Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
viewed: 03/24/06

I’ve been really busy with this 19th Century Mystery class that I am taking, in which I am reading about 500 or more pages a week and I just haven’t had much time to see movies lately. Oddly enough, for the first film that I have watched in two weeks, I ended up seeing one that I have already seen. Well, that’s the way it goes!

Anyone that knows me knows that I revere Hayao Miyazaki and his films. I honestly think that he is the greatest thing to ever happen to feature-length animation. Spirited Away (2001) is probably his masterpiece, and that is saying a lot because he has several excellent films that are unique and amazing taken on their own. I think, however, that Howl’s Moving Castle is getting a little of a short-shrift from many viewers because it comes in the wake of his best film. To say that it’s not as good as it’s most recent predecessor is not really a great insult. Unfortunately, it’s not taking the film on its own merits.

Easily, the first 90+ minutes of the film is as rich and beautiful and imaginative of any of his work. The castle, the fire demon, the Witch of the Waste, the scarecrow, the landscapes, are all greatly inventive and gorgeously rendered. I think it’s an interesting twist to have his typical female protagonist, Sophie, be turned into an old woman, a site of play with the narrative.

My only criticism would be that the story does kind of wind itself up rather quickly at the end, with stuff like the scarecrow being so fast that it doesn’t really have much impact. With that one exception, I think it’s a great film. If you feel like it, click here to see my initial reaction to the film.

I don’t buy DVD’s really. I have gathered some mainly to give my kids something to watch that I approve of and which doesn’t have commercials constantly barraging them. I would easily acquire Miyazaki’s entire catalog for this purpose, without a doubt.

Memories of Murder


Memories of Murder (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. Joon-ho Bong
viewed: 03/08/06

Until earlier this year, I don’t know if I’d ever seen a Korean film before. Now I have been on a bit of a Korean film bender. Memories of Murder was recommended and loaned to me by some friends. I guess that it had been a huge film in Korea as it is based on a notorious series of serial killings in a small-town in the 1980’s.

The film is a weird mixture of drama and comedy, with the bungling local cops tromping all over clues and the crime scene, people sliding down hills, and police brutality that is so over the top that it is comedic. All said, the comedy is couched in an overall somber mood. Director Joon-ho Bong uses long shots of the countryside to set some of the pacing, and as the murderer only strikes in rainstorms, there is a physical darkness as well.

There seems to be some cultural references to events of the period, riots, etc. that I don’t really have any ability to understand. This seems in some ways to comment upon the period of its setting.

The character of Detective Park, the main detective from the town, seems to be the location of perspective. He doesn’t know what to make of things. He tries to solve things with hackneyed coerced confessions and planted evidence. The corruption is taken at such face value that it seems instilled.

It’s an interesting film.

Save the Green Planet!

Save the Green Planet! (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. Jun-hwan Jeong
viewed: 03/09/06

My little Korean film fetish may have run itself out on this film.

Recommended by a friend (and by Netflix), I didn’t know much about this film. Though it scores some points for bizarreness, this black comedy is a pretty mixed bag, in my opinion. This crazy guy kidnaps his former boss, saying that he is a space alien who communicates telepathically through his hair. This has potential.

The comedy is largely pretty broad, but the film is very dark. The main character has been abused and mistreated throughout his life, suffering many tragedies that perhaps lead to “explain” his mania. There is something oddly depressing about this story, really. It’s sad.

One of the things that has struck me about the Korean films that I have seen this year is a common thread of social consciousness. References to cultural events and psychological bases for characters’ motivations seem prevalent in all of them. I wish that I knew a little more cultural history to understand it a little more.

Tony Takitani

Tony Takitani (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. Jun Ichikawa
viewed: 03/04/06

Tony Takitani is adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami, the very popular Japanese writer. I have read a couple of his books and have liked them. So, this seemed like an interesting film to see and it had a pretty decent buzz around it, though it’s moderately obscure, I think.

The film takes an interesting approach, narrating the entirety with voice over. In many shots, the camera is still, often in close up, and the story unwinds in slow-motion almost. It’s paced very slowly and the static narrative qualities limit its range quite a bit. I mean, this approach ties in with the character of Tony Takitani, a man with limited ability to relate to people or even the need to relate to people. There is a simplicity to it that is not wholly unlikeable.

That said, I found it pretentious and boring. A little too in love with the narrative language of the written word and while a decent experiment in cinematic narrative approach, it was stretching it even at only 75 minutes. I feel a little weird criticizing it, since I tend to appreciate non-traditional narratives. This film just didn’t work for me.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) movie poster

(1985) dir. Tim Burton
viewed: 03/04/06 Found with some looking in an old box of videos was a copy of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure that I had found many years ago for $5 or something — an old video store copy sent for the glue factory. I have had a fondness for the film, as well as other Tim Burton works (mostly his earlier stuff). These were back in the days when I actually bought videos. I don’t do that anymore really. Very rarely, anyways. But I had been teasing my son that he danced like Pee-Wee Herman and I felt maybe it was about time to show him what that jibe meant.

The film still holds up for what it is. There is an incredibly low-budget quality to it that sort of redeems its “plot”. I mean, there is the plot that Pee-Wee’s bicycle is stolen and he has to find bike. This, of course, takes him on a road trip to the Alamo. I think it’s probably most fun to work with this film in genre, like that of the road movie.

This time, many years since I had last seen it, I was really struck by the sexual identity of Pee-Wee. I mean, I am assuming that most readers are familiar with the sexual indiscretions of Paul Ruebens, the real-life counterpart and his ultimate fall from fame to infamy that he took. Maybe that adds a layer of sexualization or intensifies that mode of viewing in this film, at least nowadays.

Pee-Wee reads as largely asexual. Dottie, his bike store friend, a cute young girl played by Elizabeth Daily (who I have always had a fond spot for), actively seeks a date with Pee-Wee. On more than one occasion he tells her that he is a “rebel” and a “loner” in a mock-serious way that ultimately gets him out of the situation. Another time, he fakes phone-static to pretend he can’t hear her asking him out. In the end, when he acquiesces to a date with her, they are both on their own bicycles, in a very platonic pose.

His appearance, as the classic 98 lbs. weakling is also heavily patted with make-up, both foundation and lipstick. While not feminized, per se, there is an effeminate quality to him.

In one scene, he disguises himself as a woman, with the escaped convict posing as his husband. Pulled over by a police officer, Pee-Wee is ogled and admired as a female. Upon returning to the car, Pee-Wee leans in flirtatiously with the convict, gleefully playing in his “role”.

I don’t know enough about the character or the man to posit exactly what is being intended, though I reckon it’s more playfully ambiguous that clearly codified.

As a film, I still enjoy it, though it’s in many ways a series of gags strung together over a thin plot. Lots of the gags are still funny. The dance sequence is pretty classic. I found myself recalling and waiting for certain moments to unfold as I remembered them and enjoying the punchlines when they came. It’s still pretty fun.