It seems Japan is the country of mention when it comes to film these days. Not only have they produced some of the best horror films of the last decade (see Ichi the Killer and Ringu) but they’ve made some of incredibly imaginative animated films as well.
The most well known animated director is a man named Hayao Miyazaki. A few of his films to make it over the pond are Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and most recently Howl’s Moving Castle.
Most of his films live in a fantasy world where mysterious, enchanting creatures roam freely with humans in a land where time seems to have escaped. People use modern conveniences along with ancient methods of living. There is usually a small, weaker protagonist up against massive odds.
In Howl’s Moving Castle, a young, unconfident girl, named Sofi has a spell cast upon her by an evil witch causing her to appear as an old woman. As this woman, Sofi gains some confidence and takes off for the moving castle which wanders through the countryside.
In it, she meets up with a young boy, a demon living in the body of a constant fire, and Howl himself. Howl is a wizard himself, who has nearly slipped into oblivion over self doubt. He does, however, slip out of his castle to help stop a war going on between his own country land and another.
It is a moving story of characters finding their own character and becoming strong human. It is told in a creative, beautiful way and is truly a cartoon means just as much for adults than children.
Miyazaki creates animated features that are fit for the whole family in a way that is entirely different than those films from American companies like Pixar. Films like Toy Story appeal to all ages in that they are hilarious to everybody. The jokes hit on kid levels and adult levels without ever becoming saccharine or too mature. I love Pixar films, but Miyazaki films are so incredibly different.
There is humor in his films, but it comes from a very human place. In Howl’s Moving Character the only really jokey character is the demon fire, and that mainly comes from the fact that Billy Crystal does the English voice for the character. Mostly, there aren’t a lot of jokes as much as humor that comes from the situations.
It is more of a fantasy than a comedy, with fantastic characters and mesmerizing animation. Fully and highly recommended for anyone.