Studio Ghibli

film 6 of 9

Howl’s Moving Castle

Film Review by Dean Duncan Apr 16, 2015

You know, I’m never quite sure what is going on in this movie. But if the story eludes, the feeling of the thing is eloquently clear. It has archetypal, mythological weight; through the course, at the end, you have that sense of an ineffable something. This is majesty, grandeur, even and finally, truth. The character of Sophie, so simple and so monumental, gives the lie to the old saw about goodness being uninteresting, or unportrayable. She is virtue and decency, and she is utterly dramatic and compelling. That old/young idea! The castle itself, and all of its expressionistic significance! (It is Howl himself, or maybe a symbolic, outward manifestation of Howl. Gee, I guess the story is clear after all.)

What amazing characters! Howl is profoundly mercurial, which might be to say that he is Youthful. So attractive, so much possibility, so discourteous all the time. The witch of the waste—that initial spell-casting is truly, even deeply unsettling—turns so tenderly into the failing, soft-eyed Grandma. Both components are true, neither is complete. Just like all of us. Of whom do we completely approve? Whom can we completely condemn? The Disney-esque secondaries are so much more than Disney ever makes of them. Calcifer is funny, but his history! Turnip is a bit scary, then quite comical, and then he evolves so beautifully into an embodiment of humble, elegant gallantry.

It’s all very moving! Sometimes the effects that Miyazaki manages are derived from plot or character things. Just as often it’s the grace notes, or their absolute visual mastery. The camera movements! The compositions and colours, the way that tree big gives way to that aircraft. Goodness isn’t enough. Craft isn’t enough. But great character and absolute artistry combined? You can only be humble and grateful.