Well, I just watched the latest Miyazaki film, “Howl’s Moving Castle” (“Das Wandernde Schloss”) and I have a few early observations…
(I am not going to review the film in the usual sense. If you have not seen this film and other Miyzaki films this will make little sense. And there are spoilers.)
I was a bit disappointed. I don’t think that “Howl’s Moving Castle” is one of Miyazaki’s best films. But even as a mediocre Miyazaki film it kicks ass on almost all other feature-length animation films.
OK, that needs some clarification. The story is just not up to what I have come to expect from Ghilbi Studios. Wait, that’s not it, really. I mean my favorite Ghilbi film is “Totoro” and that has almost no story at all. No, I think it is that the story is too disjointed. It really is difficult to follow the narrative here. Which is something of a shame because the film has beautiful imagery and well defined characers. The castle itself as well as the towns and villages in the story even have character status. And particularly in the case of Sophie as an old woman, we get character development. But I didn’t always get a clear sense of what drove her development.
But again, this has to be taken in a relative context. “Howl’s Moving Castle” IS a Miyazaki film. Maybe I just didn’t allow myself to be completely lost in his world. I’ll let you know what I think after a while, when I watch it again.
Well, it is more than just the music.
As anyone from my generation will know, this post shares its title with a Warner Bros. cartoon. The cartoon, from 1957, is a spoof of Wagner’s â€œRingâ€ operas. It was directed by Chuck Jones and stars Elmer Fudd (singing â€œKill the Wabbitâ€ to the tune of â€œThe Ride of the WalkÃ¼resâ€) and Bugs Bunny (in drag, of course, as BrÃ¼nhilde). I am pretty sure that this cartoon was my first exposure to opera. As I child in the 1960’s I spent a fair amount of time watching cartoons on TV and must have seen â€œWhat’s Opera, Doc?â€ dozens of times. However, as good as it was, it didn’t trigger an interest in other operas.
As the years passed I discovered concert music but the few times I had tried listening to opera recordings I had been, well, underwhelmed. By the late 1970’s I had traded the TV for the Camera One, a movie theater in my home town that showed foreign and classic film. In 1975, Ingmar Bergman filmed his version of the Mozart opera â€œThe Magic Fluteâ€ (â€œTrollflÃ¶jtenâ€ in Swedish, original German title â€œDie ZauberflÃ¶teâ€). By chance, I saw â€œThe Magic Fluteâ€ and was enchanted by it. Here was an opera for the eyes and ears with wonderful sets and beautiful music. I didn’t understand the lyrics (it was sung in Swedish but I wouldn’t have understood it any better in the original German) but the film had subtitles and I could kind of follow the story. Wow, great music, cool to look at and a story. Maybe this opera stuff can be OK.
Well, I tried listening to other operas (â€œTurandotâ€ and â€œCarmenâ€ come to mind) but I only had ears for â€œDie ZauberflÃ¶teâ€. Time passed and records turned into CDs. One of the first CDs I bought was, you guessed it, â€œDie ZauberflÃ¶teâ€ (Neville Marriner conducting, Francisco Araiza as Tamino, Kiri Te Kanawa as Paminaâ€”still have it, still one of my favorite recordings of the opera).
In the mid-nineties, my wife and I moved to Germany. How that relates to this story is that we learned German. Now I can actually understand the words! I rediscovered â€œDie ZauberflÃ¶teâ€ all over again. And I wanted more. Hey, didn’t Mozart write another German-language opera? So, off to the music shop for â€œDie EnfÃ¼hrung aus dem Serailâ€. OK, not as good as â€œDie ZauberflÃ¶teâ€ but good. Really good.
And then there are DVDs. Of course, I bought Bergman’s â€œThe Magic Fluteâ€ but I also bought every version of these two Mozart operas I could find. And my wife and I are always on the lookout for live performances of â€œDie ZauberflÃ¶teâ€. We have seen at least six productions (seven if you count the marionettes) in venues all over Germany.
The point I am trying to make is that in order to appreciate and enjoy opera you have to have at least some experience with the whole package. That means knowledge of the story (however implausible it may be) and a sense of the visual aspect, preferably from a live performance.