Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

This was not the first time that my meticulous, and perhaps faintly ridiculous, preplanning for this silly blog has been thrown off by our son getting bedtime reading with his mom. On one hand, we are thrilled that, at age nine, he still wants bedtime stories, and hasn’t dismissed it as kiddie stuff. On the other hand, Marie unpacked Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle in January, when the movie wasn’t on the calendar until May. This took whole minutes to fix, but I’m very glad I did.

Castle is not among my favorite Miyazaki movies, despite its gorgeous animation and wonderful design, and what I might think is Joe Hisaishi’s finest score since Nausicaä. There’s a whole lot to love here, but there are other movies that I love much more. I also think the climax is very nebulous and ultimately disappointing. The problem of the war is apparently resolved, but offscreen, and the antagonism between the wizard Howl and the witch Madam Suliman barely gets started, much less finished.

But it worked out very well that they finished reading the novel a few weeks ago. It was very fresh in our son’s mind, and he told us that the book was “real different, but I loved both.” I haven’t read the book myself, so I relied on him to give me a very lengthy rundown of the changes and differences. Among many that he mentioned, Jones apparently had a much more satisfying resolution to the story in mind; her book had two climaxes, according to the kid, and while the character of Suliman is radically different in the original, there’s a lot more meat to Howl and Suliman’s rivalry. Also, the book apparently detours to Wales, while the movie is set emphatically in one of Miyazaki’s signature middle-European never-neverlands.

While the novel gave him lots to chew on as he tried to relax enough to sleep, the movie gave us a very funny fire demon, a hopping scarecrow, a ramshackle castle that walks on bird legs, and basically two mostly satisfying hours. Our son had been looking forward to it all week, and it didn’t disappoint at all.

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