Stone Bridge Press announces second edition of The Anime Encyclopedia

Feb 3rd 2006
'The Anime Encyclopedia,' that massive guide that arrived in
2001, is now getting a second edition for later this year! With
updated information and added reviews (just think of all that
anime from the last FIVE years), 'The Anime Encyclopedia 2' is
working its way through the editorial process, but here is a
sneak piece at a new review, which is the newly Oscar-nominated
'Howl's Moving Castle':

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE
- Eng. Release?: YES; (2004);
- Jpn: Howl no Ugoku Shiro
- Aka NONE
- Movie.
- Director/s: Hayao Miyazaki
- Screenwriter/s: Hayao Miyazaki
- Designer/s: Hayao Miyazaki
- Animator/s: Akihiro Yamashita, Takeshi Inamura, Kitaro Kosaka
- Music: Joe Hisaishi
- Prd: Studio Ghibli, Gonzo, T2, Production I.G, Mad House
- Dur: 119 mins

Plain, shy hat-maker Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste
to turn prematurely into an old woman. In search of a remedy, she
works as a cleaner for Howl, a handsome wizard who, it is
rumored, steals the hearts of young girls. Sophie brings a
woman's touch to a ramshackle bachelor household, edging her way
into the antagonistic world of Howl, his boy apprentice Markl,
and Calcifer, the fire demon, whom Howl has bound to the castle's
machinery to keep the power flowing. Meanwhile, Howl and several
of his pseudonyms are resisting a king's order to fight against
the wizards of a rival state. He contends with two women with
whom he seems to have a past, the Wicked Witch, whose fading
spells cause her to age and collapse into dementia, and Madame
Suliman, a government sorcerer who urges Howl to enter royal
service.

Hayao Miyazaki's adaptation of the novel by Diana Wynne Jones
adds several personal touches, starting with a wheezing comic-
relief lapdog. The wholly magical realm of the original novel is
given a more modern, steam-based technology, and a new subplot
about a distant war, fraught with mixed feelings that appear
rooted in Japan's role as bystander and beneficiary to the
invasion of Iraq. War breaks out over the search for an important
artefact - the infamous real-world "weapons of mass destruction"
transformed here into a missing prince, demands for whose return
lead to the background conflict. 'HMC' wrestles with the ideas of
duty and obligation, and how best to do the right thing in a
world gone wrong.

Flushed with international approbation for 'Spirited Away' and
Miyazaki's long-deserved Academy Award, 'HMC' was less a movie
than a national celebration. On its opening weekend 1.1 million
Japanese spent over $14 million - an opening surpassed only by
'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' (2001). Buena Vista
invested reverently in the English language adaptation, casting
the new 'Batman' Christian Bale, as the selfish Howl, and Billy
Crystal in a comic turn as Calcifer. The dub is also tied firmly
into America's film heritage with Jean Simmons as the aged
Sophie, and Lauren Bacall as the Witch of the Waste.

'HMC' is a charming film, visually inventive and magnificently
crafted. The castle itself is a fabulous creation, like a magic
mechanical version of Baba Yaga's Hut from Russian folklore, and
the settings are beautifully realized, with the wild mountains
and uplands handled particularly well. However, there is a
difference between an excellent film and an excellent Miyazaki
film. All film is a collaborative process, but in the best films
of a genius one finds a unique creative soul, a way of seeing and
showing that can be imitated, but not replicated. Other great
Japanese directors, given Ghibli's unrivalled resources, could
have made a movie very like 'HMC'; but no one else could have
made anything approaching 'Nausicaä.'

'HMC' was originally intended for another director until Miyazaki
stepped in, the legendary perfectionist seemingly unable to let a
good idea go to waste, even though he had supposedly retired. The
film's hidden message is Miyazaki's love letter to Akemi ôta, the
young, hard-working animator girl he married so long ago, a lucky
heroine who woke up one day to find herself a glorified scullery
maid to a self-absorbed creative, obsessed with distant battles
and otherworldly sorceries.

'HMC' sometimes appears more like the product of a committee
rehashing Miyazaki's glory days, heroines confronted by outsized
obstacles, contending witches and lead characters unwittingly
transformed. This problem may lie in the incorporation of the
ideas of other, younger colleagues into what has always been a
unique and sometimes an autocratic vision. Similarly, absolute
simplicity and innocence are hard to handle realistically - in
'My Neighbor Totoro' they work sublime wonders, but in 'HMC' it
leaves the characters alienated from the events around them, like
preoccupied children or the "little people" of 'Patlabor,'
ignorant of a big picture that is only apparent on repeat
viewings.

It may be a tribute to the original novel character, who fed on
the souls of besotted young girls, that Howl is Miyazaki's first
consciously beautiful male hero, who gets to have Miyazaki's
first full-on screen kiss, but he's also the first Miyazaki hero
to turn into a conventional father-figure by the end of the
movie. By the close of the film, the wild, magical creatures are
tamed into an image of a nuclear family. The magnificently
depraved Witch is a gentle granny mumbling in a sunny garden, the
resourceful Markl a kid teasing an old dog, and the fire
elemental a loveably grouchy Disney domestic appliance, as the
irresistible wizard steers his companion and the domesticated
castle into the happy-ever-after. Compare this with the ending of
'Princess Mononoke,' where San and Ashitaka agree to accept each
other's separate needs without compromising their love.

The major Miyazaki themes are still there - integrity,
consideration for others, the destructive power of war and greed,
ecological awareness, and the synergy of true teamwork. What is
lacking is a spark so unique it seems churlish to expect Miyazaki
to produce it, on demand, movie after movie; and the
supernaturally sure-footed sense of pace and timing that inform
his greatest works. 'HMC' is a detailed and generous answer, but
so caught up in its own complexity that it seems to have misheard
the question.

Find the original 'Anime Encyclopedia' at
http://www.stonebridge.com/ANIMECYCLO/animecyclo.html

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