Published Jun 01, 2005This is the second anime in a year (after Steamboy) to feature a "steam punk future past" dealing with ominous militarisation. It's also the second one in a year to be largely terrible.
This time around, the Studio Ghibli folks give us a more pastoral vision, with a young and self-doubting British milliner being turned into an old crone by a witch. She wanders out into a grassy forbidden zone to meet a wizard named Howl and falls in love with him in the titular mechanised castle.
As the locals are having a war with parties unknown, there are some wilfully anachronistic war machines run by steam, as well as some fumbling synergy between the users of technology and the users of magic. But mostly there's a whole lot of tired Anglicised fantasy clichés, such as the girl who has to believe in herself, various demons/witches/grassy knolls and true love conquering all.
Where Steamboy was an insufferable go-go action machine for little boys, this is a saccharine and swoony romance for little girls - less stupid than the other film, but also less ambitious in design and intent. And though there's no denying the lack of cynicism that went into this production (Hayao Miyazaki's gentle direction is nothing if not credulous), its belief is in ideas as banal as the telephone directory and as exciting as a Ritz cracker.
Though I fear that Miyazaki diehards are going to want my head, even they shouldn't get their hopes up: this is nowhere near the league of walks down the weirding way like Spirited Away or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds.
The people who fall for this "sense of wonder" tripe are the lowest form of cinematic life, and I'm proud to not be one of them. (Disney/Buena Vista)