A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 39 – Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle – April 8th, 2010

Have you read the book this movie is based on? Well I’m going to be a librarian about this and say go read the book. Not because it’s “better” but because it’s got a lot different, and this movie is an excellent example of an excellent book-to-movie adaptation without sticking to the book’s every letter. It makes the story its own without losing the spirit of it. I love that, but it’s so hard to do.

It’s a lovely movie, both in terms of the story and in terms of the visuals. I love how Sophie changes back and forth through a range as the movie plays out. It’s something that works so well for the character and is best expressed visually. I love Howl’s animations and his own changes. But my favorite thing in the movie is Calcifer, who spends most of the movie as a hearthfire who talks and eats and sometimes has rudimentary arms. He’s wonderfully done.

Now, it’s been a while since I saw the movie or read the book, but I remember there being a lot more complicated plotting and maneuvering going on in the book. There’s more with Sophie’s sister, Lettie, and her suitors, and Howl’s former teacher and he’s got a way into our world too, not just the different cities the castle can open to in the movie. But cramming that all into a two hour film would have been crowded and messy and I’m glad they didn’t try. Yes, it means that there’s fewer details about the war going on and Howl’s involvement in it and the land they’re in, so it can be a little on the vague side, but all in all, that doesn’t detract much from the story itself. From Howl’s story and Sophie’s story.

At the heart of the movie, it’s a love story. Normally I try to give a little bit of a plot summary, but I’m finding it difficult to explain beyond that it’s a love story set in a war, between a cursed hatmaker and a selfish wizard. And there’s an old witch and a young apprentice and a dog and a turnip-headed scarecrow and the hatmaker’s family and the wizard’s former teacher and a demon named Calcifer who is, as I mentioned, probably my favorite thing in the whole movie. It’s a fairytale, and as such is full of magic and destiny and people who do nasty things to each other and people who love each other. So that’s the best I can do for a plot summary. I could do better, but it wouldn’t be a summary, it would be several pages long and end with “And then they all lived happily ever after.” So why don’t I just leave it at that?

April 8, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Howl’s Moving Castle

April 8, 2010

Howl’s Moving Castle

I read the book this movie was based on after watching the movie the first time. It’s been a while, but I remember being impressed by what a radical adaptation the movie is. Hayao Miyazaki does this often. He takes some core elements of a story and characters but creates something new an magical with them. (I haven’t watched Ponyo yet, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing his take on the Little Mermaid.)

This is clearly a Miyazaki film through and through. It has that sense of magical wonder that he imbues on all his projects. And it has the jaw-dropping detailed animation that is a Studio Ghibli trademark. (In particular some of the fire and war scenes and the blob people are some breath-taking animation. This is hand-drawn animation at its absolute pinnacle.)

What I love most about this movie, though, is the magical world it creates and the fantastic character of Sophie. The world of Howl’s Moving Castle is a sort of magical 18th century. It’s all steam powered cars and air-ships, but also witches and wizards. Sophie is a simple haberdasher, working in her family’s hat shop. After a chance encounter with the dreaded (but quite dashing) wizard Howl she is cursed by the Witch of the Wilds, making her an old woman. And what I love about Sophie’s character is that she takes it all in stride.

So often in fantasy the characters thrown out of their comfortable lives and into all this wonder spend a great deal of time either denying what’s going on or railing against it. They all whine “why me?” and only reluctantly let themselves be swept away by the magic. Not Sophie. She has a brief period of panic when she sees that she’s been cursed, but from that moment on she simply squares her shoulders and marches straight into the new world she’s become a part of. When confronted by an animated scarecrow with a turnip for a head she remains polite, thanking it for its help. When she encounters the Witch of the Wilds again she is never for an instant afraid, speaking to the witch as an equal.

There’s a lot of talk of hearts in this movie. Wizards wish to steal hearts (according to the lore of Sophie’s village.) Howl himself seems to have given up his heart. And the true heart of the whole film is Sophie. Indomitable and unfazed. She marches straight into danger, head held high, and her compassion, good will and spirit carry you along on the adventure.

I would not say that this is my favorite Miyzaki film (I reserve that honor for Princess Mononoke.) But it is a wonderful adventure that I would enjoy embarking on any day. Always a treat.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment