Domo Arigato

02-Feb-07 4:41 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 6 comments.

In seeking meaningful animated films, I was recommend to watch Howl's Moving Castle, a movie about a young wizard named Howl who roams the countryside in a quadruped mansion. When a storegirl is unprovokingly cursed to be four times her age, she seeks Howl's help in breaking the curse. Hilarity ensues.

I found much to enjoy about this film. Despite aging literally overnight, Sophie adapts to the role of a crotchety oldtimer amusingly well. More so than her and Howl's central performances, though, the supporting characters steal the show. A bouncing, mute scarecrow nicknamed Turniphead always lends a helping hand, imbuing himself with more personality than many spiky-haired protagonists. But it's Billy Crystal as a Muppet-like, hearthbound fire demon who's far more enjoyable than any of his screen brethren. His quirky, animated expressions, enthusiastic exclamations, and near-constant bemoaning of his situation are very much in character.

Howl wasn't a great film, though — just average… which still makes it one of the best anime I've ever seen. Yes, this film, published in America by Disney, is a product of Japanese animation and the eccentricity that is its hallmark. I'm sure I'll receive many a rotten tomato for this admission (sorry Arc — Alissa), but I've just never been able to penetrate or comprehend the genre.

It's not the animation style; of a recent bout of unemployment, 80 hours were easily consumed by the video game Dragon Quest VIII. And in the film department, it's not that I am choosing either obscure or poorly-received titles in my efforts to acclimate myself to anime, either. In 1997, I watched Akira. In 2001, it was Princess Mononoke. 2006: Steamboy and Spirited Away. These are all award-winning, well-hyped films, and the quality of animation and voice acting are undeniable. Nonetheless, I often simply don't "get" it. Princess Mononoke, I was later told, had a message about environmentalism that was over my head. Spirited Away was abstract to the extreme; I think I was watching a Japanese version of Alice in Wonderland, and once I figured that out, I turned it off.

There are elements of obfuscation even in Howl. For example, the country in which the story is set is at war — but with whom? Why? Maybe that's not important; what is, is that Howl finds the courage to fight in said war. Still, it would help define his character if we knew what he was fighting for — which leads me to the setting. Are these stories set in London? Japan? Wonderland? How does the prevalence of magic impact daily life? Can anyone wield it? How long has it been around? I don't know that my analytical mind can shut down to the degree anime requires.

Howl, at least, was an attractive and entertaining movie. But it hasn't convinced me of my potential to appreciate anime.

6 Responses to “Domo Arigato”

  1. Alissa adds:

    I don't fling tomatoes for freedom of speech! Plus, I completely agree that Miyazaki movies (and maybe even Japanese movies in general) are eccentric and sometimes confusing. Ben fell asleep when watching Howl. I love the movie because I really enjoyed the characters.

  2. Alissa adds:

    I meant, "I don't fling tomatoes, because I'm not against freedom of speech". ;)

  3. Ken Gagne adds:

    Dang! I was hoping I could find some semantical vulnerability to exploit. ;-) Nonetheless, I appreciate the fruit-free discourse. Some people may acknowledge my right to express my opinion, but not necessarily my right to HAVE it in the first place…

    I hadn't even noticed that Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle were all by the same writer and director. Thanks for the heads-up. Are there any other films or directors in the genre that you can recommend?

  4. RainbowDespair (Robert Boyd) adds:

    I just sent you a big email recommending several anime movies & TV series complete with descriptions. Here's a quick summary for readers of showbits:

    Read or Die – Superhero with the ability to manipulate paper!

    Grave of the Fireflies – Sad movie based on one boy's experience in WW2.

    Kino's Journey – Thoughtful 13 episode series. Like a more optimistic Gulliver's Journey.

    Serial Experiments: Lain – Young Lain receives an email from her classmate who had committed suicide the day before. Then it gets really weird.

    Azumanga – Very funny series about a small group of friends in high school. No plot, just lots of laughs.

    Monster – A drama/horror series about a surgeon who tries to clear his name.

    Oh and of the anime movies that you mentioned in your post, the only one I really liked was Princess Mononoke. Akira & Steamboy were pretty, but their plots bored me (so very similar to FF7: Advent Children in those regards). Spirited Away & Howl's Moving Castle were too random for me. Princess Mononoke, on the other hand, I thought was an excellent action movie (although a little slow in the middle) with great art & well designed characters.

  5. Alissa adds:

    Sorry, I'm slow..
    I really liked Tokyo Godfathers as a legitimate film, not just in the anime genre.

  6. Ken Gagne adds:

    Well, Rob, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt… Read or Die is, surprisingly, available from my public library. I'll pick it up as soon as it arrives at my local branch.