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A love story between an 18-year-old girl named Sophie, cursed by a witch into an old woman's body, and a magician named Howl. Under the curse, Sophie sets out to seek her fortune, which takes her to Howl's strange moving castle. In the castle, Sophie meets Howl's fire demon, named Karishifâ. Seeing that she is under a curse, the demon makes a deal with Sophie--if she breaks the contract he is under with Howl, then Karushifâ will lift the curse that Sophie is under, and she will return to her 18-year-old shape. Written by
About a decade and a half ago, Hayao Miyazaki, the mogul of Japanese cinema, burst into the Hollywood scene with the delightful 'Castle in the Sky.' Since then he has been recognized world wide as one of the globes finest film makers with his most recent successes, 'Princess Mononoke', and his Oscar winning masterpiece, 'Spirited Away.' I have always loved Miyazaki, and have seen all of his films, but never one in the theater. When news of a new Miyazaki film reached my ears I was delighted to get the chance to see the master's work on the big screen. Let's just say that 'Howl's Moving Castle' did not disappoint.
'Howl's Moving Castle' was greeted with not so enthusiastic reviews as that of 'Spirited Away,' which is understandable. Miyazaki tells his tale outside the parameters of common western storytelling. He takes liberties with everything, telling it how he wants it to be told, and at first it is a little strange because of the failure of recognition of classic plot points we are so used to seeing, and critics such as Roger Ebert have marked it as below par Miyazaki because of this. I find this ridiculous, and so does Miyazaki. In a recent interview Miyazaki said "The fact that you would expect a story to be told a certain way is ridiculous." I quite agree Mr. Miyazaki. The film is one of his best, abundant in rich imagination and delightful characters set in a world of fantastical sights and sounds, Where everyone has a fly-machine (Miyazaki is an aviation fanatic), and wizards walk among the common folk.
Young Sophie Hatter is cursed by the Witch of the Waste, and turns into an old hag. Ashamed of how she looks, she flees into the hills where a moving castle roams the hills. It is said to belong to the young and handsome wizard Howl, who has a bad reputation. Within the castle, Sophie befriends the fire demon Calcifer who promises to help her become young again. One catch, she must help Calcifer to be free of Howl, and Calcifer cannot tell her how. However, Sophie agrees to stay and try and find out about the contract threw other ways. Still, Howl can see that Sophie is under a spell (like Calcifer can) and falls in love with her for who she is and not what she looks like. Sophie manages to bring life to the moving castle, and help Howl to face his former tutor, Madam Sulimen.
'Howl's Moving Castle' is riddled with classic Miyazaki: strong women characters, open landscapes, flying machines that are so fantastical you don't care whether the make sense or not, and the horridness of war. These add strength to the love story of Howl and Sofi. Miyazaki uses his wonderful power to take classic, almost mythological and fairy tale stories we all know, and archetypal characters and make them his own, until we don't even recognize the stories we have hear a thousand times, and it feels as if we are seeing and hearing them for the first time. He does this with a host of wonderful characters. More strange creatures play prominent role here then any other Miyazaki film.
The film surpasses even 'Spirited Away' in sheer scope and majesty. There is Calcifer, the wonderfully comic fire demon, on Turniphead, the Scarecrow that leads Sofi to Howl's magical moving castle. The castle itself is one reason to see the film. Miyazaki succeeds in giving the castle personality. It lumbers along on its thin chicken-like legs, everything pushing, pulling, pumping and gyrating in perfect synchronization.
What is truly amazing about 'Howl's Moving Castle' is how it reaches the imagination and delightfulness of 'Spirited Away' with the sublimity of 'Princess Mononoke,' while standing on its own, perfectly unique. There have been complaints of lack of proper character development, but like the point before this is no ordinary story. The characters are thrust into a world they do not know, and there they must adapt, and live outside what they have known all their lives. It is not a story of who they were, but what they have become, or what they must become. It does not dwell on the past, and gets right into the story, not pausing for cheesy back stories we have come to get used to. It is like nothing I have ever seen before.
On a final note: the American voice casting is brilliant, possibly the best ever on a Miyazakie film, which is saying quite a lot. Billy Crystal, Christian Bale, and others provide perfect performances. Also I encourage you to see this film on the big screen before it leaves, this may be the master of animations last film, and seeing this film in the theater, or any Miyazaki film is a wonderful experience, and not to be missed. I hope it is not Miyazaki's last, for that would be a true lost to cinema, but even if he does leave, 'Howl's Moving Castle' is a wonderful parting film.
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