Saturday, June 11, 2011


Hayao Miyazaki, 2004
Starring: Chieko Baisho, Takuya Kimura, Akihiro Miwa, Tatsuya Gashuin

I'm going to state, unabashedly and right up front, that Hauru no ugoki shiro is one of my favorite animated films. While I don't think it is necessarily perfect or really even in a list of the top animated films of all time, it is particularly beloved to me. I often have outrageous insomnia, so I usually have to put a movie on in order to fall asleep. Not too long after it came out on DVD (2005), my insomnia-busting movie of choice was Howl's Moving Castle, which means that it is now very difficult to watch without falling dead asleep.

Based on Diana Wynne Jones's novel, the film relates the story of Sophie, a plain young girl who works in her family's hat shop and has no real aspirations of her own. She accidentally comes across the path of Howl, a handsome, selfish, irresponsible young wizard who makes beautiful girls fall in love with him and then eats their hearts. Charming. Later, because of her run in with Howl, Sophie is cursed by a vain, resentful witch. The curse, which she cannot utter out loud, is that she has been turned into an old woman, partially because she lives like one. She runs away from home into the wilderness and comes across Howl's titular castle -- an amazing, makeshift fortress on legs that uses magic to walk and fly around the countryside. Sophie infiltrates the castle, hoping that Howl will help her find a cure.

It's a sweet movie. I'm usually not a sap, but when things are either animated or musical I throw all caution to the wind. At its core, this is a movie about a group of deeply flawed people who allow their love and respect for one another to bring about profound personal change. It is also a movie that believes, without question, that people can change for the better. The characters all more or less wind up realizing what they lack, realizing what they really want out of life and, for the most part, getting it. What's better than that? Plus there are monsters, magic, castles, and a lot of humor.

It's not perfect, but it comes highly recommended. As far as love stories go, Miyazaki keeps it brief and doesn't beat us over the head with inane dialogue. Some of the scenes are a bit rushed, but if you like anime, animated children's films, fairy-tales, or Miyazaki, you won't be disappointed. It received a lot of critical acclaim, mostly because it is visually stunning and emotionally mature, despite the fact that it's a children's film. Of course, my arch-nemesis, Ebert, gave it a bad review.

The region 1 DVD I'm reviewing is two discs, comes with English or Japanese language options and a handful of special features. For once, I have no complaints about the release. Rent it. Buy it. Be charmed and entertained. I guarantee you'll want to watch it again soon after.

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