July 06, 2005

Howl's Moving Showtimes

I had the treat of going to see "Howl's Moving Castle" this weekend. Of course, being a foreign cartoon, we had quite a time finding a theater that was still showing it, one week after it's limited release. After an Alpharetta theater pulled the 7:20 showing we were planning to attend, Melissa found the next closest theater was at the Cobb Galleria Mall, a good hour away. The theater was half full, mostly of adults, who possibly had a similar commute to see the film. Personally, I'd expect a wider US release for a film that broke an all-time box office record in Japan to take in $193 million. [ I think it was a real crime that this film was released so selectively. Most likely the somewhat violent scenes in "Spirited Away" made people think that Howl would not be suitable for children, despite its PG rating. ]

I have gushed previously about Miyazaki's films and how strong their imagery and narrative are. Seldom do you see a director with such a wide range of style and subject matter. While Howl's Moving Castle may not be every viewer's cup of tea, it is by far his most balanced and personal movie to date. For all the action and hocus-pocus, Howl is, at it's heart, a coming-of-age story about Sophie, an ordinary hat-shop girl in a fictional Victorian Europe. When a witch puts a curse on her that changes her into an old crone, she escapes the city to hide her new form.

Outside of the glaring oversight of a choppy frame rate in the opening scene, the animation is beautifully done and full of character. The story is the gem in the crown, as is usually the case with Miyazaki, with the tale of Sophie's blooming sense of self. As Japanese imports go, the story is easy to follow, with few exceptions. (This might be due to the film being based on the book of the same title.)

Recent Batman Christian Bale excels as the American-dubbed voice to Howl, capturing the calm, seductive tones of the charismatic wizard. But Howl is not your standard "bishonen" Pretty-boy leading man. As my wife suggests, Howl is possibly Studio Ghibli's first Metrosexual protagonist. Let's look at the evidence:
  • He wears dangly jade earrings, a pendant, and THIS CAPE.
  • "You're wearing that hat? After all the magic I used to make your dress pretty? "
  • "I don't want to live if I can't be beautiful!"
    To refute the evidence here, he has always been a ladies man, and there is a connection to Sophie that cannot be dismissed as a "Beard" relationship (see Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes). So he's a Hetero guy who doesn't mind looking pretty. You do the math.

    The supporting voice cast is excellent as well, with a notable performance by Lauren Bacall as the Witch. I was worried when I heard that Billy Crystal was cast as the fire demon Calcifer, expecting him to overblow the performance. However, Crystal exercised good restraint, and did an admirable job of allowing the character get the laughs instead of the actor.

    All in all, it was a great, uplifting film that will likely get a good treatment on DVD for the animation fans to enjoy.
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