Miyazaki’s films have unfailingly provided us a new universe to get lost in, where sophisticated emotions and childlike innocence amalgamate under the same life-affirming sun. Howl’s Moving Castle is no different. With ponderous metaphors to line up adoringly with the eye-popping vibrancy of the animation, this is another Miyazaki venture which takes us on a ride in the only direction worth traveling to: inwards.
A young woman called Sophie is cursed with an old body by a horrendous witch and the poor girl can’t even talk about that spell. With a bent back and a grandmotherly air, she finds refuge in a mobile establishment with inexplicable legs and steam outlets. This ‘castle’ is the home of a whimsical wizard who’s as unpredictable as he’s affectionate. We have a hyper energetic boy called Markl, a fire (which keeps the castle going) called Calcifer as Howl’s servants/companions; and a strangely approachable scarecrow in for the ride with us. What is so continuously marvelous about the film is it uses surprisingly delicate character relationships and motifs to establish the reign of its flight. The hand-drawn animation (even after 10 years) looks refreshingly beautiful. If there is such a category as ‘nature landscape porn’ or ‘eye-massaging imagery’, Howl’s Moving Castle would be the King of it.
Miyazaki’s conscious and visible effort to strain the narrative as far away as possible from reality and logic is juxtaposed by the prewar Japan setting: we have a scene where enemy planes drop pamphlets warning of an imminent attack to the citizens. Howl’s Moving Castle pays homage to the tragic Hirsohima-Nagasaki bombing and decries the havoc wrought by killing innocents. For all its dreamy, textured contours of a place lost in time; Miyazaki gives us adequate humane warmth to hold on to. At the end it doesn’t feel like having woken up from a good dream. It just feels like having visited a place that exists in the perpetuity between the time the film started and ended. It is a place I’d like to keep visiting as frequently as I can.
Miyazaki once said, “The world is changing. I have been very fortunate to be able to do the same job for 40 years. That’s rare in any era.” We, his audience, tend to remain the only ones more fortunate than him. We have been awash in the cinematic reverence of his films without being ready for it. After all, there has got to be something very right in a film that is labeled as ‘foreign’ cinema and yet manages to make me feel at home every single time.