Took a couple of hours over the weekend to see Miyazaki’s latest US release. Having heard nothing about the film, except that it got four stars, and having never read the book, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’m a long time fan of NausicaƤ, though, so I expected it to be visually stunning, staunchly anti-war, and rather twisted from a US point of view.

It was visually stunning. The castle itself is clearly the Hut of Babba Yaga, and moves like a living thing. The flying sequences and shape-shifting transitions of the title character are clever, and very smooth. There is photo-realistic scenery that, by all evidence, is hand-painted.

It was staunchly anti-war. Unlike American films, it isn’t anti-this war, or that war, or whatever war it is in fashion to be against this week. It is flat out against all wars, everywhere, from and for all time. “There goes a battle ship… wow, look at all those bombs,” says Howl. Sofie asks him, “who’s side is it?” Which prompts the response, “it doesn’t matter, they’re all murderers.” I am no fan of war. The one in this film’s only purpose was flush out the title character to deliver his heart to a jealous witch. But, having picked my share of sides over the years, it does matter which one you’re on.

It was rather twisted from a US point of view. I don’t know how the same reviewers that thought As Good as it Gets was “unique and refreshing” could have even followed this one, never mind given it four stars. For fans of Japanese story telling, this film is a great break from the traditional conventions on which we were raised. For people who needed the flash-back sequences in The Big Hit in order to follow the film, don’t bother, you’ll only go home confused.