Howl’s Moving Castle

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Japan| 2004. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 119 min.

The seemingly boundless visual invention of master Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) combines with a book by Diana Wynne Jones to bring us one of the most unusual and involving animated epics ever put on screen. The central character, Sophie, is a young milliner in a kind of parallel-universe Victorian England, where two factions are waging a brutal war in the wasteland around the towns. But encounters with the rock-star-like wizard Howl and then the Witch of the Waste leave Sophie cursed to be a 90-year-old. So she goes in search of Howl’s moving castle, befriending a mute turnip-head scarecrow, the cheeky talking fire Calcifer, and Howl’s young assistant in her quest to reverse her curse. And possibly end the war.
Studio Ghibli’s hand-drawn animation is absolutely gorgeous, from the expansive scenery to detailed cityscapes to fascinating character design. The use of colour, texture, sounds and light is breathtakingly original. And it’s all used brilliantly to serve a story that continually surprises us with its twists and turns, tiny details, sharp humour and clever insights. The visual touches are astonishing—the moving castle itself is an outrageous concoction that seems to have been made up of houses and bits of machinery consumed along the way as it wanders around.It’s such a busy film, with a story we can never remotely predict, that it commands our attention completely. There’s enough subtext to keep us thoroughly engaged as we’re prodded to think about issues of identity, responsibility and human connection. It’s easily one of the most beguiling films of the year.

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