Life isn’t worth living if I can’t be beautiful! – Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle - Official Poster - from

Howl’s Moving Castle – Official Poster – from

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki (screenplay), Diana Wynne Jones (novel)
Stars: Chieko Baishô, Takuya Kimura and Tatsuya Gashûin

My dad had raved about this film after he saw it. I thought I had seen it before but it turned out I hadn’t. I know realise why my dad ranted about how wonderful this film was. There is a charm and childish dreamlike quality to this film that brings the animated characters to life.

I wasn’t expecting anything brilliant from the film, but I really should have since I’ve seen Spirited Away and Ponyo. Howl’s Moving Castle is in the same style of Japanese animation that Hayao Miyazaki is renowned for and it has the same magical and quirky sense of mystery and wonder that his other films have. And I have to say, the best thing about this film is how the script and animation ground the magic in this film.  There are just utterly unreal moments in this film where a character will come out with the best lines. For example, our heroine, Sofi, has been transformed into an old woman by a witch’s curse and then leaves her town, meets a scarecrow with a turnip as a head that keeps following her and she casually says as they are about to part company: “It was a pleasure meeting you, even if you are my least favorite vegetable! Take care, Turniphead!” – Genius! Seriously, if you can’t love crazy old Sofi then there is something wrong with you. There are gems throughout this entire film which had me giggling hours after the film had finished.

Sofi is so down-to-earth and matter-of-fact about everything but with a childish sense of adventure that gives her character wholeness and depth that you don’t really see in animated films (or at least I don’t). Her world is simple, magical, random, and at some times just plain insane and yet she deals with it as anyone would in any other world. She is compassionate, kind, hardworking, strong, and determined. She keeps her youthfulness in her aged-form and it reminds me of how I want to be when I get old. I want to be that crazy old lady who has the passion and determination to go mountain climbing at 70 or to step out of a comfort zone even at the age of 80. I want to live life with the dignity and love that Sofi shows to everyone around her.

In comparison to Sofi, Howl is vain and cursed to be heartless, always seeking something more beautiful and more magical. And yet through their interactions you see his broken humanity come into full view as he fights to save the world he lives in and attempts to save the beauty that is left. For Howl, he must learn to put aside his desire for his own beauty and to seek a beauty for others. Miyazaki seems to weave this moral of nature and beauty in an unusual way, for he both condemns and applauds the search and fight for beauty. It is framed so it is the beauty within and the beauty around us that we are to fight for, not the physical beauty of our own appearance, which just tends to cripples and destroys us.

I love how an animated film like Howl’s Moving Castle can illicit dreams and passions that I know lie dormant when I step back into reality but that remind me that I do have the capacity to be fabulous and to live a life of pure passion and adventure. Living vicariously through film means finding myself in every story and being reminded of the wonder that the world holds, and that it is waiting patiently for me to step out into it and take the opportunities that are in front of me. The great things about films, all films whether documentaries, animations, surrealist or otherwise, they help us to live and dream and to envision a world with us as the protagonist. I shall take up my part in the story of my life and live as it were a film, scripted just for me.

A Unexpected Underdog – The Adventures of Merlin

Merlin - Poster from

Merlin – Poster from

The Adventures of Merlin (2008)

Creators: Julian Jones, Julian Murphy, Johnny Capps, Jake Michie
Stars: John Hurt, Colin Morgan and Bradley James

I wasn’t going to watch this show when it first started on TV but I ended up watching it, like everything I watch, because someone said I might like it and it had an Irish actor in it. So I started watching and then kept watching and haven’t stopped.

I was never very interested in magic, magicians, witches or anything like that as a kid and I totally missed the Harry Potter faze that most of my friend’s went through growing up. I was however a lover of the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Growing up I really enjoyed the Sword In The Stone and the tale of a poor young boy who was actually the King of Camelot, proven for his character more than his birth right. I love a good underdog story and so when I worked out that this was a King Arthur tale I was in.

Now from saying the above you would think that I would’ve been quite disappointed with the adaptation of Merlin, however the first episode really grabbed me because instead of Arthur being the underdog, it was Merlin. The character of Merlin and his noble cause of seeking to stand up for the rights of those who were undermined and disadvantaged was one that really appealed to me. The cheesy humour and character relationships didn’t hurt either.

Colin Morgan who plays Merlin is an outstanding young actor and his innocence, naivety, and compassion are abounding as Merlin. He brings a real earthiness and humility to the character which makes him a likable underdog. There is a fragility to his physique that makes him the perfect young wizard and also makes him believably strong in mind and heart. It is this heart of the character which is the core of this show. It is about how he struggles to help and protect those who cannot protect themselves and it is his battle with the arrogance of Prince Arthur (Bradley James) and his connection with him that helps create the conflict needed for the narrative.

The creators and writers of the show have really made the show develop and succeed through it’s twisting of the myth and although it holds the mythology well in it’s narrative there is also a lot more depth to it created by the conflict with the characters and the secrets of the past that come to light over the seasons. The playfulness of the the first season slowly becomes less prominent as the story continues and as more people turn evil, however it remains within the realm of “family entertainment” for the most part. The youthfulness of the lead actors and the growing up that they experience over the course of the show has made it appealing for both children and adults alike.

The latter seasons although a bit darker are also more interesting as the relationships between the characters develop. The rival of Morgana and Emerys (old version of Merlin, still played by Colin Morgan and is incredibly convincing as an old man, it’s actually a little concerning how well he acts this role, awe-inspiringly good acting) and the love between Arthur and Gwen start to give a new depth to the story.

The battle between good and evil continues and the wisdom to know the difference is something that drives the characters in this show as well as the idea of duty and responsibility which for our day and age is an interesting one to explore. We don’t have the same sense of duty as they did previously however this show deals with the subject in a balanced manner which shows both the ill and the blessing of fulfilling duty and destiny.

I really like this show for many reasons but mainly because of Colin Morgan’s superb acting in every episode. He is mesmerising on screen and brings Merlin to life in the best way possible. His compassion and strength as Merlin is gripping and his journey through the story is riveting.

This show isn’t for everyone, it is fantasy and can be a bit cheesy at points. It requires a bit of suspension of reality and you have to allow yourself to be taken back in time but if you can live with the fantastical nature of the show it is a beautiful show to watch.