44 Films: Film 21 of 44: Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
Film 21 of 44:
"Howl's Moving Castle" (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro) (2004)
Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Studio Ghibli isn't in the business of making left brain material. Howl's Moving Castle isn't a film you walk into if your analytical self gets in the way of the miracles happening on screen. Hayao Miyazaki, after the triumph of Spirited Away, made this experience of a film, an adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones' novel of the same name.
We meet Sophie, a shy and solitary young lady who makes hats, and wears her self-esteem issues on her sleeve. She meets Howl, a young and handsome wizard who's instinctively drawn to her, presumably because he likes her, but more likely because she's being trailed by sinister apparitions that only they can see. After Howl rescues her and vanishes, Sophie meets the sinister Witch Of The Wastes, who places a spell on her that turns her into a 90-year old woman. To restore her youth, she sets off on an expedition that has her reunite with Howl and become a resident of his home, the titular castle; a magnificently intricate and unwieldy structure that moves on mechanical legs. Up until this point, Howl, his young apprentice Markl and his servant Calcifer (a talking fire demon voiced by Billy Crystal) have been transporting themselves from village-to-village, sometimes physically and sometimes by sheer teleportation, to pose as an unassuming wizardry business; yes this story has that sort of stuff. It's all good times however, until the land is poised for war, and the King commands all witches and wizards to report for duty.
With Sophie pursuing the Witch Of The Waste, and Howl escaping a powerful monarchy, desires and powers begin to collide. The result is a story that is spellbinding and exquisitely crafted. Howl's Moving Castle is a visually stunning annal in anime. Miyazaki, an unapologetic storyteller and social commentator succeeds in making statements about modern politics and war. But he couples them with more portable messages about friendship, self confidence and being true to oneself. By my account alone, the characters and devices may appear to be too otherworldly for normal access--I just thought about what the experience would be like accompanied by some M.J.--but under Miyazaki's direction, every individual is personable and sympathetic. Even the bad guys. There's something about Miyazaki's Eastern sensibilities that remind us that the most heroic of us are flawed, and the most vile of us are redeemable. Such examinations of humans (and humanised mythical creatures) are supremely gratifying.
Finally, you'll need to see this film more than once to really capture its vast and indubitable subject matter. Not to worry. That won't be a task. It'll be an absolute delight.
See you at 22!