The Ghibli nerds like the disturbing ones. Yeah, this one isn't a kid's movie. This is the first one where I realized that no one was really rating these by content. This is another PG movie by the MPAA and they simply saw a movie that was animated and had magic. They probably saw, "From the Director of My Neighbor Totoro" and said it was fine. It's scary as heck. There's some blood. There's some demons. Billy Crystal is a demon. Sure, he's the adorable fire demons, but there are some very scary demons in this one. While PG, I don't think it's meant for younger kids.
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
This is the first time I have gotten through this one. We rented this one originally and started watching it. The second these flying demons tried attacking Howl, we turned it off. Everyone always said that this one is great and I believed them. I was excited to get through this because I was really digging it the first time around, but I'm not going to watch a movie with flying demons with my kids. I have standards. Kind of. Okay, if there wasn't going to be a consequence of all the nightmares every night, I probably would have kept going. But I have to deal with nightmares and no, thank you.
One of the things about doing a retrospective is that you find yourself thinking the same things over and over again. There are bouts of frustration trying to separate which movie goes where in your head. I used to do these things all the time. The good news is that you really can see trends in a director's work. You understand the director as an auteur and you can then claim to be a mini-expert on a director. It's great. But at the end of the day, you have the same problem that happens with binging a TV show; you don't get to enjoy the beats. It flies by a little bit. I think my mistake going into this binge was putting Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle back-to-back. There's a lot of similarities between the two. Two girls and non-magic users are thrown into the world of the occult and have to follow this mysterious male's instructions to get through it. In both cases, the girls prove to be stronger than their male companion spiritually, which pulls them through the problems that they face. In the case of Howl's Moving Castle, there is a far more linear story as opposed to the episodic trials of Spirited Away. Sophie has a clear goal, magic related like Chihiro, but Sophie seems oddly content with her predicament. Perhaps that's a misreading of the situation. One thing that is convenient for the sake of plot is that the spell she is under does not allow her to talk about the spell that has been cast on her. Like Miyazaki's other narratives, he does not spend a lot of time infodumping stuff for the audience. Rather, we simply exist in this rather awesome world of steampunk and gliders. But there is this whole political climate that I kind of started building in Nausicaa (Again, I have no time for umlauts). I have no idea what the details of this war are. Miyazaki clearly gets it, but I don't get it. It's kind of like real politics: I get just enough to follow along with the big moments. Sorry, everyone, but I kind of suck when it comes to that stuff. But the setting is another thing that makes Howl's work. Miyazaki, and I'm saying nothing new here, is the master of world building in film. He has a lot of the same motifs. The whole environmentalism and airplane stuff keeps being part of it, but these worlds definitely feel different. I don't know how to explain it, but these worlds aren't at all one Miyazaki-verse, but it feels like Miyazaki each time.
While I think Spirited Away is scarier, I think Howl's Moving Castle is a much cleaner movie. I'm mainly looking at the theme of identity. Sophie's story is great. I wouldn't even wrap it up as an allegory because I think it is expressed clearly in the movie. SPOILERS: Sophie's condition of being transformed into an old lady is always temporary. This is the smartest choice for Miyazaki. Sophie's condition is entirely self inflicted. (Now I really want to write a paper about the connections between the films of Hayao Miyazaki and The Wizard of Oz.) Those moments of Sophie switching back (which are practically a magic trick in terms of animation) are so telling about the nature of the spell and the idea of self-esteem. Sophie, throughout the story, continually mentions that she never considered herself beautiful. It's a little obvious what Miyazaki is going for in terms about self-image, but I don't mind it one bit. It's a really good message. I feel like Miyazaki puts his own little spin on that message though. Sophie always considered herself an old soul. She worked in a hat shop, dressed modestly, and sheltered herself. When she is turned into an old lady, her major complaint is that everything is hard to do. She doesn't say that she wishes that she could look like herself. There is a weird amount of bliss that people don't see her as a young kid. I think she likes being the mother / grandmother of the group with the exception when it comes to her feelings for Howl (which might be the most underbaked element of the movie). It is only in those moments where she sees her own self-worth and beauty, albeit subconsciously, that she transforms back into her younger self. But the best part about the whole thing is that the movie ends and her hair is still grey. She is gorgeous and she has mostly been returned to her old self, but she has grown into loving old Sophie. That's so interesting. She is a different person. It also might be about accepting the worst parts of yourself. You don't have to be happy about it, but you do have to acknowledge that it is part of what makes you, you. I don't know. Maybe I'm overthinking all of this. Regardless, it's pretty well done.
Miyazaki's obsession with airplanes is rubbing off. I normally find them pretty boring. Like, I kind of like The Wind Rises, but it's pretty dull to me. I really dig the way airplanes are just part of life. These airplanes are massive and overwhelming. But there are also these personal craft and they just seem like the way that life should be. He has this very casual attitude when it comes to personal transportation. The best artists make you care about their passions and I think Miyazaki definitely crushes when it comes to this. Heck, my lackadaisical attitude when it comes to the environment is challenged when I watch these movies. I started my binging with the attitude of "Cool it, Miyazaki. We get it. Garbage is bad." But as of this point, I kind of hate my old self. I'm the kind of guy who makes tire fire jokes and clubbing baby seal jokes (I told you, I'm a bad person). But Miyazaki's passion is conveyed in his movies. He gets his message across. The odd thing is that it is definitely a motif, but he doesn't get repetitive. One thing I always got annoyed with when it came to pop environmentalism is the Captain Planet vibe most things got. It was always heavy handed. Miyazaki, like his love for aviation, treats it as simply the way the world is right now. That's what makes Howl's weird. He really cuts down on the environmentalism thing. I mean, sure, there's an area that are known as "The Wastes". But he goes the opposite way with his love for airplanes. There are these machines, which add to the steampunk pastiche, but people just have the equivalent of airplane motorcycles. Juxtaposing these creations to the world of magic is also super cool. Howl's castle, of the title fame, is a magical creation that is based around the fact that it is a load of junk scrapped together. It looks like there is no magic involved until later in the film. It looks like it should belong in this world and it is only when the house starts falling apart that the world of magic actually lets itself be seen. I do like how Billy Crystal as Calcifer (which I would just love to see his face during the readthrough) ties the whole house together. The characters exist in the house in a very dynamic way. Since the house keeps shifting, they keep falling in love with the various iterations of the house. That's a nifty idea.
I feel like I really botched this review up. My kids stopped me every two seconds during this review. I'm writing this part with my son on my lap. He had two tantrums today and I've been helping film my daughter's baking show videos today. I also have a cold, so I'd like to apologize. The very short version of this story: Howl's Moving Castle is a fabulous movie that is cool because of its aesthetics and its great story. The characters are awesome, but the movie gets a bit scary for little kids. All that wandering garbage up above can be ignored. Just read this part.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.