View Full Version : A Journey of the Heart

03-11-2006, 03:18 AM
A Journey of the heart – Howl’s Moving Castle
A film by Hayao Miyazaki

Released on Tuesday, this new DVD of Miyazaki’s latest Oscar-nominated film, “Howl’s Moving Castle” allows those who admire and love the art of animation to examine frame by frame the meticulous care and craftsmanship applied to every frame of this movie. One cannot mention the name Miyazaki any longer and not associate it with Walt Disney and his triumph of animation, “Pinocchio.” From start to finish, no animated film has ever been made in which every single frame was different with no repeated frames. This has not been done since “Pinocchio,” until now.

After having screened the film three times in the last few days, I can say that I have a new appreciation for the hard work and dedication it took to complete something on the scale this film has accomplished. Let me site one of many examples.

There is a scene toward the end of the film where Sophie’s mother visits and drops off a purse filled with witch’s devices that cause havoc in the castle. In one shot, the heavy ‘Witch of the Wastes’ lights a cigar and puffs on it. When she first lights up, the background plate shows a wall with some shelves. I counted no less than fifty distinguishable objects that are on the screen less than two seconds. Why such detail? Why is every board weathered and notched. Why are tiny blades of grass growing up between the bricks?

The devil, my friends, is in the details. This film is eye candy from start to finish. Take a scene just a few seconds later where planes drop bombs visa vies London during the blitz. Shot in the style of ‘day for night’ when each bomb explodes, the flame and debris cause shadow changes on hundreds of rooftops that flicker. The shot is only three seconds long but in repeated and slow motion viewings I counted nearly a hundred changes made to those several frames of film. I haven’t seen details like that since Geppetto’s shop. They’re scattered everywhere throughout the film.

The story itself takes great pains to illustrate character journeys. Each character has a mission to complete that results in emotional resolution. Miyazaki uses some standard tricks with bit characters he’s used before… silent characters that perform magical feats (as in Spirited Away and Totoro)… blob like creatures that represent nightmarish threatening objects to children… a strong heroine, and a rather effeminate hero. However, in this film, there is a reason for everyone being that way, explained as the plot rolls by. In fact, Miyazaki goes out of his way to make certain that by the end of the film there are no ambiguous loose ends, except for the hero, whom we assume ends up with the girl… he has found his heart in more ways than one.

Beginning with an amazing shot of this horrible metallic creature lumbering its way across a fog infested countryside only to appear and disappear when threatened through thick low lying cloud formations. The bulbous mechanical castle crawls along on metallic chicken feet, just as clumsy as if it were a big fat hen. Like the characters, the castle never stays the same. We see everything evolve in the film, including the castle. Each evolution results in someone or something changing, however the beauty is left to interpretation.

The main character, Sophie, played mostly by Jean Simmons (once a steaming sex star whose career peaked in the 1950’s with films like “The Robe,” “Guys and Dolls,” and “Elmer Gantry”) is a self-deprecating woman. She doesn’t think she is pretty. She is changed one evening in age from a young woman to an old one by the Witch of the Wastes. The devious rotund ugly Witch of the Wastes is played deliciously by Lauren Bacall (“I was born to play despicable”). The elderly transformed Sophie sets out to reverse the spell by hunting down the witch, only to end up inside Howl’s moving castle.

Sophie discovers that by turning a special doorknob, the entrance can open in one of four different locales, allowing Miyazaki to paint four different settings. There is an ocean front city with a market place. There is an inner city setting complete with majestic gothic cathedrals and a palace larger than anything real could duplicate. Finally there is the real back door to the castle that Sophie accidentally finds when the castle first moves over her. There is also a fourth space that is dark and mysterious, a land of dark magic, which Howl travels in perpetual darkness.

The castle has a number of characters: a young boy, apparently an apprentice, a non-speaking dog that wheezes, the Witch of the Wastes, stripped of her power, and a wise-cracking fire that occasionally sprouts arms voiced by Billy Crystal.

In addition to the film, this two-disc set has a few features that are a bit of a disappointment. The second disc is the entire film done in storyboard. This would be interesting if it were not for the fact that many of the drawings are crude at best. After an hour, it becomes monotonous. The special features on the first disc include a small doc on the voice over characters and a visit of Miyazaki to Pixar made about a year ago. There is no narration or behind the scenes docs.

While the vote is still out with die hard animation fans about computer generated films, like Toy Story; there can be little doubt that movies like “Pinocchio” “Snow White” “Peter Pan” and “Bambi” are at the top of the list. The reason is obvious. They were drawn with great care and incredible detail. They paid attention to the play of light on objects. And they provided their viewers with plenty to see on repeated viewing. In addition to all of that, Miyazaki does something Disney could not; he makes his films for adults. While any child could watch this film and come away satisfied. This film is clearly aimed at those who understand symbolism on a level no child can relate to. It is safe to say that from this day on, there is another film which equals or surpasses Pinocchio in every way… Howl’s Moving Castle.

oscar jubis
04-06-2006, 07:16 PM
Good job, Cinemabon!
Here are my comments on this wonderful film: HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (http://www.filmwurld.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&postid=11483#post11483)
My favorite thing about the dvd is being able to decide whether to listen to the original soundtrack or to go for the one dubbed into English.

04-12-2006, 11:36 PM
Thanks for looking in on me, Oscar. I know you are busy with the festival. I haven't posted much or read too many. I apologize to all the writers for that. I have no excuse. I'm trying so hard to get published. I've been working night and day on my book(s) with no nibbles. Still, if there is one thing I'm good at, it's being persistant. I just don't want to end up like Conan author Robert Howard ("He was such a good author. Too bad he isn't alive any longer to hear about it..." etc.) It would be nice to get some kind of feedback before I enter 'all the land a man needs.'

oscar jubis
04-14-2006, 02:14 AM
Sound like time well-spent, cinemabon. I wish you luck. Is it fiction? Perhaps you'd give us a sample or preview. Of course, I'd understand if you'd rather not do that. I do hope you continue to share your comments about movies, whenever you find the time to do so.

04-18-2006, 11:51 PM
Then it comes down to how much of myself do I wish to reveal. I do have a web site. I listed it in my profile section. Having said that, you will know everything there is to know about me via that link, even my pix.

I just spent the weekend with my mentor. I felt like such a fool. I showed her some of my best work. She took the opening and rewrote a paragraph. When I read it to my son on the plane, he responded:

"Wow, Dad. Don't you wish you could write like that?"


Still persistant, I sit here with Brahms playing in my headphones trying to piece together the opening to the sequel of my first book as bad as it may seem now in comparison. Will I completely rewrite it? I don't believe I have that many lifetimes. But I'll do what I can to get published.

Until then, I am affectionately yours, buried in fiction... wls, otherwise known on this site as cinemabon.

oscar jubis
04-19-2006, 03:40 PM
Thanks. I wasn't aware you had your own website. The premise of your novel(s) is quite intriguing. Best of luck, Cinemabon (I'll stick to your FilmLeaf pseudonym here).