Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Hayao Miyazaki is currently one of my very favorite filmmakers. Not only do I consider him an heir of (and in some ways superior to) Walt Disney, but I also think he's the greatest fantasist creating for the screen. So I've been looking forward to his new film Howl's Moving Castle for many months. It was every bit as wonderful as I'd hoped.

I recently caught up with a couple of his key earlier films that were just issued domestically on DVD, Porco Rosso and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds (both excellent), so watching Howl my eye was drawn to the recurring imagery and themes: machinery vs. nature, pastoral European-inspired landscapes, clouds, flight, war vs. peace, magic, big buglike creatures, anthropomorphism (common in animation, of course), transformation, etc. All of these come into play in the new film, and yet somehow it forms a completely new story.

Many (including A.O.Scott) have started pointing out his predilection for spunky young heroines, but watching Howl I started thinking about how the heroines usually encounter a powerful and creative young hero who helps them but who ultimately needs their help. It struck me that Miyazaki may identify with the characters at least as much if not more than the heroines, that these wizards and pilots and princes may represent the artist, who needs the audience not for mere attention but in order to create something complete, whole. So that's my deep thought for the day.

One thing Red and I puzzled over after seeing the film is the way Sophie's age changes from moment to moment under her spell (not just from young to old but in between). I love the way Rosenbaum addresses this:
"Miyazaki, now in his mid-60s, has a refreshing and persuasive way of relating youth to old age and callowness to wisdom. Rather than presenting them succeeding each other and fighting for supremacy, he shows them coexisting peacefully. And he does this with characters so nuanced and real one keeps discovering new things about them at every turn.

A recent daylong reunion of my grammar-school class gave me back a few flashes of myself as a child. Howl's Moving Castle did the same thing, bringing back images from dreams I'd long forgotten -- dreams of distant lands and immense aerial vistas. I can't swear these were dreams I had as a kid, but it's irrelevant, because in some way we're always children when we dream. And as adults we're always rediscovering and revising our childhood -- which is related to why Grandma Sophie keeps recovering her 18-year-old self and then teaching that self a thing or two."

I'll have to pay closer attention to that idea next time I see it.

The image above is a Japanese poster for the film. It's interesting to see how different the posters are from country to country

The New Yorker ran a fantastic profile of Miyazaki a couple months back, essential reading. I can't find it online, but they have posted an interview with the article's author.

Rating: 4 out of 4 stars.

Stumbled across yet another film, Ripley Under Ground, aka Mr. Ripley's Return, that I'd like to see but which may not get a theatrical release or even (for all I know) a DVD release. I can't find any recent news about it, and Lion's Gate (which had acquired it) lists nothing about it on their site. Sometimes the system sucks.

Song: "Your Daddy Don't Know" by The New Pornographers (cover of a song by Toronto, which is in iTunes)



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