CFS takes an animated look at struggle

Claire Mitchell

In many of the films screened by the Cultural Film Series this semester, the audience has been able to observe a protagonist endure an intense struggle of the spirit that gradually manifests itself through the deterioration of the body. This recurring theme offers proof that torments of the body and soul are inseparable. One can see this complex relationship between the physical and spiritual self within Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated film, “Howl’s Moving Castle.” Yet, one must ask if it is possible to find the existence of a spiritual struggle in such an enchanted and fantastical world of fire-breathing demons, aging witches and bouncing scarecrows. According to Miyazaki, it most certainly is.

“Howl’s Moving Castle,” which is based on a children’s novel by British author Diane Wynne Jones, can in no way be considered simply a film for children. The audience is introduced to characters and themes that strike rightto the core of the human struggle. We first encounter Sofi, a plain and seemingly ordinary teenager who shies away from the rest of society. However, after being entrapped in an old woman’s body because of a witch’s spell, it becomes apparent that she is anything but ordinary. In order to free herself from this curse, she must seek out the debonair, yet mysterious wizard, Howl. As she travels through space and time, Sofi begins to uncover secrets about Howl’s identity, as well as her own inner strengths of confidence and courage. Her journey becomes one of adventure, heroism and self-discovery.

Along the way, Sofi meets several interesting characters who all have something in common – they have all been struggling with the effects of a magical spell. As a result of these spells, their spiritual and physical nature gradually begin to weaken. Miyazaki parallels the characters’ internal deterioration with the decay of civilization through depictions of war and violence. In this film, Miyazaki presents his characters with the challenge to overcome the forces of evil that are acting upon their spirits. It is the power of love, kindness and compassion that serves as a rejuvenating force to end the obstacles that Howl, Calcifer and even the Witch of the Waste face.

Since the release of Miyazaki’s 2003 Academy Award-winning film, “Spirited Away,” he has gained quite a large following. The complexity of his characters and stories, the surreal beauty of his imagery and his ability to transform animation into art have captivated audiences around the world. Miyazaki has been able to explore the realm of sophisticated animation in order to express deep emotions, moving tales and important messages. He is able to draw a connection between the plausible and the impossible, the real and the whimsical. “Howl’s Moving Castle,” as well as his other films, expose the audience to not only the beautiful, but also the brutal, by the interposition of scenes depicting peaceful meadows and violent bombings. His style of animation acts as a catalyst for reflection about the internal battles within the self and the broader struggles of the world.

Although the ninth feature in the Cultural Film & Lecture Series’ spring 2006 roster was originally released in Japanese during 2004, an English-language version was also prepared. This version features well-known Hollywood performers such as Christian Bale as Howl, Lauren Bacall as the witch and Billy Crystal as a friendly fire-breathing demon named Calcifer.

It will be screened four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday, April 8, at 7 p.m., Sunday, April 9 at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday, April 10 at 7 p.m. Admission is $3.50 for students with ID and $5 for everyone else. The Monday showing only will feature guest speaker Joe Ansolabehere, a Hollywood producer, who will provide an intro to the film and lead a discussion afterward.

For more information call the communication department at x9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS web page: