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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Films of Hayao Miyazaki: Howl's Moving Castle

For those just joining us, I've been spending my free time this August watching every film from acclaimed Japanese film director Hayao Miyazaki. Sadly, today, we come to the end, as we watch his most recent film that's had a theatrical release in North America. It's his adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones' novel...

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Celebrity Voice Cast
Disney once again got a whole slew of celebrity voices for the English dub. This time, you get to hear Jean Simmons, Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, and Billy Crystal.

What's really cool about Howl's Moving Castle is that this is the first Miyazaki film I got to see on the big screen. As I'd become quite adept at having no life at this point, I was following its development online pretty much from day one. And when I saw the movie listings for Edmonton and saw that it was playing, I pretty much dropped everything to go see it. Which wasn't hard, as this was my first year out of NAIT and looking for that first radio job. I got all goosebumpy when the theatre screen turned blue with that Totoro outline and "Studio Ghibli presents...." As I walked out of the theatre, I flipped my cellphone on, checked my voice mail, and got the 18th of many, many rejections. Ah, 2005...the Great Year of Unemployment.

In a vaguely European town, we enter the life of young Sophie. Sophie seems to lack self-confidence...she has resigned herself to a life of solitude working in the family hat shop. Then, one day, a chance encounter with the wizard Howl draws the ire of the Witch of the Wastes. The Witch curses Sophie, turning her into an old crone. Knowing there's only one person who can help her, Sophie leaves home and heads into the Wastes to find Howl. Soon, Sophie finds herself working for Howl as his cleaning lady, in his magnificent walking castle. Also in this castle are Markl, Howl's young apprentice, and Calcifer, a fire demon who powers the castle. But there's trouble ahead. A war is brewing, and all the wizards are being pressed into service, and our man Howl is a draft-dodger. Will Howl finally find something worth fighting for? Will Sophie find a way to break her curse? And what's the mysterious connection between Calcifer and Howl?

What I Liked
As I keep saying with these films, Joe Hisashi's music is amazing. The main themes for this film are ones I constantly find myself humming. There's some very interesting takes on the wizarding world that I've never seen before in this film, and it's always nice to see something new in familiar territory.

What I Didn't Like
It just didn't feel like Miyazaki went that extra mile...it feels almost phone in.

Final Verdict
This is almost like Miyazaki trying to a Disney film. I picked up on many allusions to Beauty and the Beast. That's not bad, it's just...well, it felt like Miyazaki wasn't feeling it, so I wasn't feeling it.

3 Nibs

History Lesson
Hey! What did I say in my original review when I saw this theatrically?

"I have finally seen a Miyazaki film on the big screen, and it is good. The moving castle is truly one of the most intriguing concepts ever to be seen on the screen. I do have to agree that it's a notch or two below Spirited Away. It's like Studio Ghibli's take on Disney fair...this is Miyazaki's Beauty and the Beast. 3 Nibs." Wow! I'm consistent!

Fun Trivia Fact
As I mentioned last time, John Lasseter is a huge Miyazaki buff, and once again, he was instrumental in getting this dubbed and in theatres. Lasseter had originally hoped to direct the English-language dub himself, but was too busy finishing up Cars. To direct the English language dub, Lasseter and Miyazaki personally chose Pete Docter, the director of Monsters, Inc.

Next Time
Well, we've come to the end for now. Miyazaki's latest film, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, only just came out in Japan, and it'll probably be another year before it comes out in North America. So, next time, we'll do a wrap up and bring this to a proper close. Until then, here's the Ponyo trailer.

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