Reviews of Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) and related work
- Adaptation: Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Howl’s Moving Castle (1986)
Diana Wynne Jones (writer).
Read in Swedish.
A plain young woman named Sophie questions her career choice of millinery, though it was her father’s trade. A large, irregular structure is spotted walking near her town, prompting gossip about the selfish wizard Howl and his hunt for pretty girls. A brief meeting later, a witch who wants Howl to herself curses Sophie to bring the beautiful wizard a message. The curse instantly ages Sophie into the body of 90-year-old, and a terrible war is brewing.
Baroque secondary-world fantasy on a technological level—including magic—reminiscent of WW1. War, romance and fairy tale. A loose adaptation. The visual spectacle is greater than in any previous Miyazaki movie, amply aided by computers, but no other Miyazaki movie is instead centered so firmly on romance, up to and including kissing and constructing a family unit by non-biological means.
Environmentalism takes less than a back seat. The utopian Alpine meadow is tame, and the Nausicaä-esque human bird motif is tied to bestial belligerence and self-destruction: a fascinating reversal of symbolism indicating that Miyazaki is not becoming a caricature of himself with age. The pageantry of supernatural frivolity persists but there is greater Earthsea-like depth and coherence to magic here than in Spirited Away (2001) or Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989). The concluding nod to fairytale logic is a good joke, and it’s plausible to view the swift termination of the war as a symptom of a pre-nuclear European martial mentality, so it’s not all sunshine. The plot is hardly profound, but more serious than Jones’s original.
It’s a splendid parade of Miyazaki’s cheerful favourites, easily interpreted as a celebration in a very wide sense. Countless parallels can be drawn to his earlier movies. This is certainly not Ghibli’s best film, nor the one most relevant to real-world problems, but it is a glorious marriage of modern animation and the mind of a master.