Howl's Moving Castle - Howl's magic castle
| Myazaki's work, although both visually breath taking and strikingly original, seems to be something of an acquired taste in North America. It's hard to understand why when his films are such masterpieces of story-telling creativity and beautiful art. Howl's Moving Castle, his latest piece, is no exception.
Despite tepid reaction from western audiences, he seems to be getting even stronger in his mastery of the traditional animated form. Although Princess Monoke remains my personal favourite, his two films that followed, Spirited Away and now Howl's Moving Castle continue to improve both in narrative and visual style. The films bear little resemblance to each other save for similar looking characters, quality of story and aesthetic power.
Howl's Moving Castle is another odd little story about a laborious young lady who is cursed by a not-so-evil witch and transformed into an old lady who discovers her youth through contact with a rag tag group of rejects lead by a spoiled yet charismatic young magician who is part bird. They all live in an extraordinary patchwork of a domicile which crosses the countryside on bird-like legs, quaking everything around it.
If that synopsis sounds odd… well, it is. Myazaki's films tend to be anything but formula or predictable. Often I find this is what makes them inaccessible for the western audience, fat on too steady a diet of obviousness. However, children in the audience light up with wonder at the magic of this labyrinthine tale. When presented with something this beautiful, young people respond enthusiastically. The children sitting behind me in the cinema were mesmerized with all that was going on.
Unlike a great deal of Japanese animation, Mayazaki's films are unabashedly made for children. This is they the "Japanese Walt Disney" moniker is so appropriate. His films awaken the children in us all, just as Disney's best work does. I can't think of higher or more fitting praise for a master at this level. At the time this film was made, Disney hadn't made a film of this strength since Lilo and Stitch and still most western animators are on the CGI/slapstick comedy bandwagon (the Ice Age series for example), we rarely get to see western films like this.
None of this is to say that Howl's Moving Castle is simple. In fact it's anything but. The themes of the film which include identity creation, war mongering and self-discovery are daunting and handled with maturity and grace.
The English version is a treat for film fans as the cast is made up of rich character actors who fit their animated personas perfectly. My special favourite was Lauren Bacall as the Witch of the Waste, her smoky husk of a voice bringing such lushness to the character. Even Billy Crystal, cast as a funny little fire demon, isn't grating as he plays it rather… well, cool.
Most American animation is a big let down these days so spare your kids the latest Madagascar and take them to something truly magical. Even if you don't have kids, treat yourself to Howl's Moving Castle.