Japanese title: Hauru no Ugoku Shiro

Slated for the summer of 2004, and next in line for release by Studio Ghibli after The Cat Returns (Neko no Ongaeshi), Howl's Moving Castle will be directed by the master of Japanese animation himself, Hayao Miyazaki.

Miyazaki's decision to direct is recent, however. Originally, Mamoru Hosoda, best known for his work with Toei Animation doing Digimon, was hired. He would have been the first person to direct a Ghibli film who wasn't either Miyazaki, Takahata or another in-house employee. By December 2002, however, he had quit, having been unable to provide a concept for the movie that satisfied Studio Ghibli, and Miyazaki took the helm.

Miyazaki has attempted retirement several times before, as well as trying to delegate the major tasks involved in film production to others. Inevitably, however, his involvement with a film ends up being very hands-on. As much of a joy as it is for fans to learn that he will be directing, the process will likely be very taxing, perhaps pushing him to a permanent retirement. We'll have to see.

The story itself is based on a book of the same name written by British author Diana Wynne Jones. The heroine, Sophie, lives with her step-mother and two step-sisters after the death of her father. She remains at home while her step-sisters are sent off to secure their futures. This being a fantasy novel, the first goes to learn magic while the second takes an apprenticeship at a bakery. Neither, unfortunately, is satisfied with her lot, and they cast a spell to switch places. Sophie, upon discovering this, is silenced by an evil witch for reasons unbeknown to the reader. She winds up aboard the titular moving castle, run by the benevolent yet clumsy wizard Howl, and powered by the fire-demon Calcifer.

What I'm most eager to find out is what sort of demographic Miyazaki will be targeting with this movie. He has a habit of making each of his films with a particular age group in mind. Spirited Away, for example, was aimed at ten year-old girls. Naturally, that didn't prevent everyone else from enjoying it as well; all the same, his choice usually gives a distinctive tone to his work, and the story itself rarely provides any clues as to what it will be.

As far as I'm concerned, Hayao Miyazaki's films have only gotten better and more refined as time goes by. I'm looking forward to this one.

The inestimably valuable Nausicaa.net