Photos: Howl's Moving Castle

Studio Ghibli: Howl's Moving Castle

Studio Ghibli: Howl's Moving Castle

Studio Ghibli: Howl's Moving Castle

Studio Ghibli: Howl's Moving Castle

I'm a great fan of Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, enough to see the movie four times when it played at the local theater in 2005. It felt like a distillation of his entire body of work, from Toei Doga to Studio Ghibli, from animation to comics. Was the movie a big, sprawling mess? Absolutely, which is precisely the thing I enjoyed most about it.

Fans of Diana Wynne Jones' fantasy novels were, understandably, less charitable with Miyazaki's very loose "adaptation," which only seemed to skim the names of the main characters and basic setting before chucking the rest and running wild. If you were expecting something akin to the books, or a faithful translation ala Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, you were bound to be disappointed.

I never read the novels, and have never been a fan of the fantasy genre. Science-fiction was always my style. Because of this, I never saw Howl as anything more than a Miyazaki story, one that seemed to plumb the depths of his personal quirks and obsessions. He seemed less interested in telling Jones' tale, and more interested in sharing his insights on the war, work ethic and marriage. The romantic leads are clearly meant to be the Miyazaki Clan, as we have seen in Animal Treasure Island, Future Boy Conan, Sherlock Hound, Ponyo and The Wind Rises.

I enjoy the joyous surrealism of this movie, the Fellini-esque carnival atmosphere and obsessions with his personal emotions. I enjoy Sophie's transformations, from young to old, back to young again,  and then a happy medium of youth and acquired wisdom. I enjoy the mashup of sidekicks and oddball characters who feel like refugees from Oz (one almost expects to find a yellow brick road somewhere. I especially enjoy the hulking castle, pieces together from impossible pieces that shouldn't fit together, yet somehow still works. It has real personality.

And, yes, I even enjoy the ending that attempts to shoehorn one too many plot points into a too-neat-by-half ending. One character is even reduced to tossing out wisecracks to the audience like Tom Servo and Crow, and we find ourselves agreeing with her. Great movies are rarely perfect movies, as Pauline Kael loved to say. You have to appreciate the cheesy moments now and then, or you're never going to enjoy going to the movies.

UPDATE: Blogger seems to have eaten this post, for some unknown reason. I'll just leave everything here and we'll discuss Howl's Moving Castle in depth at a later time. Yay, screenshots!

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