A curse, a world at war and a special magician. These are the ingredients of Hayao Miyazaki’s hit 2004 film “Howl’s Moving Castle” (ハウルの動く城) based on the first book in the series created by English writer, Diana Wynne Jones.
If you have read the books, then, you might be a little disappointed that the movie just borrows a few elements from the book. Miyazaki takes a creative leap from the source material to create a richly imagined world full of magic. In truth, these diversions do not really contribute much to the progress of the story. But, these set pieces are so detailed in their conception, that one is left with little to complain about.
The story of Howl’s Moving Castle starts of with a young girl called Sophie who has been transformed into an old woman by a curse. The only magician who is strong enough to remove the curse is Howl, who lives, as you can guess, in a moving castle that is filled with marvelous things- a strange mobile object full of hidden secrets and several birds. Howl’s world is suffused with jaw-dropping magic and nothing is ever what it seems. But Howl is not a heroic figure. He is someone who is hiding from the world and unready to face reality. And this reluctance of his might soon lead to him losing his humanity completely.
Miyazaki has often mentioned Howl’s Moving Castle as his favorite film. He set out to make it as an anti-war statement, disgusted as he was with the American invasion of Iraq. The military theme dominates the film with several flying war machines and bombers wreaking havoc. The antagonist, Madame Suliman, is shown as a wise and all knowing woman who is blinded by her ambition, who hence resorts to violence and war to get what she wants, through sheer cynicism.
The movie also takes the brave decision of making an old woman the chief protagonist. Sophie transforms into a caring, brave and heroic figure when she becomes an old woman. Although, old people are often stereotyped as grand mother/father figures in animation movies, in Howl’s Moving Castle, it is as an old woman that Sophie is at her best. She helps the bring in change in the lives of two young men and by fighting away her self interest, finally attains happiness.
With fantastic animation, some great humor, fabulous characters and beautiful music, Howl’s Moving Castle is certainly one of Miyazaki’s greatest achievements.