Howl's Moving Castle

This film has a lovely dream sequence that I think references the Cupid and Psyche story. Arguably, the idea behind the Ancient Greek tale is that lovers cannot resist prying into each others' inner psyches, but when they are fully revealed to one another, that love disappears. In the film, Howl follows Cupid in running away, but here it's because he is disgusted with himself -- his ugliness and also his cowardice. But love changes perceptions. It can make cowards into heroes, crones to maids. And I guess that is the point of the film.

But really, I'm clutching at straws. There is a LOT of stuff going on here, but little of it coalesced into something coherent by the end. The film as a whole had this feeling of drift. And it was resolved in this incredibly sudden, almost deus ex machina way. The motivation of the main villain remained inexplicable, and certain decisions by Howl also made little sense (why does he go and fight, when it causes his love so much distress?).

There are things the film gets right, of course. This is, after all, Miyazaki. The world-building is, as usual, astonishing. The setting has a kind of Prussian vibe, and the idiotic war being fought has the faint suggestion of the First World War, particularly conscription and arial bombing. Howl's creaking castle, on four mechanical chicken legs (reference to Baba Yaga?) and with its four-way door/portal, is a marvelous creation. You also get bee-like helicopter machines, shooting-star fairies, flying bat-wizards, the list goes on.

There are also brilliant storytelling flourishes. The way we are introduced to our protagonist Sophie, for example. How she reacts to her curse, both in the initial moments of realization, and in deciding what to do about it, is brought to life perfectly. It is such a shame that as the film goes on, the character slips from our grasp. While the film as a whole is erratically paced, certain segments build tension very effectively, using smash cuts to disorientate the viewer, or leave them hanging. There is also a repeated visual motif of stuff being obscured and revealed by mist or clouds (the film opens with such an image). A Cupid + Psyche metaphor, perhaps. Or the move from isolation to family, another theme that runs through the film.

So it's not an unenjoyable experience. But with an awareness of the kind of films Miyazaki is capable of making, it was a rather disappointing one for me. Too confusing, too aimless. It's a constellation of Miyazaki elements that doesn't unify into a whole that can be taken away, thought over and treasured. Not his best. In fact, it is the weakest one of his films I've seen.

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