I'm going to be biased and say that this is my favourite Miyazaki film, and in fact possibly my favourite film of all time, though the other two come close. It truly is a masterpiece, yet more intimate than the epic war story that is Princess Mononoke. It is this intimacy that I treasure. The day starts out like any ordinary one, but Chihiro, a child from our world, soon discovers a realm beyond that which she could have imagined. Chihiro's and Haku's mutual friendship and their respective character development form the heart of this film, the human element on which the story hangs, complemented by the stunning setting, music and fantastical beings. Two hearts that are inextricably linked can and will find each other even if they belong to people from different worlds.
Howl's Moving Castle
There are many magical moments in this film, and I mean both in the literal and figurative sense as Howl himself is a magician. I greatly enjoy the moment in the beginning when Howl guides Sophie and the two of them stride in the air. I also like it when Sophie's skirt billows in the wind while she is standing on the step of a tram. Touches like that make the film precious to me. Speaking on a grander scale, Miyazaki renders the European setting beautifully, only to shatter this idyllic picture later with terrible warfare. The best part of this film? When Sophie goes back in time and sees the young Howl. That scene, with the inky night sky illuminated by shooting sparks, was truly magical.
This is an epic film with the magnificent Japanese forests and mountains as the setting. It transports the viewer to a bygone era, when the forests were still alive with spirits lingering in the mysterious depths. The forces of nature are being rapidly destroyed by aggressive human activity, however, and this clash between man and nature is the subject of this film. Though it seems that nature has won in the end, with the forest rightfully restored to its former beauty, the tragedy lies in the fact that the viewer, who possesses the benefit of hindsight, knows this is not so.