The Castle of Cagliostro predated Studio Ghibli and was part of a franchise, and most of Miyazaki's work since has been for work of his own conception. As far as I can remember Howl's Moving Castle is the only novel adaptation that Miyazaki has done since forming Studio Ghibli.
With the sad passing of Diana Wynne Jones recently I thought I'd take another look at Howl. I do have one confession though: I've never been a particularly big fan of Diana Wynne Jones, and certainly am not that attached to the book.
Howl's Moving Castle is a strong film. There is an antiwar message there, but fundamentally Howl's Moving Castle is a quest to break a curse or two, redeem a "bad boy" wizard, with a dash of romance.
I'm not going to go into too much detail of the plot, the wikipedia site handles that well enough, but mostly I'm going to focus on the feel of the film.
As usual for the Studio Ghibli Miyazakis, the Joe Hisaishi soundtrack fits the film perfectly. More importantly the BGM disappears whenever it would be a distraction. Equally unsurprisingly there is a plethora of cool and bizarre flying things.
The character designs are wonderful. I think Miyazaki must have had a ball with this one - he's usually has one or two tough old biddies in the background, as well as the cute heroine. This time, courtesy of the curse, we had both in one package.
In essence a young lady Sophie who largely hides her beauty from the world gets cursed into being an old woman. In a sense this liberates her to go seek out a way to break the curse.
Over the course of the film the curse slowly breaks and this is deftly handled in the character designs. A straightening of the back here, a smoothing of the face there. These changes don't always last, but build through the film.
I interpret this as meaning that the power of the curse partly drew on Sophie's loneliness, and partly on her lack of self confidence. As both are dealt with over the course of the film, her character design gradually reverts to a more youthful form, especially when sleeping. Although her hair colour never fully reverts to its original brown.
The final resolutuon of the curse is tied to resolving the curses on the other characters - the scarecrow Turniphead, Howl's missing heart, and the fire demon Calcifer's binding to Howl and the Moving Castle. This is possibly the strongest aspect of the film overall: the almost Arthurian feel to the linked quests to break the curses that tie them all down. A key to success is basic kindness on Sophie's part, particularly to the scarecrow.
Ultimately Sophie succeeds through good intentions, and breaking the customs. Although a spot of time travel doesn't hurt. :)
Possibly as a side effect of the adaptation process there are some plot aspects that don't make a lot of sense. However these don't really matter if you just let the film roll over you.
The last aspect of the film worth commenting on is the Disney dub. It is extremely well done, and Billy Crystal as Calcifer is probably better than the original.
Overall Howl's Moving Castle is a fun film, with a satisfying ending, but far from the best that Miyazaki has done.
Day 1 - New Kimagure Orange Road: Summer's Beginning (1996)
Day 2 - Naruto Shippuden The Movie (2002)
Day 3 - Galaxy Express 999 (1979)
Day 4 - Steamboy (2004)
Day 5 - Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)
Day 6 - Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Day 7 - Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
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NB: There probably won't be another post in this series for a couple of weeks as SwanCon is on next weekend.