(Movie review: Howl's moving castle)
A long time ago, Disney studio’s crafted masterpieces with paper and pen, and immortal movies like Bambi, Beauty and the beast, Aladdin, or The lion king were born. But Pixar came along, and changed the world of animation for ever with their brilliant computer-generated movies. Pocohontas was passé, while Nemo was all the rage.
But in Eastern lands far away, paper-and-pen still ruled, and computers were continued to be used just to embellish art. This was Japan, the land of anime. And Hayao Miyazaki was one of the darling princes in this fantastic world.
From the ever-excellent Ghibli Studios comes yet another Miyazaki creation, Howl’s moving castle. This is the story of a young, helpful but shy girl, Sofie, who, due to a chance encounter is transformed in to an old hag by the Witch of the Waste. She then sets out on an adventure to reverse the spell, which takes her to a mysterious moving castle where a powerful wizard called Howl lives. And then she transforms his life, as he transforms hers.
Or is it the story of Howl, a powerful wizard scared of his own power and responsibility? A wizard who refuses the summons of the king who wants him to fight with his armies? Howl runs away, creating a magical moving castle which goes from place to place, escaping the king’s men. And in this he is aided, and magically connected to a fire demon, Calcifer, and with him is his young apprentice. Amidst these plots are little subplots of a magical scarecrow aiding Sophie, or the king, his councilor-witch, and their armies, or the Witch of the Waste.
There are innumerable little plots weaving in and out, something that will almost certainly confuse kids who watch this movie. But there’s something here for everyone. In some ways this is Miyazaki’s most complex story. Here, there aren’t any good or evil characters (except perhaps Sofie, who is so incredibly optimistic and likeable), and every one is muddling through their lives, trying to figure things out. There are deep uncertainties, desires and emotions that lie within all people.
Amd Miyazaki’s world is a world of spectacular magic (both literal and figurative). The towns are both medieval and futuristic. The lands are colorful, dark and yet bright. The creatures incredible, yet lovable. And the visual spectacle is magical. Miyazaki himself, through his movies, is going on a journey. Kiki’s delivery service was a bubbling movie that even the youngest of kids would enjoy, simple, straightforward, and thoroughly entertaining. His later movies took on many shades, with a little in it for every one, young and old alike. The fantastic Princess Mononoke and the dune like Naussica, valley of the winds, amidst their Gods, and demons and creatures and men, had a strong message of living in harmony with nature, and the futility of war. Here, it’s a bit of every thing. Howl, drawn like the classic anime hero, is hardly the assured, self-confident, cocky hero many typical heroes are.
The movie may be a little confusing to first time Miyazaki viewers, but it is meant to be enjoyed in all its little pieces, taking in one sub-plot at a time. The ending is nice, but not sufficiently Miyazaki. Some classic stylistic effects (like Sofie looking different, depending on how she’s feeling, or whom she’s with) might confuse at first, but soon will grow on you. And every moment is one of visual spectacle, colorful, rich and detailed. It is the work of a skilled master storyteller, who loves the magic in his art, not his best, but still superior to any other mere animation around.