Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday animation: ハウルの動く城 (Howl's Moving Castle)

It's been so long since I've gotten a chance to review any traditionally animated films!  D:  I've missed them so much!  The one selected for today is not one of my personal favorites, but it is widely acclaimed and loved by many others.

Howl's Moving Castle came out while I was living in Okinawa.  As with Spirited Away, this film also got a lot of publicity and advertisement.  However, I still did not understand Japanese very well at the time, and I did not have the money nor desire to actually go to a Japanese movie theater and watch it.  I did not watch the film until a few years later in a small theater in my hometown that plays such foreign films and cult classics regularly.  The film had been dubbed in English, so I later had to watch part of the Japanese version in order to write an adequate review.

My thoughts and feelings during the movie were similar to the ones I had during Spirited Away.  As an avid animation fan, people expect me to love Studio Ghibli films, but alas, there's something missing about all the films from the studio that prevents me from rating them too highly.  I acknowledge that they are good, some of them very good, but they do not seem to have that magic that makes me adore animation.  They seem a little...hmm...elitist, if that makes sense, like they are convinced that they are amazing films and that no other films could possibly compare.  That's the vibe I get from them, anyway.  :b

That's not to say it isn't a good film, because it is!


Overview: Howl's Moving Castle is an animated fantasy film from Japan released in 2004.  It was written and directed by the now legendary Hayao Miyazaki.  Highly praised, it was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 78th Academy Awards.

Art: The film is a visual beauty.  Lovely backgrounds and details, many colors.  That said, the character designs are not anything particularly impressive.  They look very similar to the characters from all of Miyazaki's other films.  In fact, the look in general is very similar to his other movies.  If you were to hold a screencap from this movie and a screencap from another Miyazaki movie, you might even believe that they are from the same film if you had never seen either film.  Characters that are supposed to good-looking end up just being kind of weird-looking, and characters that are meant to be plain or not particularly attractive actually appear most attractive.  I think it's just an effect of the design of the characters.  Also, the shading of the characters doesn't seem to match the shading of the backgrounds, creating a weird offset.  The shading on the characters is just so hard and defined while the shading in the background is soft.  This is pretty characteristic of anime, though.  It's not a bad thing necessarily, but it's something that draws my attention.  There is more fluidity than most anime films, but even though I know it was animated at twenty-four frames per second, it still has that very anime-esque feel to it of not having very much movement.  I think the lack of lip movements really adds to that feeling, too.  Also like a typical anime, the characters' mouths mostly just flap when they speak; they are not actually drawn in such a way that it looks they are articulating the words they are speaking.  That to me is a mark of real animation.  Just drawing the mouth lines moving...anyone can do that.  It definitely is a beautiful film, but the actual animation seems to be lacking in some way.  In any animated film, the animation is what impresses me most.  Anyone can make a beautiful picture.  It's how you make that picture move that defines truly beautiful animation, and I cannot rate this as truly beautiful animation.  Beautiful imagery, for sure, though.


I love that sun and the grass.

Great detail.

Astounding detail.  This is really impressive.  I only wish that Howl and Sophie blended in better.








I find this to be just lovely.  Nice light rendering.
Sound: Excellent sound quality.  Everything is crisp and clear.  Music is very good.  Not memorable, but it fits very well and sounds full.  Voices (the original Japanese voices) fit each character very well.  I never felt like any of the voices were grating or didn't seem to match their characters.  Acting was also very well-done.  None of the voices stood out to me in particular, though.  Sophie's voice actor, Chieko Baisho did very well as both her young and old counterparts.  I also really liked Howl's voice actor, Takuya Kimura.  Otherwise, I do not have any huge praise to give any of the voice actors individually.  They all did very well.

Story: The story is very confusing and actually kind of boring.  It's very interesting in the beginning, but then it starts to lull and drag, which can make you easily forget what is going on, and then you might get to the end and have no idea what you just watched.  The story is also kind of pretentious.  The trailers and synopses suggest that the story is about Sophie trying to break the curse of old age that has been placed on her, but that story, which is definitely most interesting, falls secondary to the story of Howl's interference in the war and how he tries to stop it.  You are introduced to one thread in the beginning, but then it changes so drastically that at the end, you're wondering what exactly happened to that first thread.  Just how did Sophie change back into a young woman?  Why is her hair white now?  These things aren't really explained, only heavily implied, which requires multiple viewings to really get what is going on, but it's not really interesting enough to warrant multiple viewings.  It's by no means a bad story.  I mean, I guess it's a good story overall, but it could've been shortened and maybe explained a little better.  The characters are not particularly interesting.  They're all fairly flat and ordinary, even the main characters Sophie and Howl.  The most interesting characters are probably the Witch of the Waste and Calcifer.



Eh...I don't love the way the rain looks here, especially the grey lines around the characters.  It kind of cheapens it.

Personal appeal: I don't hate the movie, but I don't like it.  I've seen it a few times just to make sure that my opinion of it is the same, and every time, I am bored.  Yes, it's pretty, but it's not worth two hours of boring and confusing plot points, especially since the characters engaging in those plot points are pretty boring themselves.  This film is unbelievably pretentious, too.  It's really trying to drive a lesson home about the evils of war, and I find that to be exhausting.  If it had focused more on Sophie's character and her journey as a character, that probably would've made a much more interesting movie.  I also would've loved to see more dynamics in Sophie and Howl's relationship as they never seemed to have any chemistry.  I also don't really understand Howl at all.  He needed a lot more development.  Overall, I acknowledge that it is a lovely film, but I have no desire to ever watch it again.  I'm sure I will watch it again, but it certainly won't be my idea.


Overall, I give this movie three out of five peridots.  It is pretty from a visual perspective, but lacking from an animation perspective, and story-wise, it drags and drags and is just not that interesting.  I can still see why so many like it though, and I would honestly call it a good movie.  I just don't personally like it very much.

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