Monday, April 08, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Last week I spent eight wonderful evenings at the Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood!

I'll have more film noir reviews coming soon, but first, a total change of pace. This evening I saw Hayao Miyazaki's animated film HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (2004) as part of Fathom Events' Studio Ghibli Fest 2019.

The movie was preceded by an introduction by Crispin Freeman, a member of the film's English-language cast.

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE was written and directed by Miyazaki, based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones. It received an Oscar nomination as Best Animated Film of the Year.

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE was the fourth Miyazaki film I've seen, following CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986), MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988), and THE WIND RISES (2013). While TOTORO is far and away my favorite of these films, I liked HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE quite well and found it an absorbing 119 minutes.

In this fantasy, Sophie runs a hat shop founded by her late father. One night Sophie is cursed by the mean Witch of the Waste, who turns her into an old hag. Sophie flees her hometown and happens across the "moving castle" which is the home of Howl, a temperamental wizard.

As "Grandma Sophie," Sophie keeps house for Howl and his young apprentice Markl in exchange for a roof over her head. Sophie doesn't know that Howl can see past the curse to the young girl underneath her aged exterior; the fire spirit Calcifer, who works for Howl, also recognizes that Sophie is cursed, and they pledge to help one another.

As war rages overhead and around them, Sophie helps Howl become more courageous. She also extends kindness to the Witch of the Waste when the Witch finds herself in unhappy circumstances, and an ersatz family comes together in the castle, comprised of Howl, Sophie, Markl, Calcifer, the Witch, and a dog named Hin.

As Howl bravely works to protect Sophie and end the war, Sophie very gradually transforms back to the girl she once was.

Some of the visuals for this fairy tale are quite beautiful; the "prettier" moments are mixed in with the "steampunk" elements also seen in CASTLE IN THE SKY. While I prefer the gorgeous art of things like the beautiful fields of flowers Howl presents to Sophie, the steampunk designs are certainly creative, particularly the title castle with its "face" and legs. I'm glad I saw the film for the first time on a big screen where I could fully appreciate all the interesting visual details.

I felt the movie was 10 minutes too long and would have benefited from a running time closer to an hour and 45 minutes than two hours, but otherwise this was an engrossing, interesting film which I enjoyed.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. There are some mildly spooky moments which might trouble some of the youngest potential viewers, but overall the film struck me as fine for the "8 and up" set. The film features an admirable heroine who bravely copes with her predicament and demonstrates that kindness to others -- even those who least deserve it -- goes a long way toward making life better.

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Miyazaki releases typically have both the Japanese and English voice casts. The English-dubbed version has an interesting cast including Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Blythe Danner, and Christian Bale.

As a related note of interest, when the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens in Los Angeles later this year, the first of the museum's rotating exhibits will feature Miyazaki; the exhibit was developed in conjunction with Studio Ghibli.

The museum website says: "The Academy Museum’s inaugural temporary exhibition will be an unprecedented U.S. retrospective of famed Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki...The exhibition will take visitors on a thematic journey through Miyazaki’s cinematic worlds, featuring original production materials, including pieces that have never been seen outside of Studio Ghibli’s archives. Each of Miyazaki’s animated feature films are represented in the exhibition, among them MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988) and the Academy Award-winning SPIRITED AWAY (2001). The exhibition will present more than 200 concept sketches, character designs, storyboards, layouts, cels, and backgrounds, complemented by large-scale projections showing the most memorable clips from his films. A catalogue, film series, and public events will accompany the presentation, and unique Studio Ghibli merchandise will be sold at the Museum’s shop."

My husband and I are Charter Members of the Academy Museum so I will definitely be touring this exhibit at the earliest possible moment and share coverage here.


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