Howl’s Moving Castle film review

Miyazaki (Academy Award winner for Spirited Away) has delivered us another sophisticated and pleasantly whimsical animation. Although it is visually stunning, this is Miyazaki’s most complex fantasy to date, with straightforward narrative, and a multilayered approach that reflects the contradictions of real life. Here the master Japanese animator exerts a strong command over the story line and skillfully seduces the viewer into figuring out the subtle motivations of the characters.

Howl’s Moving Castle, which is based on a children’s novel by British author Diane Wynne Jones, was a huge hit in Japan, raking in over $190 million. Unfortunately, as with previous attempts (including Princess Mononoke) prospects for the U. S. release aren’t so certain. It lacks the clear-cut heroes and villains typical of American animation, and the core audience, children, may get confused by the very adult story-telling style. Although it looks fabulous on the big screen, the film will probably perform better on DVD here.

Early Miyazaki films like My Neighbor Totoro explored the confusion of being young; all about youth’s dreams, hopes and disappointments. Later works like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke added more current social themes. Howl’s Moving Castle is another creative step forward for Miyazaki. The characters and story are constructed with such attention to detail, that they leave nothing more to hope for, in terms of dramatic complexity and depth. Everyone is pushing along in a world divided by magic and war.

The film is set in a fictional city in which magic, witches and sorcerers co-exist with average citizens. The story revolves around a young wizard, Howl, and his attempts to avoid being drafted to fight a war. Miyazaki injects some some interweaving stories around the main plot: those of a sorcerer’s apprentice, a girl who’s aged by a spell, a royal sorceress, a demonic but friendly fire spirit and a grumpy witch. Miyazaki goes deep into all of his characters to discover the humanity and compassion that lies at their heart and soul.

Howl’s Moving Castle marks a step forward for the acceptance of anime as an art form.

Look for expanded coverage of Japanese animation and Manga in the coming weeks, leading up to our unvieling of an entire section of the web site dedicated to the artform and its heros.

© 2005 Review by René Carson

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