Hayao Miyazaki has something enigmatically enchanting for viewers in his latest animated adventure, Howl's Moving Castle.
His thoughtfully ambiguous creation is striking on the big screen with plenty going on when it comes to story and characters as the Academy-Award winning director of Spirited Away does not provide easy solutions nor tries to be transcendent.
This box-office bonanza in Japan has been translated into English from the direction of Disney's Rick Dempsey and Pixar's Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.). They get some noticeable vocal work from distinguished actors - Emily Mortimer (Dear Fankie), Christian Bale (star of Batman Begins, Lauren Bacall (Birth), and Billy Crystal, now a hot attraction on the Great White Way.
Miyazaki doesn't mean to be testy in an intricate manner, but his ironic, painterly approach is reality at its most nuanced with a magical, chameleon power to boot.
It is hard to distinguish what is good and bad, but there are ordinary denizens who have witches and warlocks in their presence.
Bale voices the arcane titular character who'll stand up to his rulers in an unusual man-like contraption in a valiant way to bring peace to a kingdom. Mortimer intones teen hat shop worker Sophie with emotion as she is agingly cursed presumably for being infatuated with Howl.
This densely involving fantasy is spirited away in the challenge to face hard times when there's a sneaky witch (Bacall) with Blob Men and a temperamental, if congenial, fire demon (Crystal). There's an illusory fine line that Miyazaki is able to tread in baring his characters down to their souls. An odyssey that sometimes seems like a mobius strip, Howl's Moving Castle is a stunningly artistic journey, a worthy apprentice to Harry Potter and the Brothers Grimm.