28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
'Beautiful' almost seems too simple a word,
This review is from: Howl's Moving Castle [DVD]  (DVD)
What an amazing film! I'm trying to find adjectives that are not going to make me sound gushy--so I won't even try, because I'll lose that game. It is probable that this piece of anime is going to change my whole way of looking at the genre and a lot of other things as well. And, for the Jack Vance aficionados reading this, if I had to make a movie about one of Jack's more colorful books--though it would be more 'adult' than HMC--like The Houses of Iszm, or something from The Dying Earth like the T'sain/T'sais stories, or even Chateau d'If--I now realize that this medium is potentially much more appropriate than something involving human actors. I advise Vanceacs to spend some time with HMC, because it's...just so...
Just about every scene and element in HMC is...well, 'beautiful'. In just about every other hand that could become overwhelming, but a lot of the beauty is subtle enough, so it doesn't hit you in the face or tire you out. HMC has benefited from a unique mix of European and Japanese, in all aspects, ranging from the story to the visuals. Dianna Wynne-Jones's original novel has been modified--as it had to be--and added-to with story elements close to the Japanese soul, like militarism and the dissonances between nature and civilized man; thus creating something that should ring familiar with audiences from both worlds. It could just have been a somewhat dissonant mix of these disparate cultural elements; but in this instance even the dissonances only serve to enhance the dreamy fairy-tale mood pervading the film.
The visuals are unusual for an anime flick and add to the 'European' flavor. The world depicted is an odd melange between motifs familiar from early 20th century Europe--think some halcyon romantic vision of Germany or Austria--with trains blowing billowing plumes of smoke and steam-technology driven conveyances in the city; and impossible aerial vessels, both tiny and huge, hovering above. A colorful idyll of everyday life--something that could have been taken from an Austrian operetta--is contrasted with the fiery destructions wrought by indiscriminately waged war that spares no one. No dead bodies are shown, but they can easily be imagined underneath the rubble.
The visuals also deviate from the usual common in the world of anime, in that the images are in constant motion. Nothing like the stereoptypical, low-cost, technique that mixes static elements, such as characters, their faces frozen in the rictus of a single expression or two, set against a moving background that's basically a short repeating sequence of frames--or vice versa, of course. Faces move as wholes, not just in parts--as, of course, does the Castle itself: possibly the most amazing, dementedly organic, technological structure I've ever seen.
I love Japanese animation, but it has some stylistic quirks that grate on me occasionally. HMC avoided most of those and replaced them with something much more poetic. Add to that the voices of Christian Bale (Howl) and Billy Crystal (Calcifer, the Fire Demon), JeanSimmons and Emily Mortimer (Sophie, old and young) and Lauren Bacall (Witch of the Waste) and it even worked in dubbed translation--though the Japanese original with subtext sometime differs considerably from the dubs; which had to be fitted to make mouth movements and words match up as much as possible: a feat accomplished with amazing skill.
The story of HMC, even with the added dimension and complications of Miyazaki's screenplay/adaptation, is still very simple and to the point. It's all about love and redemption and becoming a full human being and finding purpose. Miyazaki added a note about the tragedy befalling those forced to get involved directly in the details of battle, and the impact this has on their spirits--surely a very pertinent topic at any time, and maybe even more so now.
What was maybe the most amazing thing was a total lack of cynicism about the main character's motives and aspirations. Even the Witch of the Waste--love the play on words here!--turns out just a sad disappointed creature, for whom things have just gone awry. The only real eviloder in the piece is the King, an air-headed war-monger without the slightest trace of conscience or sense of perspective, who deals with war and killing like it was a video game. But he appears for less than a minute, as if to emphasize his ultimate insignificance for history and everything. Can there be any more implied contempt than by this limitation of 'screen time' as it were?
The whole thing is held together by the whimsical and occasionally erratic and hard-to-fathom vision and mental processes of Hayao Miyazaki; and it may be this whimsy and the connections he made in his head between this and that and the other--and which somehow made it onto the screen, occasionally explicit, but often hidden in tiny details of story and/or visual design--that make HMC into the extraordinary work of art and beauty it is, and which takes it from 'great' to 'masterpiece', a term I use very seldom. There is stuff in here we'll probably never understand; and I quite like that. Only the simple-minded or the dull need everything spelled out and things neatly arranged in sensical patterns. Life isn't 'sensical'; we would just like to pretend it is.
Rent it. Buy it. Just don't miss out on it.
Till Noever, owlglass com