RogerBW's Blog

Howl's Moving Castle 26 September 2018

2004 fantasy, novel adaptation: AniDB, vt "Howl no Ugoku Shiro". Sophie is an apprentice hat-maker, until in one busy day she is assisted by a handsome man beset by enemies, then gets cursed with old age. She sets off into the wilderness to see if she can break the curse.

As with many adaptations, this is really quite a different story from the one on which it was based. There are elements in common beyond the character names, yes, but they are developed in completely different directions, and one central conceit of the novel – that this is a place where fairy-tale tropes mostly run true, and so Sophie as the eldest of three sisters shouldn't hope for adventure – is dropped completely, as is one of the sisters. (Also, there weren't flying ships in the book.)

Again Miyazaki deploys subtlety in characterisation: the Witch of the Waste ends up more pathetic than deadly, and while the royal wizard Madame Suliman is opposed to Howl and deploys legions of magical minions she isn't a villain. They have different priorities and goals, and she's a bit foolish; and that is enough to make an effective conflict without needing to resort to cackling evil. The anti-war message, present in much of Miyazaki's work, is perhaps more simplistic than on previous occasions, but it doesn't dominate the story.

The artwork, of course, is gorgeous, especially the countryside over which the Castle walks: and while the animation was done digitally, all the backgrounds and characters were drawn by hand first. Character designs are distinctive and effective, as well as fluid when they need to be.

There are surprisingly many visual echoes of Laputa here: not just the Meiji-era style of the flying warships, but the buzzing ornithopters and the ring that lights up with a beam pointing in a particular direction. Still, after eighteen years it's fair to repeat oneself a bit; and this still brings much that is new, in particular the narrative focus on an old woman rather than on bouncy young people.

I'd file this next to Laputa rather than in the absolute top rank with Totoro, but Miyazaki's second string is still pretty damn good.

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