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Anime Friday: Howl's Moving Castle

Hello, everyone. Welcome to another edition of "Anime Friday". This week, my study continues with another film by Hayao Miyazaki, Howl's Moving Castle. Right off the bat, I feel like I'm kinda cheating with this movie. It's based on a book by Diane Wynn Jones and it definitely shows its Western influences. Also, I watched the dubbed version of the movie because it features so many famous voices. Christian Bale lends his pipes to the title character, while Emily Mortimer voices our protagonist, Sophie. In the most bizarre turn, Billy Crystal voices Calcifer, the fire demon keeping the castle functioning. I didn't realize until Howl's how similar Billy Crystal's voice is to that of James Woods. I believe that this movie would be significantly better if Woods had somehow been involved, but I say that about a lot of movies. Howl's Moving Castle takes place in a semi-magical steam age world that looks to be cross between southern France and provincial Japan. Sophie, an 18-year-old hat maker, runs afoul of a morbid magician called The Witch of the Waste, voiced by none other than Lauren Bacall. The Witch curses Sophie with the body of a very old woman. Strangely, Sophie doesn't seem to mind as much as one might think. She half-heartedly wanders into the magical wilderness to find a way to reverse the spell, which lands her in the titular mobile domicile, which is really just a normal-sized house surrounded by machinery. Meanwhile, a vague war erupts between two equally vague kingdoms, ostensibly over the alleged kidnapping of a prince. Until the film's conclusion, that war remains mostly background noise. I'm pretty thankful for that. Through a series of interesting developments, the castle becomes home to a bizarre rendition of the nuclear family. Powerful but immature wizard Howl straddles a role between father and son, while Sophie fluctuates between being Howl's mother and would-be lover. The Witch of the Waste, stripped of her powers and returned to her natural age, fits into the senile grandmother role very nicely. It never stops being funny when she comments, "Oh, such a pretty fire." A young apprentice named Markl occupies the obligatory little kid slot in the family, which leaves Calcifer as the weird uncle. This is all further complicated by the flux of Sophie's curse. She slides up and down a spectrum of age, though what causes her to do this is never explained. I'm actually pretty glad we never get a direct explanation for why this happens. Too many anime stories involve some meaningless talisman or an extremely corny emotional reason for the magic whatsit that drives the plot. The fact that there's no Black Gem of Ultimate Power to break or True Love for Sophie to achieve in order to break her curse is nice. Instead, her apparent age changes with her frame of mind. She's only old when she's resigned. Of course, all this nuance goes out the window when we reach the film's conclusion. It all wraps up very neatly in a record amount of time while some things aren't explained at all. For a story that manages to be so imaginative and mercifully subtle with magic, the ending just runs out of steam (no pun intended) and leaves us with an almost insulting Happily Ever After. Final Assessment Comprehension: 9/10- I knew what was going on most of the time. When I didn't, it was because some bizarre magic was happening and the regular rules of logic didn't apply anyway. Enjoyment: 6/10- It was occasionally clever, but Howl's mostly played like a standard Disney outing. The ending still grates on me and I have no idea why Miyazaki thought it was necessary to anime-ify the source material. For my own sake, I'm gonna have to take a break from the cute stuff in lieu of anime's darker, more violent side. Improvement of Understanding: 8/10- Strangely, as much as I didn't dig this movie, it opened my eyes to a pretty big theme in anime. A lot of it is Japanese interpretation of Western culture. Westernization has always been a big conflict in Japan. Anime shows how East and West often mix oddly and result in massive weirdness. I'll keep that in mind for the rest of the project. Next Week: Kite