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Howl's Moving Castle

Went to see Howl's Moving Castle (the subtitled version) last night at the Phoenix, despite the hideous cold and the loooooong day. It was certainly worth going to see, if only because, having read the book, I was curious to see how it would translate into anime. But definitely odd.

Overall, the film had most of the episodes, characters and plot elements that the book does, but they had been put together in such a different way that the effect was rather like looking at a familiar scene through a warped stained-glass window. Or perhaps like one of those things in the Times where they take a familiar English idiom, and put it through Babelfish a couple of times, to get something like 'They cannot inform an old dog of new turns'.

This isn't surprising when you take a story written for British children by a quietly imaginative and wickedly humorous Welsh woman and turn it into an anime film, though. The changes do have their own kind of charm, and I found the visualisations of the kingdom of Ingary really delightful.

My big difficulty, though, was the character of Howl. In the book, he's endearing because, despite being rakishly good-looking and a powerful wizard, he's also very young and uncertain of himself. In fact, he's basically a troubled teenager (although supposed to be in his 20s). He's sulky, self-absorbed, thoughtless, directionless, undisciplined, cowardly, vain and lazy. Yet he's also spontaneously kind and generous and secretly unhappy about his own short-comings. And alongside all that, he's very human and vulnerable: he gets drunk, he has a cold, he argues with his family, he gets frustrated, upset or afraid. And all of this is both why Sophie (and a high proportion of DWJ's female readers) falls in love with him, and, more importantly, why she doesn't realise she has until almost the end of the book

In the film, this complex cocktail doesn't come across at all. Film!Howl just seemed like something out of a slightly unsettling fairy tale, and certainly not human in the least bit. He throws some of the same moods as book!Howl, but they're meaningless - they don't add any extra depths to his character, but are just things he does, which are forgotten the next minute. And Sophie is bowled over by him after their first meeting! She may be slightly scared of him at times in the film, but never annoyed or exasperated with him, and so again it seems vapid and meaningless when they fall in love, rather than the cumulation of a long drawn-out process of development for their two characters.

In the end, the most important thing the film did for me was to make me go home and start reading the book again. I'd always meant to anyway, because I've yet to encounter the DWJ book which didn't reward at least one re-reading. Not perhaps quite what Hayao Miyazaki may have intended. But no complaints here.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
white_hart
Oct. 2nd, 2005 07:09 am (UTC)
I'm not sure I want to see the film at all; I love the book too much, and have never got into anime, and I just can't see it working.
strange_complex
Oct. 2nd, 2005 09:06 am (UTC)
I knew my curiosity would never let me miss it altogether, so decided I might as well get out there and embrace it. Also, although I wouldn't exactly call myself a major anime afficionado, I do find it reasonably appealing. Anyway, this film isn't particularly anime-esque - it could pass for a Disney film with slightly Japanese-looking main characters, and indeed Disney seem to be distributing it in the US.

But yes, indeed - if you're less than enthusiastic about anime, and really keen on the book, I'd say you're probably right to avoid it. There are some pretty serious travesties committed with the plot, to say nothing of my rant about Howl's character, above. Wales completely and utterly drops out of the equation, for one thing - the black blob on the door seems to lead to some kind of dark, freaky bird-land, which is straight out of the anime tradition, and, needless to say, nothing whatsoever to do with the world of Diana Wynne Jones. Also, Sophie completely loses one sister, and has very little to do with the other, the scarecrow is a friendly little sprite whom Sophie isn't in the least bit afraid of, while the Witch of the Waste is reduced to a loveable old lady by about half way through the film.

It's basically a completely different story, but one which is disconcertingly made from the pieces of DWJ's book, stuck together in a way which is somehow all wrong...
angeoverhere
Oct. 2nd, 2005 08:57 pm (UTC)
I was looking forward to hear what your take on it might be: it sounds like it's more that Miyazaki has borrowed some elements of a DWJ book and made his own thing from it, rather than adapted it as such.

Certainly his Howl fits well with how *he* does magicians: powerfull, odd, scary, and no, not very human at all.

Will try and hunt down the book to read at some point - sounds like approaching them as different things is a good idea.
strange_complex
Oct. 2nd, 2005 09:14 pm (UTC)
Gosh, how did I completely miss your post about it? Sorry about that - I blame hecticness at Warwick... Have now gone back and read it.

It's interesting to hear that Howl fits with Miyazaki's other magicians - I don't have any previous experience of his films, so couldn't judge. Miyazaki's Howl is sometimes boyishly romantic. But that's as close as he gets to DWJ's Howl, and it isn't that close even then. I'm afraid I didn't fancy the animated Howl at all, but that's probably because I was too annoyed at how the charming personality of book!Howl (for whom I do have a soft spot, although I still prefer Chrestomanci - see icon) had been lost.

The film and book versions are certainly very different. The Miyazaki version of the story seems to have most of the same things happening in it as the DWJ version, but they've become part of an underlying framework which is so different that their meaning is completely altered. I'd highly recommend the book, anyway, whether you'd liked the film or not.
angeoverhere
Oct. 3rd, 2005 08:12 am (UTC)
I don't have any previous experience of his films

!!!!! Go rent Spirited Away, like, now!!!!
strange_complex
Oct. 3rd, 2005 08:27 am (UTC)
Aye-aye, Cap'n! *salutes*
kmazzy
Oct. 25th, 2005 03:12 pm (UTC)
oh dear. i just reread Howl in preparation for seeing the film and now worry i have done things the wrong way round. i am a big Hayao Miyazaki fan so i am sure i will love the film. but it sounds like i have to approach it with the understanding it's very different.
strange_complex
Oct. 25th, 2005 03:17 pm (UTC)
I'm sure that will make the film interesting in itself, as you'll be clear about what's been changed and can speculate about why and whether it's effective. If you like both book and director, you're pretty much certain to enjoy the film, but yes, it is different. I did go ahead and re-read the book afterwards, and it may as well have been a different story. But I did find that Miyazaki's visualisations had added some extra elements to the way I imagined the action of the story, and probably made me enjoy the book even more.
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