Howl’s Moving Castle is a story with its roots in Wales via a novel by Diana Wynne Jones. The castle is like Baba Yaga’s hut with added mechanics, keeping the wizard Howl out of range of his former tutor, Madam Suliman, witch-by-appointment-to-His-Majesty. The powers of Howl are mysterious, used in the cause of whim and world peace, and brought into relief by a human girl called Sophie who falls foul of a curse and takes refuge in the moving castle at a time when the Edwardian territories, into which its door variously opens, are fiercely at war. A scarecrow-cum-pogostick, a fire demon called Calcifer and a boy-child apprentice provide a curiously domestic environment for Miyazaki’s favourite demonstrations: how no-one is all good or all bad, how exciting the world becomes when viewed from the air, how belonging is not static, how overt heroism is wedded to weakness, how development costs integrity, how everything is capable of being something else and how the best things – from the flowers of the field to the spark which makes fire – should not be thought of in terms of ownership.
The film also offers the stock Miyazaki sympathy-vehicle, the resourceful and courageous girl-heroine, and his usual manga-beautiful boy-man, later to be made ugly by the flaws of his own character and to be wounded in a struggle whose grounds are as much emotional as moral. Howl is immature and brilliant, frivolous and idiosyncratic in his exercise of the supernatural powers which a secret childhood bargain has brought him. Sophie is the stable exponent of reason, practical in her sewing and cleaning, retaining her ordered human priorities in the face of the incomprehensible. Do Howl and Sophie have a future? Watch the film and find out!