Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro)

I consider myself a bit of an anime veteran. I've seen lots of titles. Lots. Most of them you'll find a review for on this blog. I haven't seen them all, though. I'm pretty sure that's impossible. In some cases I have a lot of catching up to do because I've missed some serious great works. One of them I've been missing until tonight is Howl's Moving Castle. Yes, I've had the blu-ray forever, but I put off watching it because I was busy watching other anime titles at the time and it's tough to sneak a movie in every now and then because I have a habit of binge-watching. And I actually have to do other things like eat, use the bathroom, and work. If not for that I'd have watched this movie months ago. 

Well, tonight I finally got around to it. I'm glad I did. Every Miyazaki film I've seen to this point always makes my head explode. The same can be said of Studio Ghibli as a whole, but Miyazaki is definitely the juggernaut of Ghibli.  It's tough to get it right in one movie, but Miyazaki has done it time and again. It's still tough for me to believe that he has retired from directing. 

Every movie he touches is a visual wow factor. There are things in every Miyazaki film that I never would have thought could be done in a film, but it seems that there are more of those moments in Howl's Moving Castle than usual. A door that leads to four different places, a castle that walks and changes shape according to the whims of its master, and a lead character that changes age almost every five minutes. Those are just a few neat things that make this movie stand out. 

Howl's Moving Castle could be called his greatest achievement. This film came to life in 2004 and it is based off of the 1986 children's novel Howl's Moving Castle by the late British author Diana Wynne Jones. 

While I've read that the two creations are vastly different I think it would be tough to hate Miyazaki's vision. Unless you are Roger Ebert, I guess. Ebert considered this to be one of Miyazaki's weakest efforts, but I can't fathom that. If Ebert considered this to be one of his weakest then I can't think of that as being anything other than an amazing compliment to the rest of his work. 

Now what was I going to say? Oh, yeah. Let's start with some plot. There's a lot to this film even though it has a runtime of two hours. I believe Miyazaki's films should be seen multiple times to be really appreciated so I'm sure I missed something upon my first viewing, but I will do my best to give a coherent plot description. 

I have no idea where this story is supposed to take place, but I'll call it Miyazaki Land since I have nothing else to go on. Miyazaki Land has a bit of a European flavor to it, too. Just gorgeous scenery with plenty of Miyazaki's trademark supernatural and goofy characters to populate it. 

The main character is Sophie and she gets transformed from an 18 year old hat-maker into a 90 year old cleaning woman after an unfortunate run-in with the Witch of the Waste. 

Unable to cope with this dramatic change in her life she runs away from home and seeks out a new life. As fate would have she runs into the mysterious wizard Howl again and finds a home in his bizarre moving castle. Howl seems to be involved with a war that seems to have no purpose and no end and his use of magic takes a toll on him, but his motivations for the things he does appears to be as unknown as the reasons for the war. 

Aided by the likes of the mute scarecrow Turnip Head and the wise-talking fire Calcifer, Sophie not only tries to handle Howl's castle duties but also tries to find the key to reclaiming her youth. Without getting killed by enemy fire or Howl's foul moods, I should add. 

The English dub consists of the likes of Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, and Jean Simmons, but I'll admit I didn't watch it. The talent attached has me curious, but I chose the original Japanese version for my first viewing. 

Baisho Chieko did an excellent job as the voice of Sophie. The English dub required two different actresses for the young and old voices, but Chieko handled both and did so with gusto. I just read that she was 63 at the time of this movie and I'm beyond surprised. I thought for sure she would have been a younger woman. Damn good job.

The music by Joe Hisaishi is good as always. No surprise there. 

The only gripes I might have about this film is that maybe there's a bit too much going on and Howl himself doesn't quite receive as much character development as I think he should have. 

All in all, this is another whole-hearted recommendation. I just wish I had the region-free import because those blu-rays are no joke. 


No comments:

Post a Comment