Circumstances of watching it: My mother reminded me today that I'd been raving about the trailer last week, so I organized to go to the Picture House arts cinema with my cousin H this evening.
Verdict: Howl's Moving Castle can probably best be described as trippy.
I don't have anything very coherent to say about Howl's Moving Castle. Watching it felt like being dropped into the middle of somebody else's dream, somebody who has probably been reading the actual book recently, but also spending time looking at Heath Robinson drawings. That partly describes the relationship the film bears to the book, and it also describes the atmosphere; everything seemed to make sense on a local level, but none of it quite fit together when I stopped to think about it.
When the film came to an end both H and I burst out laughing because we realized that it had entirely failed to make sense. It was nevertheless an enjoyable experience watching it, but if I started to try thinking critically about it I just ran aground on "but it doesn't make sense!" It seemed best to just enjoy the action, and the random cool (and occasionally scary) stuff that kept happening for no very apparent reason, and just not expect any actual plot development or elucidation of what was going on.
The machines are very very cool, particularly the eponymous moving castle. To me, that element in itself made the film worth watching. And the landscapes are pretty in a slightly twee, overly brightly coloured kind of way. Just about every review I've seen of this has enthused over Calcifer; me, I liked Heen. He's just the platonic ideal of an old, short-legged dog, and his facial expressions and his running round manically in doggy circles are just gorgeous. I also really liked Mr Turnip Head, especially because the film is subtle enough not to animate him. His facial expression stays rigidly fixed, like a carved turnip, but he still manages to convey emotions and responses.
The film sometimes threatened to get a bit preachy on the theme of "Appearances don't matter, it's whether you're a good person", but never entirely tipped over that edge. The schmoopy romantic stuff at the end annoyed me rather, but that was really only the last five minutes.
Well, as my first ever introduction to anime, that was quite an experience. H tells me that a lot of anime is even more "whacked out" than this, but on the basis of this sample I'm ready to try more of this brand of weird.