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Magic Trapped on the Printed Page

  • May 29, 2009
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Anyone who has seen the work of Hayao Miyazaki is familiar with his visual lyricism that is rife with metaphors. Ponytails being cut, hair changing colors and hidden names and identities are among the recurring elements in his brilliant animations. Fortunately, we don't always have know what these symbols mean in order to enjoy his films. But knowing does enrich the viewing experience.

The Art of Howl's Moving Castle is the book version of the DVD extras – and then some. Not only are we taken inside the mind of Miyazaki and his aesthetics, but also inside the mind of his staff of animators who help to realize his vision for the story.

If you found the movie to be magical, then the book is magic trapped on the printed page. The images are as lush and compelling as those seen in the movie. You'll get a peek at several character designs and backdrops that didn't make the final cut, as well as a detailed explanation behind the one's that did. More importantly, Miyazaki and his key animators spend time discussing the symbolic motivation behind certain character traits. Everything from considerations about color, mood and the subtle arc of the characters is discussed here. I was most impressed with the observation that the With of the Waste is not an "evil" character nor does she consider herself to be evil. This certainly comes through in the movie when you find yourself being endeared to the poor old woman who, despite her age, maintains her naughtiness. Many of the finer points discussed by the staff can be easily overlooked, even after several viewings. If for no other reason this book tells you what to look for so that the umpteenth viewing will feel like your first.

I wish books like this were done for so many other animés that I enjoy. Now that I've had a chance to read all of the interviews with Miyazaki's team I consider "Howl" to be a definite masterpiece.
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Hayao Miyazaki was born January 5, 1941 in Tokyo, Japan and is a prominent filmmaker of many popular animated feature films. He is also a co-founder of Studio Ghibli, an animation studio and production company.

He remained largely unknown to the West, outside of animation communities, until Miramax released his 1997 Princess Mononoke. By that time, his films had already enjoyed both commercial and critical success in Japan and Central Asia. For instance, Princess Mononoke was the highest-grossing film in Japan until Titanic (1997) came out a few months later, and the first animated film to win Picture of the Year at the Japanese Academy Awards. His later film, Spirited Away, had that distinction as well, and was the first anime film to win an Academy Award, topping Titanic in the Japanese box office. Howl's Moving Castle was also nominated but did not receive the award.

Miyazaki's films often incorporate recurrent themes, such as humanity's relationship to nature and technology, and the difficulty of maintaining a pacifist ethic. Reflecting Miyazaki's feminism, the protagonists of his films are often strong, independent girls or young women; the villains, when present, are often morally ambiguous characters with redeeming qualities.

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Anime, Hayao Miyazaki, Howls Moving Castle, Artbook


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