the flamboyant-yet-boyish Howl, and from the hilarious Calcifer to the enthusiastic Markl. And watching Sophie come out of her shell and evolve from timid to gutsy was so much fun!

But yes. I will simply end this with one succinct comment. Go watch it!