Monday, November 9, 2009

who knew a walking scrap metal heap could be so awesome?

image source: Crazy little planet called Earth
Yesterday afternoon, when I should have been working on my 15-page paper on Judaism, death and the afterlife, or studying for my Ottoman Empire exam, I decided to watch a movie. I settled on Hayao Miyazaki’s film Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones. I’ve seen it before, and knew that the characters- the females especially- dressed in Victorian-esque clothing even though the story takes place in a fictional time and place. The soldiers, however, wear uniforms more reminiscent of WWI military uniforms. After I posted about Steamboy a while back, however, Barbara told me that Howl’s Moving Castle had many steampunk elements in it. I had never really made the connection, even though I only saw it for the first time shortly before I started this blog. Blame it on the hair color.

Especially considering that I found the movie bloody confusing the first time around because I worked on something else while I watched it, so did not pick up on the nuances of the story, I thought it’d be worth a second viewing.

I wasn’t disappointed. This movie is excellent. It tells the story of Sophie, a shy, timid, humble girl who gets mixed up in the romantic troubles of the wizard Howl and is transformed into an old hag by the Witch of the Waste, a former rejected lover of Howl’s. She travels to the Waste to find a way to break the spell on her and ends up in Howl’s castle, a giant industrial-looking clunker of a walking castle powered from steam created by Calcifer, the fire demon who lives in the hearth of the castle. Sophie strikes a deal with Calcifer: if she can find out a way to break the pact that ties Calcifer to Howl, then he’ll help her break her old age spell. She agrees and takes up residence in the castle, becoming Howl’s cleaning woman. A series of events ensue in which the immaturity and cowardice of Howl, especially in running away from his troubles and avoiding responsibility, are demonstrated in the backdrop of a total war between two of the kingdoms.

The war that becomes one of the major conflicts of the movie (no pun intended) and introduces the viewer to many fantastic machines, especially huge flying battleships and smaller planes for the quick transportation of a person or two. In the streets of the fictional cities of Kingsbury and Porthaven are steam-powered automobiles, omnibuses and trains. Howl’s castle emits steam whenever it has to move as well from its operation, walking on what appears to be chicken legs.

The storyline is terrific. There are memorable characters, magic, beautiful scenes and animation throughout, and an unlikely heroine who is neither particularly attractive, brave or witty, but she's intelligent and is able to kindle the affections of the characters around her as she is, as well as the viewer.

The buildings in the cities look like Alsatian buildings. Wikipedia says that the French /German border town of Colmar provided the inspiration for the buildings. That excites me because I’ve actually been to Colmar, about 4 years ago.

 Compare a movie still from Twenty-Sided to one of my photos of Colmar:

Next time you’re looking for a story with a rather complicated plot, memorable characters and wonderful animation, check this film out.

1 comment:

  1. Thumbs up on posting those two pictures at the end. Had you not, I would have asked you to. Haha.

    I've never really been able to get into anime for whatever reason, but it's interesting to me that even though this movie has really nothing to do with victorian times, their influences are so apparent. Why do you think that is?
    Nice catch. I'd like to see other movies discussed.