Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Howl's Moving Castle


Howl's Moving Castle is unfortunately the weakest of Miyazaki's past three films. This may seem like a knock against the film. It most certainly is not. Howl's Moving Castle is only the weakest because his last two were--ARE--cinematic masterpieces. Howl's falls only a very short step of also being one. Howl's is only weaker than Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke (for me) because of a difficult to understand lead character, Sophie. Early in the film, a witch puts a curse on the young girl and turns her into an old woman. Abandoning her family from the shame of the transformation, she sets out to find the mysterious and elusive Howl, a wizard who wanders the wastelands in a giant castle that walks on narrow metal legs and belches copious amounts of steam and smoke. She hopes that he can remove the curse. Sophie finds and infiltrates the castle to be caught up in the internal dramas of the misfits in the castle, but also the external wars between kingdoms and wizards.

My chief stumbling point with the film is that there is just not enough time spent with Sophie before the conflict comes into play to get to know her as a character prior to transformation. This leads to some narrative glitches, (or culture lost in translation) as she not only becomes an old woman in body, but somehow also in spirit. Somehow she gets the 'wisdom' of being old, lessening the severity of her fate and aiding in her solving the problem of her curse. To some, this may be considered a strength, because it opens up more thematic texture to the film, but it pulled me away from sympathizing with Sophie's plight. With only minimal emotional connection to the main character, my overall emotional investment in the story is minimized to the detriment of the enjoyment of the film. Or something like that.

Howl's is strong in every other aspect.

The complexity of the animation tops anything Ghibli has done before. Truly the last three big Japanese animated films (Howl's, Steamboy and Innocence) showcase the vibrancy of 2D animation to tell a wide range of stories. There is not a single weak point in the visuals, and it breaks new ground in terms of the sheer scale of the animation. Much like Steamboy, Howl's is set in some alternate hybrid universe where technology of different ages are mixed together to form a fantastic and alien universe for it's story. The microcosm of the castle interior with the relationships between the denizens is pure Miyazaki. In fact, you are drawn into the innerworkings as much as, or even more than the Baths in Spirited Away or Iron Town and the Old Forest in Princess Mononoke. Howl's also has so much going on, both in a visual sense and a narrative sense that there is much to be gained from repeat viewing. (I only expect my opinion to rise on this film as I watch it again.)

As always in Miyazaki's films, a strong environmental and anti-war message provide thematic grist for the mill. It is always a pleasure to see what twists and turns his messages will take with the story. The ending comes abruptly. This is a slight weakness, the quick wrap up to an epic story. It is a bit jarring, as you've spent 2 hours with these characters, and you would like to spend more time in their world and there are many loose ends to tie up. But overall it is two hours well spent. I look forward to experiencing (and that is the proper term) this film again.

2 Comments:

Blogger grace said...

:) and you know i love this movie... :)

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I HAVEN'T SEEN IT............BUT I WANT TO................ALTHOUGH I CAN'T FIND WHERE I CAN SEE IT........

2:17 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home