If my husband asks, “Honey, do we have to watch cartoons at the film festival?” this year I am going to kick him in the nuts. Clearly, he still doesn’t understand that the imagery, audio effects and animation quality of animated films these days far surpasses movies for men who like movies.
All human boundaries are dropped in animation. What is impossible in the realm of man’s capability suddenly because possible, even plausible. There is real invention and imagination bursting from animated films’ incredible screenplays and plots. You don’t see Disney reproducing the old classics year after year—instead they’re creating more colorful and amazing stories to dazzle child and adult alike at the box office.
Which brings me to Howl’s Moving Castle. The Japanese cutting edge animation house, Ghibli Studios, has caught the fancy of Disney with this, their latest flick.
Ghibli is headed by Japan’s anime genius, Hayao Miyazaki, who’s no slouch. He did the screenplay and animation for both Princess Mononoke, which won the Japan Academy Award for best film, and Spirited Away, which surpassed Mononoke at the box office and won an Academy Award for Best Animated Film in the U.S.
While Pixar Studios has advanced the scope and popularity of digital animation in the United States, the Japanese have long been masters of anime films. Theirs is a stylized approach to animation, fine-tuned so it’s both high-tech and old school.
Classic anime films like Ninja Scroll and Ghost in the Shell show off both these qualities, but you may be more familiar with characters and stories like the fantasy shows Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon, both of which are shown on The Cartoon Network. Some anime takes the direction of Japanese history, like Ninja, while others take on a futuristic sci fi storyline like Ghost. A bit more underground anime borders on porn, taking cues from the risque yet ever-popular Japanese comic book styles of Manga.
Howl’s Moving Castle came out in Japan in 2004. It’s already won accolades like the Animation of the Year at the Tokyo Anime awards last month, as well as Best Director (Hayao Miyazaki) and Best Music (Joe Hisaishi) awards.
In other words, anime is way, way better than a kick in the balls. To the masterful Japanese animation, Disney’s added familiar and famous voices from Billy Crystal, Christian Bale, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer and Lauren Bacall. Miyazaki may not have written this story, but it’s based on a book by fantasy writer Dianna Wynne.
Howl runs with recognizable themes of war, familial piety, nature, coming of age and devouring of hearts. You can count on thick moral overtones, a tough-cookie heroine, dreamy aeronautic scenes and conflicts pitting mechanized industry against nature. Oh, and plenty of enchanting animation primarily drawn the old fashioned way, by hand.
Howl’s Moving Castle
Thursday, 5 p.m. at the Castle Theater, Maui Arts and Cultural Center. 119 min.
-By Jen Russo