This will be up soon on National Review Online, www.nationalreview.com.
Howl's Moving Castle
Every child's cartoon needs a villain, or better yet a villainess. Her colors are dark purple and black, she is of an uncertain age, and she wears a great deal of makeup. She may be statuesque and austere (Cinderella's wicked stepmother), or gorgeous and malevolent (Snow White's Evil Queen) or gross and malevolent (the Little Mermaid's sea witch), but one thing's for sure - she's gonna get hers in the end. We are encouraged to fear and hate her, and to relish her destruction.
We have an expectation of how things will go from here: Sophie will make lots of speeches displaying her spunky determination; the Witch will grow ever more threatening; at last there's a big noisy battle in which the Witch is satisfyingly destroyed, perhaps thrown screaming from a precipice. Ah, sweet catharsis.
But in a
And the Witch? Though this occurs moderately early in the movie, you might consider it a SPOILER; if you're worried about that, skip to the next paragraph. The Witch encounters a more powerful sorcerer, who strips her of a cloaking spell that has enabled her to look younger than her true age. The Witch is revealed to be a plump old lady with a bland, open face, bright eyes, and the vague smile of a baby. Sophie ties a cloth around her neck and feeds her pablum from a spoon. The Witch accompanies Sophie throughout the rest of the story, and often gives plainspoken good advice. She hasn't been turned into a "good guy," she's as selfish as any normal child. But she's become a believable mix of good and evil. Like most people in the audience.
Volumes could be written about the challenges a
Miyazaki's world is not one of moral ambiguity - far from it - but one in which perfect goodness is clearly located somewhere outside of individual, fallible human beings. There's "absolute morality," all right, but nobody can claim to have it down pat, not in our crooked little hearts.
He drives home the point by having some fun with the design of the title character. The wizard Howl is an impossibly gorgeous young man: a smooth, triangular face, huge, glistening blue eyes, flowing yellow hair, a pair of green jeweled drop earrings. It's a weirdly androgynous effect, recalling the sexy-glam 80's (did you see David Bowie in "Labyrinth"?). Guys who look like this are a staple of manga (Japanese comic books). Howl's appearance is in such sharp contrast to the simplicity of Sophie and the other characters that it seemed to me at first a mis-step, but it turns out to be a brilliant element of the plot. The anime fans in the audience, quicker on the uptake, burst into laughter at the mere sight of Howl in lingering close-up, his hair waving in an impossible slow-motion breeze.
Yet fans of "Princess Mononoke" (1997) and "Spirited Away" (2001) may find the story less satisfying; the plot is more contrived, more active and driven, but the big-impact elements have curiously little impact. A war is going on, but we don't know why, or whether to care. What would seem to be climactic moments turn out to be inconsequential, and the dramatic energy is oddly spent. It may be that, as with those earlier
_______________________________________________ Frederica-l mailing list *** Please address all replies to: [EMAIL PROTECTED] *** You can check your subscription information here: http://lists.ctcnet.net/mailman/listinfo/frederica-l