Howl’s Moving Castle, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and released in the U.S. in 2005, is a film whose magic will live on forever. It is an insightful and creative look at the beauty of love and the harsh reality of war. And through Miyazaki’s intricate and inventive animation, we are taken through a tale that, regardless of age, I feel any generation can enjoy.
The film is about Sophie, a shy girl with an uneventful life running her father’s hat shop. However, that all changes when one day wandering around town, Sophie runs into Howl, a man who owns a beautiful moving castle. They form an instant connection together, and the Witch of the West, jealous of that connection, turns Sophie into an old lady. Now, it’s up to Sophie to find a way to break the curse and return to her youth, which leads her on the adventure of a lifetime.
The story, while very good, in some aspects, is not all that special. Specifically, the love elements within the plot feel very cliché. We’ve seen the whole “please don’t leave me” followed by the “no I have to go do this” spiel hundreds of times before and it doesn’t really do anything new with this trope either. However, when it comes to the war elements, there are a few curveballs here that mix things up. For instance, while two nations are in a fierce war with each other, Howl is on neither side of this conflict. So, when he talks about how it doesn’t matter who is bombing whom and just the fact that they bomb at all is wrong, it becomes very easy to sympathize with him. But what’s really fascinating is that the reasoning behind war and the brutality and ugliness that came with it is vague for most of the film, and a reveal later on shows how meaningless that war was. It goes to show that humans don’t even really need a reason to fight each other. The film posits that perhaps we will continue to fight among each other simply because we value the spectacle of it and do not always see the damage it causes.
The story may be good, but what Miyazaki films are known for is their animation, and this film does not disappoint on that front. Miyazaki has always been a strict follower of the show don’t tell rule, as he lets the visuals tell the story and never gives more information then necessary. A lot of movies feel the need to explain through dialogue exactly what’s going on as well as the rules to their world, not trusting the audience’s intelligence enough to figure it out from observation. This movie is not one of those movies. As a whole, the film is not very dialogue heavy and there are several scenes that are completely silent as the beautiful animation allows us to not only understand but also feel what’s going on. And beautiful animation is an understatement, as one look at the moving castle is a perfect demonstration of how vibrant and creative Miyazaki’s animation style can be. The castle has several moving parts that all really pop out at the viewer and give it a sense of movement. The film as a whole also has a very dynamic color palette especially when compared to past Miyazaki films such as Spirited Away. Even things that you wouldn’t think would have much movement, like the crackling of a fire, has so much fluidity and energy to it that it really is mind-blowing (to be fair the fire is also a character but still it’s pretty impressive).
This film is definitely one that needs to be experienced simply for the spectacle it brings in animation. If you’re a Miyazaki fan, you’ve probably already seen it, otherwise I highly recommend it.