Howl’s Moving Castle

I saw Howl’s Moving Castle last night. When we showed up at the theater, I was surprised that they accidentally had the subtitled version, not the dub. It was great to see the original Japanese, and I look forward to comparing it to the English on subsequent viewings or when it hits DVD. The subtitles were very good — not the broken English you’d expect from a cheap dub, so I expect the dialog is from the translation handled by Disney.

I should describe my first Hayao Miyazaki experience. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about the history of animation, of a range of genres, styles, and studios, but my first exposure to Miyazaki actually came late, with the Disney dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service. I knew there was something special about this film before I saw it, but finding a copy proved difficult due to lackluster marketing and poor distribution. I went to a few video stores in search of a rental before I finally found a VHS copy for sale and bought it.

Now, many of Miyazaki’s earlier films are definitely geared more toward children, and this is especially true with Kiki. But I was completely blown away by the innocence and total sincerity in this film, and at the climax I was near tears. It is a masterpiece that I’ve enjoyed watching over and over again now that I have my own children. Every second of film is there for a reason, with perfect pacing, dialogue, and emotion. From then I’ve enjoyed his other films over the years, including a side trip while passing through Houston to see Princess Mononoke in the theater, since it was in very limited release, and of course Spirited Away, last year’s Porco Rosso premiere in Austin, Totoro, and most of the rest.

So Howl’s Moving Castle. I’m not sure it was my favorite of his films, but it was very enjoyable, full of both originality and familiar Miyazaki themes. When it wants to be, the animation is beautiful, and the visuals stunning throughout. The acting of the lead character Sophie as a young and old woman is very believable, the movement and walk obviously well studied. Good work all around.

Watching a film like this, with at times such power and intensity, you’d never believe that 2d animation has been written off by most decision-makers in this country. It’s simply impossible to make a film like this in 3d, either now or 5 years from now, which means that the kinds of stories that can be told in U.S. feature animation are limited right now. As long as audiences are being entertained, few people will complain about this unnoticed drought, but the risk is that over time animation will be even more pigeon-holed than it already is.