|Seriously. I want to live in that! From Mubi|
I’ve always enjoyed the dubbed animation movies from Japan. I may have watched Kiki’s Delivery Service way too many times one summer when Cartoon Network had it on rotation. The style of their animation is so novel and just…cool, one has to enjoy it. Not to mention, they are good with stringing a narrative together that on paper, shouldn’t work. I watched Ponyo earlier this year and loved that as well. The sense of whimsy in these films is so refreshing, so pure. They get laughs without a wink to the audience. Often impressive these days. So, I was excited to find Howl’s Moving Castle on the library shelf yesterday. I have started my weekly Disney movie watching in preparation for my upcoming trip and since Disney is the US distributor for Studio Ghibli films, I figured Howl’s Moving Castle counted. I now…um…don’t want to give it back to the library.
The film is based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones (which I have an ILL request in for now – because if it’s better than the movie, I won’t want to get that back either). The story is easy to follow when you watch it but go with me as I describe it. Sophie is a quiet hat maker living in a sort of steampunk world where witches and wizards are common. A war is brewing quietly outside her door but independent Sophie refuses to be cautious which is how she meets Howl, the most feared wizard of them all. Because of Howl though, Sophie is cursed into the body of an old woman. To break the curse, Sophie falls in with Howl’s gang, as the cleaning lady of his moving castle. The war escalates and it is left to Sophie to save Howl and her new family.
OK, I kept it simple to not confuse but I cannot explain how much I love the character of Sophie, both young and old. Independent, spunky, clever and willing to work to protect her family, even from themselves. She isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. As an old woman, she lets down her guard as she’s never seen herself as worthwhile or pretty enough like the rest of her family. Once she’s old, she feels free to be herself and truly blossoms. I also love that Howl always sees Sophie as a young woman the few times Sophie is the main focus of the viewer’s gaze from Howl’s perspective. For the most part, as the story is told from Sophie’s point of view so Howl, strange, enigmatic, brilliant Howl, is the main focus of the viewer’s gaze.
The rest of the cast of characters are also fun and interesting. The idea of Sophie’s world is one with with people who are supposed to be seen as good or bad often operating in the grey areas. One of the reasons Sophie’s black and white way of looking at the world is so novel in the world she finds herself in. Calcifer, a fire demon who powers the moving castle, is funny and clever. The Wicked Witch of Waste is one you can never be sure of and Markl, Howl’s apprentice, is a child trying to be an adult, often in a hilarious getup of cloak and long grey beard. Then there is the castle…I want to live in it. Seriously. It is right up there with the TARDIS as some of the coolest transportation ever dreamed up. It is a delightful mix of houses, boats and machinery all jumbled together and it somehow just works. Add in a magic door that can open out onto different towns all over the world and it is pretty much awesome. (Actually, the analogy of the Doctor to Howl is quite apt now that I think about it.)
So, I highly recommend you check out this movie for both the fabulous animation (seriously, there is a sea where Sophie is looking out over the ocean, it is fantastic animation) and the wonderful story of magic and love. I have been feeling the need for a dose of whimsy and Howl’s Moving Castle more than delivered.