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

Howl's Moving Castle - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Howl’s Moving Castle – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

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.

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Fantasy in the real world – Dollhouse

Dollhouse - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Dollhouse – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Dollhouse (2009-2010)

Creator: Joss Whedon
Stars: Eliza Dushku, Harry Lennix and Fran Kranz

I have recently become a little obsessed with Joss Whedon’s work. After falling in love with Firefly and then The Avengers, I’ve now taken up the task of watching his body of work. (Although I may skip most of Buffy as vampires have never been my thing). I first heard about Dollhouse from a couple of my nerd friends who were having an Avengers marathon at the time and were talking about Whedon’s work. I put off watching it for a while as I didn’t really know that much about it. And then I got sick last week. And I watched the entire first season in two days. Oh my word. Joss Whedon is a genius. No really, there is nothing this guy can’t execute brilliantly.

Dollhouse is based on the premise that there is a exclusive, secret organisation that fulfills people’s fantasies through the use of “actives” or “dolls”. These dolls are people that have volunteered for the program for five years, had their memory wiped, and are imprinted with another person’s traits, abilities, characteristics, desires, etc, in order to fulfill the fantasy of the client. It sounds weird, it is, and it is fraught with ethical dilemmas. Whedon knows this and explores this in a really interesting way throughout the show.

Our journey in Dollhouse is centred around Echo, or Caroline, played by Eliza Dushku. She is one of the best dolls in the dollhouse and the story follows her life in the house and on jobs with clients. She has the ability to adapt in the imprint though and this unpredictable nature of Echo brings her under closer inspection. It is through Echo that we see the world of the dollhouse as what it is and what it does. I came to really love and care for Echo as she was tormented with the half-remembering of her past and the passion to find what really happened to her. It is characters like Echo that is the reason I love this kind of show. It has a unique ability to transport you into the world and to question what you know about your own world. It harnesses the power of the unknown and gives you a glimpse into how the pure can be corrupted. It transports desperation into peace, all with the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach of knowing that it isn’t quite right. And it grabs you and pulls you along for the ride through each episode with the excited and nervous anticipation of what will become of these people.

Maybe that’s just me, maybe I get too involved in TV characters and the worlds writers create for me to escape into, but I do love it. I live vicariously through them as they do things I would never do, things I wish I could do, and things I know I would love to do. And then when each episode ends I long to return with them into their world, to be one of them, and to experience life in a dramatic and exciting way. But as I pull back from that world and the main titles fill my screen I’m brought back to the fact that I am sitting on my couch, sick and tired, and that the world I’ve been transported into is not real and that I would much prefer where I am to the bruises and ethical dilemmas that the characters experience in that world. I suppose that is why I love TV so much as well, because you can escape that world when you need to. If only it was the same for life sometimes. And maybe that’s why Dollhouse has grabbed me so much, because the dolls live in an escaped world, where they experience something and then come back from the real world to their haven of tranquility to forget and escape the horror of the real world. Is it the same for entertainment? Is entertainment our haven?