Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki (screenplay), Diana Wynne Jones (novel)
Stars: Chieko Baishô, Takuya Kimura and Tatsuya Gashûin
My dad had raved about this film after he saw it. I thought I had seen it before but it turned out I hadn’t. I know realise why my dad ranted about how wonderful this film was. There is a charm and childish dreamlike quality to this film that brings the animated characters to life.
I wasn’t expecting anything brilliant from the film, but I really should have since I’ve seen Spirited Away and Ponyo. Howl’s Moving Castle is in the same style of Japanese animation that Hayao Miyazaki is renowned for and it has the same magical and quirky sense of mystery and wonder that his other films have. And I have to say, the best thing about this film is how the script and animation ground the magic in this film. There are just utterly unreal moments in this film where a character will come out with the best lines. For example, our heroine, Sofi, has been transformed into an old woman by a witch’s curse and then leaves her town, meets a scarecrow with a turnip as a head that keeps following her and she casually says as they are about to part company: “It was a pleasure meeting you, even if you are my least favorite vegetable! Take care, Turniphead!” – Genius! Seriously, if you can’t love crazy old Sofi then there is something wrong with you. There are gems throughout this entire film which had me giggling hours after the film had finished.
Sofi is so down-to-earth and matter-of-fact about everything but with a childish sense of adventure that gives her character wholeness and depth that you don’t really see in animated films (or at least I don’t). Her world is simple, magical, random, and at some times just plain insane and yet she deals with it as anyone would in any other world. She is compassionate, kind, hardworking, strong, and determined. She keeps her youthfulness in her aged-form and it reminds me of how I want to be when I get old. I want to be that crazy old lady who has the passion and determination to go mountain climbing at 70 or to step out of a comfort zone even at the age of 80. I want to live life with the dignity and love that Sofi shows to everyone around her.
In comparison to Sofi, Howl is vain and cursed to be heartless, always seeking something more beautiful and more magical. And yet through their interactions you see his broken humanity come into full view as he fights to save the world he lives in and attempts to save the beauty that is left. For Howl, he must learn to put aside his desire for his own beauty and to seek a beauty for others. Miyazaki seems to weave this moral of nature and beauty in an unusual way, for he both condemns and applauds the search and fight for beauty. It is framed so it is the beauty within and the beauty around us that we are to fight for, not the physical beauty of our own appearance, which just tends to cripples and destroys us.
I love how an animated film like Howl’s Moving Castle can illicit dreams and passions that I know lie dormant when I step back into reality but that remind me that I do have the capacity to be fabulous and to live a life of pure passion and adventure. Living vicariously through film means finding myself in every story and being reminded of the wonder that the world holds, and that it is waiting patiently for me to step out into it and take the opportunities that are in front of me. The great things about films, all films whether documentaries, animations, surrealist or otherwise, they help us to live and dream and to envision a world with us as the protagonist. I shall take up my part in the story of my life and live as it were a film, scripted just for me.