Sometimes, I have myself convinced that I am just the worst otaku on the planet. I talk a big game about how much I love anime and how much I seem to know about the culture, but before today, I had never seen a film by Hayao Miyazaki, a children’s film maker who has a reputation as being the Walt Disney of Japan (however, after watching one of his film’s, I prefer to think of him as the Don Bluth of Japan which is more of a compliment anyways). Well, having now watched the magical Howl’s Moving Castle, I am quite upset that it took me this long to find him. I have never seen quite such a stunning combination of Eastern and Western story-telling and animation, and the final product really has to be seen to be believed.
Set against the backdrop of a devastating war, Howl’s Moving Castle is an epic children’s fantasy that tells the story of a young shopkeeper named Sophie. One day, after encountering a strange young man who saves her from bullying soldiers, Sophie is transformed into an old woman by the evil Witch of the Waste. She sets out on a journey to figure out how to break the spell that has been put upon her and return to her normal self. Along the way, she finds out that the man who rescued her is a powerful wizard named Howl who has a giant mobile castle, where he lives with his young apprentice Markl and a fire demon named Calcifer that lets the castle run. Soon, Sophie finds herself swept up in a war and must find the beauty and love within her and Howl if she wants to live, let alone be transformed back to her old body.
The animation in this film is just mind-boggling. The colors are so vibrant, and the world is filled with so much detail and action. The setting of the story is a beautifully rendered steampunk world where tun of the 20th century architecture intermingle with magic as well as later technology such as planes. At the same time, you are given several stunning vistas in beautiful forests and glens.The character models look splendid as well. Not since the golden age of Disney has hand-drawn animation looked this splendid.
Much like the great Don Bluth films from the late 80’s/early 90’s, this film is as entertaining for me as a grown-up as it surely is enchanting for children. This is a wonderful allegory for the dangers of war, the price of love, and remaining yourself in the face of hardship. This is the kind of quality children’s picture that you only expect from Pixar anymore. I can definitely see how another Miyazaki picture, Spirted Away, won Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, and I can’t wait to watch that movie. If you like anime, this is a no brainer. If you like children’s movies or have children of your own, I can without fail recommend this movie for the whole family. Although a slight warning, it might be a little scary in parts. Certain aspects of the film reminded me of Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland which just terrified me as a child.
Final Score: A-