When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking home.
Year 1, Day 294: Movie #289
BEFORE: Boston is in a much happier mood and after much celebration last night for the resolution to a hard and trying week, I return to my daily schedule of movie marathon. We are in the latter half of the Miyazaki chain and today’s film is Howl’s Moving Castle. The name is similar to the first of his films, Castle in the Sky - my favorite so far - and I wonder whether it actually is similar in more than title.
AFTER: Curiouser and curiouser. This film, and my review of it, will not only touch on the specifics for Howl’s Moving Castle, but it was also touch upon a part of my review process as well. To give you an idea going in (since I know these reviews can get quite lengthy) here’s a synopsis: Howl’s Moving Castleis my new favorite film which may go against other’s opinions - most notably, my favorite critic, and on I usually agree with, the late Roger Ebert.
Yesterday I said I wouldn’t spend time describing the animation because it was the same as all of Miyazaki’s past works. Here, that’s not the case. While you can still look at the film and quickly identify Miyazaki’s mark, it has a few different qualities to it. Think of it along the lines of an updated iPhone. You can easily identify said device as an iPhone (because of distinct characteristics like the screen, singular home button, and clean design). At the same time, this “new” iPhone has a few different aesthetic tweaks that make it different than the previous generation. The same applies here with the visual aesthetic. It’s clearly Miyazaki, but there’s in increase in three-dimensional objects and a major increase in color. The 3D gives you a better feeling for the world in the film, more of a tangible quality than his previous works. In addition, the colors, while of similar quality as previous films, appear much more vivid; they’re much richer than before.
Ebert also enjoyed the visuals in Howl’s Moving Castle and used descriptors such as “amazing visual invention”, “undeniable charm”, and “animated compositions of wonderment” but he wasn’t as glowing about the story. Of the story Ebert says, “we grow impatient at spectacle without meaning” and that the characters never “quite [seem] to understand and inhabit this world.” As always when I invoke the wise and well-crafted words of Ebert, it’s to try and shed a clearer light on my own words. The story did what Spirited Away failed to do in my mind. It had just the right level of mystery and confusion. It instantly draws you in as you yearn to learn more about these characters and the world they live in. Wizards and witches are commonplace and this seemingly pristine world slowly reveals what seem like well-kept secrets. But by the end I wasn’t left scratching my head, wondering what I just watched, annoyed at the amount of information actually revealed. There was just enough explained to whet my appetite but leave me with some questions at the end. Ebert says “we grow impatient”. I didn’t feel that way. Unlike the other films (of which Ebert doled out four of four stars for) I was extremely satisfied with what I just watched. It left me with feelings of awe and amazement - a spectacle I had the pleasure of watching.
Long story short is this: I thoroughly enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle. I thought it was the best of Miyazaki’s work so far and it sustains my continued interest in what he has to offer. Visuals and story were both top notch and left me at the perfect state of satisfied, yet wanting a little bit more. Something to keep in mind though is another point of view. I didn’t mention Ebert’s review just for the context of this film but for the other films as well. For me, Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle are the shining stars and the rest of Miyazaki’s oeuvre are the duller points. Ebert has the opposite view and gave four out of four stars to all the ones I did not like. I mention this to give you a gauge for how you may view these films - one of common ground between all with some major differences separating the films into two categories if you will. Ponyo is next and it got Ebert’s approval - does that mean I won’t like it. Stay tuned… [cliffhanger]
RATING: 5 out of 5