Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #17

Re: Hayao Miyazaki

I have a request. Give Howl’s Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke another try! They’re much better movies than you give them credit for. I think you just have to let them grow on you. They may not as good as some of Miyazaki’s other movies (Spirited Away, Totoro), but still, the animation is exceptional and the stories and romances are very original. All three of these qualities are very rare these days. Furthermore, besides violence, language, and pagan references (mostly on the part of Mononoke), the material isn’t objectionable. I would think you would find them highly recommendable.

You said this about Howl’s:

And Howl’s Moving Castle is the only Miyazaki I’ve ever seen that (after a typically brilliant opening) outright disappointed me. His plots are often dreamlike and confusing, but here he seems lost and listless.

Could you explain exactly what you mean by that? What feels lost and listless about it? And even if you felt that way, is such a vague objection really reason enough to make you dislike such an imaginative film?

I’ll be reviewing Princess Mononoke in the near future. Howl’s I have already seen more than twice now (I watched it twice and then saw part of it again), and while I’m quite willing to watch it again, I don’t think my opinion of it will change any time soon.

I don’t dislike Howl’s, exactly. I just don’t find that it holds together. The characters don’t draw me in, especially Howl, who’s an angsty pretty boy, a tortured artiste who doesn’t know what he wants and doesn’t deserve Sophie’s attention. As one critic notes, he refuses to participate in the war, except when he leaves his castle every night to participate in it. What’s up with that?

The revelation of Turnip Head as the missing prince from the kingdom next door — a kingdom we didn’t know about, with a missing prince we didn’t know about — is a complete letdown, especially since the Prince is boring compared to Turnip Head (my six-year-old daughter was so disappointed when Turnip Head vanished), and we don’t even get the satisfaction of finding the prince we were looking for. The war theme is given short shrift; everyone agrees it’s pointless, and there’s no sense of how it got started, what it was fought over or who was to blame.

Spirited Away works in part because Chihiro’s quest has a shape, a goal: She needs to survive the bath house long enough to save her parents. Ponyo works in part because the central relationships are so winsome. Howl’s has individual scenes that work, and of course it’s gorgeous to look at. I love the walking across the air scene in the opening act. As soon as Sophie ages, though, I find that the film loses energy and direction and doesn’t know where to go.

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