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Howl’’s Moving Castle

Japan (2004), 119 minutes
Reviewer: Teri Tom
Genre: Animation
Rating: 5

I’m an idiot for not seeing Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle when it was in theaters. Then again, maybe that was a smart move, as I found myself for the first time in years, weepy at the end of a movie – twice. Which is funny, because at some point during the first viewing, I gave up altogether trying to figure out what was happening in the story. Nor did I understand the plot any better the second time around.And this is perhaps why Howl’s has the effect on me that it does. Too often we expect a plot to logically go from Point A to Point B and then yield the desired, carefully calculated, and expected result. And while Howl’s story is certainly frustrating and maddening to follow, there is something about the images that are so beautiful, so warm, so detailed with love and care, and so elemental that they render a gut reaction – story is absolutely secondary.

For you literal types, though, here is the plot synopsis from the DVD jacket:”Sophie, a quiet girl working in a hat shop, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome but mysterious wizard named Howl. The vain and vengeful Witch of the Waste, jealous of their friendship, puts a spell on Sophie. In a life-changing adventure, Sophie climbs aboard Howl’s magnificent flying castle and enters a magical world on a quest to break the spell.”

Watching Howl’s is like seeing a beautiful moving painting. Which isn’t to say this film is all style, no substance. Nor is it not about anything. What makes it so strangely moving is that it hits all the tones and pitches of life without spelling them out, which is always more powerful than explicitly stating everything. Miyazaki doesn’t insult our intelligence. Howl’s is, as I’ve said before of the best fantasy, all the humor and despair, love and loneliness, fear and confrontation, and facing of mortality that is often better told within a fantasy framework.

For those of you, like me, who didn’t see this film on the big screen, you may find some consolation in the fact that the U.S. DVD release has some pretty nifty extras, most important of which, is the entire film told through Miyazaki’s storyboards with the movie soundtrack! Another plus is that the U.S. DVD includes the original Japanese audio track. Don’t you dare watch this film with the English dub! I may have saved myself the embarrassment of being a big weepy mess in public, but I’ll forever be kicking myself for not seeing this one in the theater. Don’t miss it on DVD.

Read Silman review of Miyazaki and his films.