Science fiction and fantasy
Howl's Moving Castle
directed by Hayao Miyazaki
The castle is an eccentric abode, a hotchpotch pigsty inhabited by a small fire demon and a little boy, Markl, posing as a grey-bearded midget. Sophie cleans the place, sometimes a little over-zealously, and generally makes herself at home as best she can. But the spell on her stops her from saying who she really is or what has happened to her.
However there's a war on, and all wizards are required to take part. We don't ever get to know why their country is at war, and to an extent it doesn't matter. The war is pointless and brutal on both sides, and Howl is keen to escape it. He moves his castle vast distances in an attempt to keep away, but always seems to get drawn back in.
Howl's Moving Castle is something of a fairytale, complete with wicked witches, curses, and even a handsome prince. But Howl himself has no heart. He's selfish and cowardly, and Madame Suliman, the king's chief sorceress, wants to strip him of his powers. So Howl manages to incur the wrath of his own countrymen by refusing to fight.
What is more, Howl is in a bad way with his magic. The more he uses it to transform himself, the more he risks changing permanently into a monster.
The look is turn-of-the century, with cell-shaded animation and a subtle manga style. There's no shortage of acting talent for the voices, with Christian Bale as Howl and both Jean Simmons and Emily Mortimer as Sophie. Billy Crystal is immediately recognisable as Calcifer, the comic relief fire demon.
Howl's Moving Castle is a love story with just enough facets to bear repeated viewings, although it doesn't always make perfect sense. It's magical steampunk that doesn't demand to be considered too deeply, superficial and charming at the same time. If you like Japanese animation, soft-edged romance and wizardry without gratuitous bloodshed, then this film will certainly appeal.
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