The world that we live in is terrible. It didn’t suddenly become terrible in 2016, as many bewildered folks on social media seem to believe; it’s been fucking awful forever and we happen to live in a time where a bunch of bullshit is finally coming to a head.
In light of our terrible world, this is my intervention to you, person who hasn’t watched Howl’s Moving Castle; or to you, person who doesn’t realize its full majesty. This is a public service announcement.
Listen: maybe you can’t save the world, but you can try to recover the shards of your spirit that 2016 has ground up into tiny flecks of dust. And you can do this by watching Howl’s Moving Castle.
Howl’s Moving Castle is the most perfect cinematic experience you can treat yourself to, and if you have experienced this perfection and disagree, you gotta get your life straight. Howl’s Moving Castle is a 119-minute embrace from the kinds of grandparents that only exist in movies — the ones who bake cookies and tell you to believe in your dreams and that someday when Paw Paw passes on, he’ll always be up there in the stars, watching down on you. Howl’s Moving Castle is the animated version of snuggling in a warm blanket on a dreary afternoon, eating tomato soup and grilled cheese as the rain beats down on your roof. In front of a warm fire. Also, the fire is Billy Crystal, who gripes his way into your cold, dead heart.
A bit of background: y’all probably have already discovered that Studio Ghibli’s catalogue of feature-length animated films are really the only animes you can talk about in public without people thinking you’re a huge weirdo. Even now, under the safe branch of Talking About A Ghibli Film, I realize that you’re probably already sizing me up, wondering about my Anime Babe Figurine Collection (which…fair). As somebody who emerged into adulthood during the height of anime’s popularity in the US thus far, I know a thing or two about gushing over My Fave Animes and getting that NERD ALERT look from people.
But Ghibli movies are so beautiful and poignant and heart-wrenching that they’re the safest bet for a conversation topic if you love animation and not a lot else and have to interact with normies (hi and welcome, please get comfortable).
When folks start listing their favorite Ghibli films, Howl’s Moving Castle is rarely their top pick. So why am I hyping it up so much? Why not Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, two of the highest-grossing animated films of all time? Why not family favorites like Ponyo or My Neighbor Totoro? Why not poignant wartime films that show the breadth of human emotion like Grave of the Fireflies or The Wind Rises? Hell, why not Kiki’s Delivery Service, the sweet and deeply resonant Number One coming-of-age movie for well-meaning weird girls everywhere?
I mean, all of those movies are crazy phenomenal. They are popular because they are beautiful films — visually, thematically, emotionally, and, honestly, spiritually. Studio Ghibli animator/director/producer Hayao Miyazaki’s passionate anti-war, pacifist messages ring through all of these movies and are most strongly touched upon in some of the titles I mentioned earlier.
But Howl’s Moving Castle combines that fear of militaristic doom with hope for a better future, which is something I seek out in times of crisis — sometimes you just need to tell yourself that despite all evidence to the contrary, humanity can be better. Howl’s Moving Castle manages to get that message across in a simple narrative that feels the way your dog’s face looks when you come home after a long day. It’s the voice of someone telling you that this is a place where you’re welcome, that in spite of the fear you’re feeling, things are going to be okay.
In real life, that might not be true. Things might not be okay. And I’m scared, and my loved ones are scared. But in this lovely, wonderful movie, things turn out alright in spite of aforementioned Doom, which is something I think we all need right now, at least a little bit.
And I’m going to be honest with you: my reasons for loving this movie aren’t all poignant feels about non-violence and hope for the better elements within the human spirit. At the heart of it all, my favorite thing about this movie is just how good it makes me feel.
So if you like cool old ladies, cute, enchanted vegetables, and walking architecture, or if you’ve ever dreamed of leaving it all behind to open a flower shop with a magical hottie in a lovely seaside town, this film is literally the manifestations of all your escapist daydreams.
I think I’ve covered a lot of the High Art reasons why this film is valuable and important, but if you’re still on the fence about it, here are a few more arguments for why whatever you’re doing right now is probably less soul-bolstering than walking away and watching Howl’s Moving Castle.
1) You need to experience the coziest movie soundtrack of all time
This beautiful orchestral score will wrap its arms around your heart and never let go — soothing your rough edges like the wind weathers a sea-bound cliff.
2) The animation is an overwhelming sensory experience of places you’d rather be than wherever you are
This lush and gorgeous animation will make you want to leave your trash life behind and hitch a ride on this jank ass castle the first time you see it. But aside from the castle, the rest of the scenery in this film is some Top Notch Stuff:
3) This goofy castle tho
This is a house but also a dog, and also full of Witch Trash.
BILLY CRYSTAL IS A CUTE FIRE THAT WANTS TO BE YOUR FRIEND but also doesn’t BUT TOTALLY DOES
5) Just, every setting in this movie:
6) Howl is okay I guess but not why we’re here to be completely honest
I mean he’s a hot trashboy but you know, he means well, I guess; on the other hand, he’s a Bird Man War Machine, so idk.
7) The book is pretty fun
Diana Wynne Jones (RIP) was a young adult fantasy dynamo known for Howl’s Moving Castle, but also for the incredible Crestomancy series (which feature a bunch of weird, squishy-faced cats and thus is Required Reading). Before you read Howl’s Moving Castle, you should know that the film and book diverge pretty hard at about the ⅓ mark, but both are still wonderful in their own ways — just don’t go in hoping to experience the same thing twice. Also, the sequel, Castle in the Air (no relation to Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky, btw) is worth a read, too.
8) This 1980s book cover is A Gift (a strange gift, but a gift)
FYI that’s Book Calcifer!!!!!!
9) Hello, Turniphead!
This precious magical scarecrow boy tho
10) The Witch of the Wastes
The Witch of the Wastes is an A++++ boss crone and role model who says stuff like: “Strapping young men are so difficult to deal with, but their hearts I just adore!”
Has she been jilted by Howl? Yeah, it seems that way. Is this a reductive narrative for a classy female villain? Definitely. Is she still a Proud Boss Crone with a perfect lipstick game? You tell me:
11) Watching this movie will give you an excuse to shout “Are you a witch, or aren’t you?” at people to motivate them, which will in turn give them the motivation they need to get their shit together.
A good friend shouted this at me before a job interview, and while I didn’t get the job, it remains a treasured memory to this day. Don’t you want some Prestige Anime-infused treasured memories? I mean, who doesn’t, right?
12) Sophie is u in 2016
13) But Sophie is still better than u & also better than all of us
13) Anime food
True ambrosia; the nectar of the gods; the non-edible fuel that sustains our hardened souls.
14) Once again, the idea that maybe everything isn’t The Worst and things work out Because Feelings
As a lifelong pessimist, Howl’s Moving Castle has been bolstering my spirits since its release in 2004. In these trying times, I find it even more integral in helping me pepper my salty worldview with a tiny smidgen of hope and affirmation.
All of these elements and more come together to make this movie a perfect sensory experience — a blessing in this neverending hurricane of bad news. Because yeah, the world is falling apart, and yeah, there is so much more to do than distract yourself with pop culture when the future feels so uncertain and bleak. But don’t you — don’t all of us — need 119 minutes to feel like love is real, houses can walk, and turnip-headed scarecrows can turn into bland banana pudding princes that just want to hold your hand? Wouldn’t you benefit from spending two hours in the embrace of a soundtrack so charming and lush that you’ll spend the next few weeks daydreaming about marrying it?
I wish things were better out there right now. I wish I wasn’t constantly worrying about the foreboding rallying cries of elected Neo-Nazis and emboldened bigots, or about my loved ones’ safety in this scary time.
I can make calls and send emails; I can go to protests and donate to nonprofits and orgs that need help; I can call the people I care about to make sure they’re getting by.
But when everything inside me feels burned away, and my heart is so heavy that the physical ache makes it hard to get out of bed, I pop in Howl’s Moving Castle and let its pure, healing light wash over me. And in the days and weeks that follow, when life starts grinding me down again, I hear Sophie in the back of my head, asking “are you a witch, or aren’t you?” and I pick myself back up.
So, reader: are you a witch, or aren’t you? Spend a little bit of time with this perfect, beautiful movie, and I promise you’ll find out.