Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Akihiro Miwa, Tatsuya Gashuin, Ryūnosuke Kamiki
Magic on screen can feel like a warm hug, which always occurs when watching one of Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful feature films. Varying in topic and seriousness, the main commonality between them comes from the beautiful sentimentality they conjure through their characters and designs. Howl’s Moving Castle is certainly no different in creating lovable individuals to follow amidst plenty of magic happening around them.
Amidst an ongoing war between kingdoms, hatmaker Sophie (Chieko Baisho) gets involved when interacting with a young wizard, Howl (Takuya Kimura). As she makes her way to his moving castle, she learns more about what makes the wizard work and how he’s involved with the ongoing war.
With such a soft and colorful animation, it becomes difficult not to fall in love with the beautiful look of Howl’s Moving Castle. The intricacies in creating the world as well as the castle show an attention to detail I could not possibly fathom and understand. You just have to step back and get immersed in the world laid out here, which becomes incredibly easy considering how gorgeous it looks but also the wonderful characters brought together to go on this journey with Sophie and Howl.
Sophie represents a young woman just trying to live her life making hats and somehow gets dragged into this messy situation. She interacts with the Witch of the Waste (Akihiro Miwa) who turns the young woman into a 90-year-old. Quite the dramatic turn for her but she knows she must break it, which leads her to the castle. The intricately designed castle serves as a home for Howl but also other characters like his apprentice, Markl (Ryūnosuke Kamik), and a fire demon powering the entire castle, Calcifer (Tatsuya Gashuin). The friendship they conjure up together warms the heart with Calcipher being the nicest demon ever shown in a feature film. I mean, in the English dub he’s voiced by Billy Crystal. With all of the commotion that will eventually occur, their friendship becomes integral to their survival and it contributes to what makes this a wonderful film.
Flowing throughout the feature is a truly gorgeous score by Joe Hisaishi. A distinct level of softness outlines the experiences of these characters and it bewitches with enough charm to form a necklace. Even in the scenes with not as much occurring, it perfectly sets the tone for what will occur in the future and it becomes such a treat to listen to throughout. It adds to the comforting feeling all of Miyazaki’s stories evoke.
In a world of wizards, plenty of magic exists here but the most fascinating one came from the castle itself. Not only does it move through the power of Calcifer, but its doorway allows anyone inside it to enter the two warring kingdoms under a different alias. A simple piece of magic but one that has a strong impact on what can be achieved by these characters. It all comes as a learning experience for Sophie as she continues to learn everything Markl and Calcifer have grown accustomed to when operating the castle.
Lessons for each character and their journey through their narrative deal with the physical and mystical. For Sophie, she receives the curse by the Witch of the Waste, and only in certain moments does she revert back to her younger self. Deciphering what will eventually break it comes with the moral lesson, but portraying an older woman certainly did not stand as a great challenge for Sophie considering her having an old soul, to begin with. The same lies for Calcifer and how his existence lies connected with Howl. The character mentioned in the title becomes the biggest mystery of them all in trying to figure out his true intentions and if he can truly be someone Sophie can rely on. In a sense, this film becomes the ultimate “I can fix him” film, but of course with the beautiful charm of Hayao Miyazaki.
Intricate character designs and moving stories have become the bread and butter of the acclaimed director and he certainly does no different in this feature. Releasing this film three years after his worldwide smash hit Spirited Away, he certainly had the attention of everyone for what he had coming up next. This feature certainly matches a similar ambition while also having a lighter tone along with uplifting characters. Does not reach the same quality as his best but still contains so much to adore.
Watching Howl’s Moving Castle feels like a warm blanket of getting wrapped into Miyazaki’s stories once again. A tremendously inviting experience and it became supremely easy to love because of the wonderful characters crafted in an ever-engaging world accentuated by its effervescent score. It became a world and film I never wanted to part with but its conclusion matched exactly what this film needed in order to tell a completely refreshing and warm cinematic experience.