4. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
I finally saw this film for the first time this past summer when I had some friends over for a movie night. For the longest time I kept confusing this film with Castle in the Sky (I think because they both had “castle” in the title), and now that I’ve seen it, I wonder what kept me from watching this film for so long!! It’s amazing! Howl’s Moving Castle is set in a land that appears to be early 20th century (think 1900- 1915 or thereabouts), but in an alternate universe where magic and wizards/witches are a regular part of everyday life. A young girl named Sophie (Jean Simmons) is stubbornly content to spend the rest of her life maintaining her late father’s hat shop (despite her sister’s entreaties to do something that SHE wants to do for herself) when she has two unexpected encounters: the first is with the incredibly handsome wizard Howl (who rescues her from two crude soldiers), the second is with the vain (and dangerous) Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall), who, in love with Howl (Christian Bale) herself, decides to curse Sophie out of jealousy and spite (because Howl is clearly attracted to Sophie). The curse transform’s Sophie’s body into that of a 90 year old woman (though I’m not sure if she’s actually aged or if she just LOOKS that way). As an added twist, the nature of the curse prevents Sophie from telling anyone about it (so she can’t simply say “The Witch of the Waste cursed me to look this way”) Determined to find a way to reverse the spell, Sophie sneaks out of her home and travels to the Wastes (the wilderness outside the city, where witches and wizards like to live). While there, Sophie is led to Howl’s moving castle, a huge building with legs that travels throughout the Waste (and really anywhere else Howl wishes to go). The building runs due to the magical power of Calcifer (Billy Crystal), a fire demon who obeys Howl because of a pact they made many years ago. Sophie ends up living in the castle along with Howl, Calcifer and Markl (a young wizard apprentice). There’s a huge adventure as Sophie and Howl work to stop the surrounding countries from destroying themselves in a huge war.
Miyazaki made this film partially as a response to the Iraq War (he did NOT approve of it) and it is one of my favorite films period.The moving castle is beautifully rendered, and the animation is stunning. You will definitely love Billy Crystal’s performance as Calcifer by the way.
5. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of my favorite kinds of stories: a young girl striking out on her own for the first time. It’s the type of adventure I love reading (and watching) so naturally I enjoyed it very much. Kiki is a witch (with a magic broom and everything) who, as part of her training, must spend a year on her own while she learns what type of witch she should be (some are fortune tellers, some make healing potions, etc.) Accompanying her is her black cat Jiji, a smartmouth kitty but very devoted to Kiki. The young witch finds a home and establishes a delivery business with a bakery (the owner of said bakery took her in and gave her a place to stay). But while living in the city, Kiki begins to have an identity crisis and her magic is slowly slipping away. First she can’t understand her cat anymore, then she can’t fly on her broom! If Kiki can’t figure out what’s wrong soon, can she even be a witch anymore?
This film has some great advice when it comes to dealing with forms of “writer’s block” and how to discover who you really are. And I LOVE Jiji!!!! Especially in the first flight with Kiki, he’s hysterical (figuratively and literally).
6. Castle in the Sky (1986)
I admit, a big reason I watched this film originally was because I’d heard Mark Hamill would be providing one of the voices (this is before I became familiar with his work as a voice artist, particularly in Batman: The Animated Series). I’m fairly certain this is the first Miyazaki film I saw any portion of, but it’s been so long ago now that I don’t remember most of it. I DO remember the floating castle in the sky though, I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. With the holidays coming, I’m really hoping that I can finally add this gem to my collection.
Still to be watched:
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984): I just acquired a copy so expect an update in the next few days/weeks
Spirited Away (2001): Hard as it is to believe (given how popular this film is), I have never actually seen Spirited Away, but I promise it is at the top of my list for movies I need to get a copy of.
Porco Rosso (1992): This one just came to my attention. It sounds funny, so hopefully I can see it sometime in the next year 🙂
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