Winter Sonata

M

borrowed some video tapes from a friend of a Korean drama called Winter Sonata (Fuyu no sonata). It was dubbed into Japanese and shown on the national braodcast station, NHK. Okay, I know that a few of you will begin to hack and choke just from the title. I have talked to one who could barely stand to hear the name of the drama. A Korean student of mine told me she had wished if they were going to show a Korean drama in Japan, any drama would have been better than this one.

According to M, her friend told her that the story was kinda hokey–a guy and a girl fall in love only to learn that they are brother and sister… or are they? Well, it’s very much like a soap opera and the ending was getting too hard to believe… although I must admit the finale was rather touching–okay, okay, I admit it, I watched it too. Anyway, this drama was an incredible hit in Japan and all the middle-aged women are goo-goo gah-gah over “Yon-sama” or Bae Yong-jung.

Be that as it may, I bring this up not to admit that I watch sappy home dramas–which I’ve done a couple of times–but rather to ask if anyone knows how I can get a hold of the title song. The Japanese title is Hajime kara ima made, which would translate into something like “from the beginning until now”. After watching 20 hours of this drama, the tune is kinda stuck in my head. So if anyone knows how to get a copy of the theme song, I’d appreciate some guidance–or a little love. I guess I could alwys order it from Amazon dot co dot jp, but that would take too long.

Batman

K

eeping my promise, I am avoiding work as much as possible at home. So yesterday, I went with M to see Batman Begins. We went to the matinee because… well that’s all I can afford on my lowly teacher’s salary. We went to the Cinema de Luxe in Fairfax and I was rather impressed. It is an entertainment center unto itself. A piano in the lobby, a separate Sbarro and Nathan’s Hot Dogs concessions along with the ubiquitous popcorn, sodas and candy. Of course, what caught M’s eye–okay, my eye, too–was a bar! Yes a bar with beer and other “refreshments”. Why did they never think of this before?

Anyway, Batman… I must say first that I have never been a Batman fan. Indeed, I have never been a DC Comics fan. Super heros living in non-existing cities did not catch my fancy as a kid. Marvel characters seemed more realistic, I told M yesterday.

“Right. A guy shooting webbing from his wrist and swinging down Midtown Manhattan is more realistic than a billionaire dressed in a bat suit stopping crime in Gotham,” sarcasm dripping like molasses from her mouth…

Okay, maybe Spiderman or the X-Men or the Hulk are not necessarily more “realistic” but there is something I can relate to. Especially Spiderman. He was full of teenage angst and sarcasm towards authority. The Hulk resisted authority. The X-Men had special abilitites that were persecuted by the authorities. These attitudes were compelling during the late 60s and 70s in my youth. Not the perfect Johnny-Do-Good Superman or the ever faithful Batman.

So when the first Batman came out with Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, I was skeptical. It was dark, certainly not like the comic book I knew, but it was also unexplained. At least to my satisfaction. But still it was interesting. More interesting than I would have thought. Then the next one with Danny DeVito as the Punguin was fun and campy. But campy is not what I wanted from a Batman movie and I stopped watching them. I did not see Batman Forever with Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carey–okay, I think Van Kilmer as Batman turned me off. Neither did I see Batman and Robin–George Clooney? C’mon…. And Catwoman? Well, I would have gone seen it just for Halle Barry, but I think M would have gotten upset so I refrained…

In any event, I had no reason to see Batman Begins… until anyone and everyone started to rave about it: Great. The best. So cool.

Alright already! So after taking a huge dose of skepicism, I went. Well, perhaps going to a movie with lowered expectations influenced my reaction, but I’m glad I went. I must say unequivocally that Batman Begins was pretty good. It was dark, the acting was competent, the special effects were interesting (if not mesmerizing). But the best part of the movie is the story. It is the back story of how Batman came to be. Warning! Spoilers Approaching: As I mentioned, I was not a Batman fan and so cannot vouch for the accuracy to this story–as I could about Spiderman–but it was very satisfying. It explained in great detail why Batman came to be. His decision to fight injustice was a response to the muder of this parents–this much I knew. But they also explained the process he went through: why a billionaire playboy excelled in the martial arts; why he had so many gadgets and a cool car–and this car was really cool; why he chose the bat as his symbol. It was very well done, I must tell you.

Perhaps what freaked me out the most was Christian Bale. Some knew him from American Psycho, a movie I didn’t see. I only got to “know” him last week when I saw The Machinist when he played a 120 pound, guiltridden man. The more I think of the movie, the more I am impressed with it. It’s worth renting. But even more amazing is the method actor Bale. He lost over 60 pounds to play the part. He did not use makeup to look skinny, and he was incredibly emaciated. I mean look at these pix. He is not the same person as the one above in Batman. His waist looks like… what? 27 inches? I haven’t had a 27 inch waist since I was 14. I can’t believe that this is good for his health, but it is impressive to see a man who is so dedicated to his art. It reminds me of DeNiro who gained 20-30 pounds to play an old retired boxer in Raging Bull and who plucked his hair to become a bald Al Capone in The Untouchables. But losing over 60 pounds is truly unhealthy. And according to Bale, he just stopped eating for weeks! This is scary devotion, the kind that perhaps I should show to my craft… no, just not my craft, maybe I can do this to lose the weight I need to fit into my pants again!

Anyway, If you’re interested in action movies that actually have a story, see Batman Begins, not a bad flick at all.

So when was the last time you had a 27″ waist and how much would you weigh if you lost 63 pounds? Only the brave need reply.

Batman

K

eeping my promise, I am avoiding work as much as possible at home. So yesterday, I went with M to see Batman Begins. We went to the matinee because… well that’s all I can afford on my lowly teacher’s salary. We went to the Cinema de Luxe in Fairfax and I was rather impressed. It is an entertainment center unto itself. A piano in the lobby, a separate Sbarro and Nathan’s Hot Dogs concessions along with the ubiquitous popcorn, sodas and candy. Of course, what caught M’s eye–okay, my eye, too–was a bar! Yes a bar with beer and other “refreshments”. Why did they never think of this before?

Anyway, Batman… I must say first that I have never been a Batman fan. Indeed, I have never been a DC Comics fan. Super heros living in non-existing cities did not catch my fancy as a kid. Marvel characters seemed more realistic, I told M yesterday.

“Right. A guy shooting webbing from his wrist and swinging down Midtown Manhattan is more realistic than a billionaire dressed in a bat suit stopping crime in Gotham,” sarcasm dripping like molasses from her mouth…

Okay, maybe Spiderman or the X-Men or the Hulk are not necessarily more “realistic” but there is something I can relate to. Especially Spiderman. He was full of teenage angst and sarcasm towards authority. The Hulk resisted authority. The X-Men had special abilitites that were persecuted by the authorities. These attitudes were compelling during the late 60s and 70s in my youth. Not the perfect Johnny-Do-Good Superman or the ever faithful Batman.

So when the first Batman came out with Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, I was skeptical. It was dark, certainly not like the comic book I knew, but it was also unexplained. At least to my satisfaction. But still it was interesting. More interesting than I would have thought. Then the next one with Danny DeVito as the Punguin was fun and campy. But campy is not what I wanted from a Batman movie and I stopped watching them. I did not see Batman Forever with Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carey–okay, I think Van Kilmer as Batman turned me off. Neither did I see Batman and Robin–George Clooney? C’mon…. And Catwoman? Well, I would have gone seen it just for Halle Barry, but I think M would have gotten upset so I refrained…

In any event, I had no reason to see Batman Begins… until anyone and everyone started to rave about it: Great. The best. So cool.

Alright already! So after taking a huge dose of skepicism, I went. Well, perhaps going to a movie with lowered expectations influenced my reaction, but I’m glad I went. I must say unequivocally that Batman Begins was pretty good. It was dark, the acting was competent, the special effects were interesting (if not mesmerizing). But the best part of the movie is the story. It is the back story of how Batman came to be. Warning! Spoilers Approaching: As I mentioned, I was not a Batman fan and so cannot vouch for the accuracy to this story–as I could about Spiderman–but it was very satisfying. It explained in great detail why Batman came to be. His decision to fight injustice was a response to the muder of this parents–this much I knew. But they also explained the process he went through: why a billionaire playboy excelled in the martial arts; why he had so many gadgets and a cool car–and this car was really cool; why he chose the bat as his symbol. It was very well done, I must tell you.

Perhaps what freaked me out the most was Christian Bale. Some knew him from American Psycho, a movie I didn’t see. I only got to “know” him last week when I saw The Machinist when he played a 120 pound, guiltridden man. The more I think of the movie, the more I am impressed with it. It’s worth renting. But even more amazing is the method actor Bale. He lost over 60 pounds to play the part. He did not use makeup to look skinny, and he was incredibly emaciated. I mean look at these pix. He is not the same person as the one above in Batman. His waist looks like… what? 27 inches? I haven’t had a 27 inch waist since I was 14. I can’t believe that this is good for his health, but it is impressive to see a man who is so dedicated to his art. It reminds me of DeNiro who gained 20-30 pounds to play an old retired boxer in Raging Bull and who plucked his hair to become a bald Al Capone in The Untouchables. But losing over 60 pounds is truly unhealthy. And according to Bale, he just stopped eating for weeks! This is scary devotion, the kind that perhaps I should show to my craft… no, just not my craft, maybe I can do this to lose the weight I need to fit into my pants again!

Anyway, If you’re interested in action movies that actually have a story, see Batman Begins, not a bad flick at all.

So when was the last time you had a 27″ waist and how much would you weigh if you lost 63 pounds? Only the brave need reply.

A Matter of Time

I

was discussing a matter of time with another teacher yesterday. Students in her class were learning how to express time in Japanese. They were comparing different time zones and practicing new adjectives like “early” and “late”. One student apparently gave a wrong answer and she asked me what I thought. I gave her an answer that sort of reflected the student’s answer. The query:

If it’s 6PM in New York and 3PM is LA, is LA three hours earlier or later?

Teaching is My Calling

T

he other day, I mentioned that teaching–to me–was a calling. Indeed, I view it more as something that I was born to do rather than something I was trained to do. It’s hard to explain. I just love imparting whatever knowledge I have to anyone.

LightPinkSheep: Where do you teach? Do you have to do research also? I am starting a Ph.D. program next year, I’ll be TA-ing for the first time and scared to see how it will all work out. So far I’ve only taught 1-2 classes per summer and been able to devote lots of time to the class.

I teach at a university in Washington DC. I am full-time contract, which is different than tenured or tenure track, so I am not required to do research. But to get anywhere in this business, you must do research. My particualr research is late classical/early medieval Japanese poetry. As you might imagine, the demand for such research is pretty low, so I focus on my teaching. I may not get promoted bevcause of this, but I enjoy what I do. Good luck in your PhD program.

iiSoNySoUnDii: Don’t know if this was asked before, but was teaching always your intended career? Do you enjoy it? I’ll be starting my masters/phD program for East Asian history in about a year in a half and I too want to teach. Any gripes about the job or an exceptional pluses to it? Do I babble too much? Why is gas so damn expensive?!

Hahahah, maybe you’re babbling just a little. And I don’t know why gas is so expensive. Ask our president. But as to you first questions: No, teaching was not always my intended career. I wanted to be a rock star! Of course, an Asian American rock star had no prospects in the 70s, so it was pretty easy to give up on it. But seriously, I may have mentioned this before, but you should know that i was a total screw up in high school and could not get into college with my grades. So I had to first go to a junior college and then work my way up to a four-year college. Back then, I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I planned to do what every other Japanese American was doing ack then: go into business administration at a local university, which for me would have been Cal State LA. I had the great fortune to meet a Professor V. Perez (bio-human anatomy) at the junior college who saw something in me that urged him to encourage me to set my goals higher. I got into UCLA and the rest is history…

I enjoy what I do because I love to teach. It is, as I said, a calling, something I was meant to do. This is important because teaching has its drawbacks. Pay is low. Seriously low. I figure anyone in any other field who has studied as much as to earn a Ph.D. is likely earning six figures. I don’t even get half that. And some get even less than I do. It is a shame because I feel that teaching is the first line of defense in preventing our society from tumbling into ignorance and mediocrity. It’s too bad that the people with power don’t weem to feel the same way. Also, the hours could suck, depending on how much you will be required to teach. Many look at me and laugh, thinking I only work when I teach class which is 10 to 15 hours a week. They don’t consider the time it takes to prepare for class, grade papers and exams, advise students, write letter of recommendations, and a score of other adminstrative duties. Also, the adage “publish or perish” is very true and the pressure to publish is great. And may I remind you that since money is tight in education, the politics that one sees in the department can be very disheartening, indeed.

So why do I stay in education? I love to teach and I love my students. There is nothing like imparting to inquisitive minds things that you know. Indeed, I tell my students that they are way ahead of me when I was their age. And I will give them what I didn’t get: solid explanations of grammar. I was raised in a time when native speakers taught Japanese. They spoke Japanese well, of course, but they couldn’t explain it. When we would ask a question, fi they didn’t have an explanation, they’d just say, “That’s how Japanese is. Just memorize it.” Aaargh! how I used to hate that! So my students have the benefit of learning from someone who was just like them–I learned in college too–so I encourage them to strive and I fully expect them to surpass my Japanese ability. If they do, I feel that I’ve done my job. You gotta love this job to stick with it. Good luck in your Ph.D. program, too.

SunJun: Always been a fan. I’ve got a question: how did you end up at your current place of employment? Most prof-types, especially those employed at more prestigeous universities, tend to have a choice when it comes to places to work. Was it the school? Location? Little of both? Something else entirely?

Aaaah. If only I was working at a prestigious university. Well, Japanese is a field that is not very big. From what I understand, there are jobs for only 10% of all Japanese PhDs–language, literature, history, anthropology, art history, religion, et al–looking for a position in any given year. That was a tough market ten years ago. It must be even harder now. So I came to DC because this is where the job was. Pretty straigh forward, no? I applied to the university and they offered me a job my first time on the market. I was pretty lucky. To top it off, the university was located in our nations capital. It sounds pretty nice, don’t you think? But they work me like a dog…

Momo5: I’ve always wanted to know, how do you continue to be able to put yourself on the same level as your students? It’s the coolest thing ever. Most professors are so detached and superior, and most parents too, but you’re so easy to relate to. I want to be like you when I’m older. ^_^

Okay you guys, this is exactly the reason why I love to teach. To get flattered by students like Momo5. I’m telling ya’, it is sooooooooo much fun to be surrounded by young people all the time. They keep my spry… well, as spry as a soon-to-be 50-year old can be. But to be complimented by someone like Momo–she’s gonna kill me, but she is really cute… *sigh* At my age and my position, I could never do anything that would even hint at a suggestion of the appearance of any impropriety–I never close my office door when a female student is in my office, no matter what the subject might be. But that doesn’t stop me from chatting with them or basking in the radiance of their presence. Actually, I feel the same way with my male students as well. They are, to me, adorable, as only a father can adore a son.

The bottom line is that I just love to be with my students. It is, perhaps, this feeling that I have for all my students that allows me to indulge myself, to put myself at “the same level” as them.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I

enjoy Japanese films quite a bit. I was raised by parents who took the kids to Toho La Brea–a Japanese theater in LA that no longer exists–everytime a new movie came out. I saw comedies and dramas and, of course, samurai flicks. But the one thing that didn’t exist back then was full length animation.

Now Japan had its animation. Tezuka Osamu was pretty famous in the 60s and his stories are animated, from Atom (Astro Boy) to Leo, King of the Jungle (Kimba the White Lion) to Mach 55 (Speed Racer). But these were mostly for TV. The only movie length animation I knew was Bambi, Sleeping Beauty and other Disney fare. So when Akira came out, I was pretty amazed. I was even more amazed when I saw Nausica. It was pretty amazing. This was followed by Laputa (Castle in the sky), Tottoro and Kurenai no Buta (Crimson Pig). These animations have been pretty consistent: They are all visually stunning, but a rather vague storyline. At least at first viewing. But much of the meaning comes to light, for me, after some reflection. And Howl’s Moving Castle was no different.

*Warning* Spoilers ahead

The story is about a wizard named Howl who lives in a moving castle–duh! I haven’t read the original story by Dianne Wynne Jones, but from what I gather, the characters are the same and the basic storyline is similar. A young girl, Sophie, is the eldest daughter of a hatter and she is doomed to spend the rest of her uninteresting life there. she considers herself plain and unattractive as well. One day she steps out, only to encounter a handsome man, who turns out to be the wizard Howl everyone is talking about, the one who eats the hearts of young girls.

Upon returning home, a fat old lady enters the hatter’s store and remarks how plain and uninteresting Sophie and the store is. When Sophie asks her to leave, the old woman reveals herself as a witch–the Witch of the Wasteland as it turns out–who is after Howl, or more specficially, his heart. She then casts a spell on Sophie–turning her from an early 20s young lady to a 90-something hag–for associating with Howl. As a decrpit old lady, Sophie finds herself even more unattractive than she thought before and leaves her home, only to find a new one–thanks to a bewitched scarecrow she helps along the way–in Howl’s moving castle. Here she first meets Markel, the wizard’s assistant, and Calcifer, the fire in the castle’s hearth that actually is the power source of the castle itself. The fire is bewitched as well, and Sophie and Calcifer make a pact to help undo each other’s spell. Sophie decides to become the cleaning lady of the castle and makes herself at home when Howl returns home and makes no particular fuss over the new addition to the household.

It is from this point that the story grows complex. There are two non-descript, unexplained countries who are headed for war and they require the help of wizards and witches to defeat their enemy. Both seek the help of Howl–the wizard who turns into a feathered war bird in battle–as he apparently travels all over the place with his moving castle. His castle doesn’t only move, its door can open to different countries and different settings just by “change channels”. Howl is less concerned with the war than he is with escaping the Witch of the Wasteland, the reason why his castle is always moving. Ultimately, Sophie, who has since made herself an indispensible member of the household, convinces Howl to use his powers to stop the war, and they–a young wizard and an old hag–slowly fall in love with each other.

What is a mystery to me is that Sophie changes back and forth from a hag to a somewhat younger version of herself, although not completely to her original age–she still has gray hair. She seems to change when Howl shows an interest in her, but then there are times when it doesn’t matter. M thought that Sophie seemed to change when she became excited and active in her defense of Howl. I thought that maybe the spell had to do with her self image: she intitally thought of herself as plain and unattractive, but slowly she feels more attractive, and indeed Howl says to her at one point, “You are beautiful”, as her shift back to youth become more permanent. So maybe her physical self changes with her imagined self.

But what do I know?

The one thing I was able to grasp was the fire character, Calcifer–I suppose a combination of calorie (heat) and Lucifer. It is perhaps the central motif of the story. It represents Howl’s soul or life force. Calcifer was–I think–the original spell that was cast on Howl. After it first entered Howl, he coughed it out as a living flame, as Sophie saw when she seems to have magically slipped back in time to witness this event. This is when she realizes that Calcifer is Howl’s heart–in the Japanese, it is specifially referred to as “heart” 心臓 as opposed to “soul” 心, suggesting that it is the very source of his life. And this goes a long way in explaining why Calcifer insisted throughout the story that if he was extinguished, Howl would be extinguished too. I also explains why the Witch of the Waste wanted to eat Calcifer, even when she had turned into a powerless, even older hag than Sophie. As such, we can see Calcier as Howl’s burning, emotional heart, one that restores Howl’s humanity when it is returned to his body.

Anyway, I oculd be completely wrong, but at the very least, the visuals are beautiful, and the hand drawn animation of Miyazaki and staff are compelling, as usual. I just wish someone would tell him to make his storyline clearer, cleaner. He always seems to be open ended–which of course is not a bad thing… I think. It just seems like too much work for an anime…

Howl’s Moving Castle

I

enjoy Japanese films quite a bit. I was raised by parents who took the kids to Toho La Brea–a Japanese theater in LA that no longer exists–everytime a new movie came out. I saw comedies and dramas and, of course, samurai flicks. But the one thing that didn’t exist back then was full length animation.

Now Japan had its animation. Tezuka Osamu was pretty famous in the 60s and his stories are animated, from Atom (Astro Boy) to Leo, King of the Jungle (Kimba the White Lion) to Mach 55 (Speed Racer). But these were mostly for TV. The only movie length animation I knew was Bambi, Sleeping Beauty and other Disney fare. So when Akira came out, I was pretty amazed. I was even more amazed when I saw Nausica. It was pretty amazing. This was followed by Laputa (Castle in the sky), Tottoro and Kurenai no Buta (Crimson Pig). These animations have been pretty consistent: They are all visually stunning, but a rather vague storyline. At least at first viewing. But much of the meaning comes to light, for me, after some reflection. And Howl’s Moving Castle was no different.

*Warning* Spoilers ahead

The story is about a wizard named Howl who lives in a moving castle–duh! I haven’t read the original story by Dianne Wynne Jones, but from what I gather, the characters are the same and the basic storyline is similar. A young girl, Sophie, is the eldest daughter of a hatter and she is doomed to spend the rest of her uninteresting life there. she considers herself plain and unattractive as well. One day she steps out, only to encounter a handsome man, who turns out to be the wizard Howl everyone is talking about, the one who eats the hearts of young girls.

Upon returning home, a fat old lady enters the hatter’s store and remarks how plain and uninteresting Sophie and the store is. When Sophie asks her to leave, the old woman reveals herself as a witch–the Witch of the Wasteland as it turns out–who is after Howl, or more specficially, his heart. She then casts a spell on Sophie–turning her from an early 20s young lady to a 90-something hag–for associating with Howl. As a decrpit old lady, Sophie finds herself even more unattractive than she thought before and leaves her home, only to find a new one–thanks to a bewitched scarecrow she helps along the way–in Howl’s moving castle. Here she first meets Markel, the wizard’s assistant, and Calcifer, the fire in the castle’s hearth that actually is the power source of the castle itself. The fire is bewitched as well, and Sophie and Calcifer make a pact to help undo each other’s spell. Sophie decides to become the cleaning lady of the castle and makes herself at home when Howl returns home and makes no particular fuss over the new addition to the household.

It is from this point that the story grows complex. There are two non-descript, unexplained countries who are headed for war and they require the help of wizards and witches to defeat their enemy. Both seek the help of Howl–the wizard who turns into a feathered war bird in battle–as he apparently travels all over the place with his moving castle. His castle doesn’t only move, its door can open to different countries and different settings just by “change channels”. Howl is less concerned with the war than he is with escaping the Witch of the Wasteland, the reason why his castle is always moving. Ultimately, Sophie, who has since made herself an indispensible member of the household, convinces Howl to use his powers to stop the war, and they–a young wizard and an old hag–slowly fall in love with each other.

What is a mystery to me is that Sophie changes back and forth from a hag to a somewhat younger version of herself, although not completely to her original age–she still has gray hair. She seems to change when Howl shows an interest in her, but then there are times when it doesn’t matter. M thought that Sophie seemed to change when she became excited and active in her defense of Howl. I thought that maybe the spell had to do with her self image: she intitally thought of herself as plain and unattractive, but slowly she feels more attractive, and indeed Howl says to her at one point, “You are beautiful”, as her shift back to youth become more permanent. So maybe her physical self changes with her imagined self.

But what do I know?

The one thing I was able to grasp was the fire character, Calcifer–I suppose a combination of calorie (heat) and Lucifer. It is perhaps the central motif of the story. It represents Howl’s soul or life force. Calcifer was–I think–the original spell that was cast on Howl. After it first entered Howl, he coughed it out as a living flame, as Sophie saw when she seems to have magically slipped back in time to witness this event. This is when she realizes that Calcifer is Howl’s heart–in the Japanese, it is specifially referred to as “heart” 心臓 as opposed to “soul” 心, suggesting that it is the very source of his life. And this goes a long way in explaining why Calcifer insisted throughout the story that if he was extinguished, Howl would be extinguished too. I also explains why the Witch of the Waste wanted to eat Calcifer, even when she had turned into a powerless, even older hag than Sophie. As such, we can see Calcier as Howl’s burning, emotional heart, one that restores Howl’s humanity when it is returned to his body.

Anyway, I oculd be completely wrong, but at the very least, the visuals are beautiful, and the hand drawn animation of Miyazaki and staff are compelling, as usual. I just wish someone would tell him to make his storyline clearer, cleaner. He always seems to be open ended–which of course is not a bad thing… I think. It just seems like too much work for an anime…

Howl’s Moving Castle

I

enjoy Japanese films quite a bit. I was raised by parents who took the kids to Toho La Brea–a Japanese theater in LA that no longer exists–everytime a new movie came out. I saw comedies and dramas and, of course, samurai flicks. But the one thing that didn’t exist back then was full length animation.

Now Japan had its animation. Tezuka Osamu was pretty famous in the 60s and his stories are animated, from Atom (Astro Boy) to Leo, King of the Jungle (Kimba the White Lion) to Mach 55 (Speed Racer). But these were mostly for TV. The only movie length animation I knew was Bambi, Sleeping Beauty and other Disney fare. So when Akira came out, I was pretty amazed. I was even more amazed when I saw Nausica. It was pretty amazing. This was followed by Laputa (Castle in the sky), Tottoro and Kurenai no Buta (Crimson Pig). These animations have been pretty consistent: They are all visually stunning, but a rather vague storyline. At least at first viewing. But much of the meaning comes to light, for me, after some reflection. And Howl’s Moving Castle was no different.

*Warning* Spoilers ahead

The story is about a wizard named Howl who lives in a moving castle–duh! I haven’t read the original story by Dianne Wynne Jones, but from what I gather, the characters are the same and the basic storyline is similar. A young girl, Sophie, is the eldest daughter of a hatter and she is doomed to spend the rest of her uninteresting life there. she considers herself plain and unattractive as well. One day she steps out, only to encounter a handsome man, who turns out to be the wizard Howl everyone is talking about, the one who eats the hearts of young girls.

Upon returning home, a fat old lady enters the hatter’s store and remarks how plain and uninteresting Sophie and the store is. When Sophie asks her to leave, the old woman reveals herself as a witch–the Witch of the Wasteland as it turns out–who is after Howl, or more specficially, his heart. She then casts a spell on Sophie–turning her from an early 20s young lady to a 90-something hag–for associating with Howl. As a decrpit old lady, Sophie finds herself even more unattractive than she thought before and leaves her home, only to find a new one–thanks to a bewitched scarecrow she helps along the way–in Howl’s moving castle. Here she first meets Markel, the wizard’s assistant, and Calcifer, the fire in the castle’s hearth that actually is the power source of the castle itself. The fire is bewitched as well, and Sophie and Calcifer make a pact to help undo each other’s spell. Sophie decides to become the cleaning lady of the castle and makes herself at home when Howl returns home and makes no particular fuss over the new addition to the household.

It is from this point that the story grows complex. There are two non-descript, unexplained countries who are headed for war and they require the help of wizards and witches to defeat their enemy. Both seek the help of Howl–the wizard who turns into a feathered war bird in battle–as he apparently travels all over the place with his moving castle. His castle doesn’t only move, its door can open to different countries and different settings just by “change channels”. Howl is less concerned with the war than he is with escaping the Witch of the Wasteland, the reason why his castle is always moving. Ultimately, Sophie, who has since made herself an indispensible member of the household, convinces Howl to use his powers to stop the war, and they–a young wizard and an old hag–slowly fall in love with each other.

What is a mystery to me is that Sophie changes back and forth from a hag to a somewhat younger version of herself, although not completely to her original age–she still has gray hair. She seems to change when Howl shows an interest in her, but then there are times when it doesn’t matter. M thought that Sophie seemed to change when she became excited and active in her defense of Howl. I thought that maybe the spell had to do with her self image: she intitally thought of herself as plain and unattractive, but slowly she feels more attractive, and indeed Howl says to her at one point, “You are beautiful”, as her shift back to youth become more permanent. So maybe her physical self changes with her imagined self.

But what do I know?

The one thing I was able to grasp was the fire character, Calcifer–I suppose a combination of calorie (heat) and Lucifer. It is perhaps the central motif of the story. It represents Howl’s soul or life force. Calcifer was–I think–the original spell that was cast on Howl. After it first entered Howl, he coughed it out as a living flame, as Sophie saw when she seems to have magically slipped back in time to witness this event. This is when she realizes that Calcifer is Howl’s heart–in the Japanese, it is specifially referred to as “heart” 心臓 as opposed to “soul” 心, suggesting that it is the very source of his life. And this goes a long way in explaining why Calcifer insisted throughout the story that if he was extinguished, Howl would be extinguished too. I also explains why the Witch of the Waste wanted to eat Calcifer, even when she had turned into a powerless, even older hag than Sophie. As such, we can see Calcier as Howl’s burning, emotional heart, one that restores Howl’s humanity when it is returned to his body.

Anyway, I oculd be completely wrong, but at the very least, the visuals are beautiful, and the hand drawn animation of Miyazaki and staff are compelling, as usual. I just wish someone would tell him to make his storyline clearer, cleaner. He always seems to be open ended–which of course is not a bad thing… I think. It just seems like too much work for an anime…

Weekend report

H

ad a relatively nice weekend. Indeed, the past few weekends have been pretty nice since I’ve decided to leave work at work. For most of my teaching career, I took work home: grading, reading, preparing for class. But my work load was such that I could balance work with home/play. But the work load for the last academic year was way over the top. I found myself working 24/7.

And ignoring my family.

Well, no more of that shit. Starting in September, I will go to work earlier, spend a 35-40 hour work week at school, and then leave everything there. If I don’t finish grading, then it doesn’t get graded. If I don’t have a lesson plan ready in time, then the students will have to live through a discussion session. I love to teach and spending personal time to teach is not a sacrifice, but I cannot expect nor will I allow M to make that sacrifice. I’m pretty sure that’s not the reason why she married me. And I certainly didn’t marry her to ignore her because of work. Otherwise I shouldn’t have gotten re-married. So I will do my work at school, I will keep my office door closed more than before and shoot the breeze with students less.

This is a sea change in my approach to teaching. I’ve always seen teaching as a calling more than a career, and so I take my teacher-student relationship very seriously. But I hope they will understand when I cut back their time a bit for myself. And since this change is rather drastic, I am implementing it slightly this summer. I don’t spend 40 hours on campus, but I arrive earlier than previous summers, and I try not to take too much work home.

The result is calmer weekends. Friday I went shopping with M, Saturday we went to Home Depot to get stuff to do yard work–mulch is too stinky–and yesterday we went to see “Howl’s Moving Castle”. It was in Japanese, so that was good. I didn’t want to see it dubbed. That would suck.

The movie was visually stunning, as all of Miyazaki’s animations are, but the story was a little confusing as many reviewers have written over the past few weeks. But when I sat down to think about it, it became a bit clearer. But I’ll talk about it tomorrow. It’s back to work for me!