Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle

howl1Sophie is a shy and hardworking eighteen year old earning a living in her family’s hate shop, although her younger sister Lettie is concerned that she is missing out on the things that life has to offer. As she is walking home one day, Sophie is stopped by two soldiers who try to impress her with their power and sexuality. A mysterious and handsome young man comes to her aid and Sophia realises that this man is Howl – a wizard who is rumoured to have eaten the hearts of young women. Suddenly attacked by demons, Howl flies into the air with Sophia and places her safely on a balcony. He then flies off, leaving our protagonist in a state of awe and wonder.

Things take a bigger turn for the bizarre when the Witch of the Waste arrives in Sophie’s hat shop and puts a spell on her. To Sophie’s horror, she looks in the mirror to find that she has become a ninety year old woman. Hiding this malady from the rest of the family, Sophie knows of only one person that can save her – Howl. As she searches for the wizard’s famed moving castle, Sophie befriends an animated scarecrow, who she names Turnip Head. With Turnip’s help she gains entry to the giant, clunking monstrosity that it Howl’s Moving Castle. With the shyness of her youth lifted by her new form, Sophie establishes herself as Howl’s housekeeper and cleans out the disgusting pit that Howl calls a castle with the held of the wizard’s young apprentice, Markl. She also finds herself faced with the smart-mouthed, unpredictable Calcifer – a fire demon who has a mysterious relationship with Howl.

As the story progresses, Sophie learns to embrace the curse she’s under as a liberation from her adolescent anxieties and fears. Together with the crew of the moving castle, Sophie has her first chance for adventure.

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This was such a great film to watch. Hayao Miyazaki is a fantastic director and it’s always exciting to look forward to the unique spiritual perspective in his films. This particular one, based on a book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, doesn’t have any simplistic division of good versus evil. We see character flaws and redemptions from all characters: humans, wizards, demons and witches. Howl is arrogant, vain and reckless and the Witch of the Waste comes through to redeem herself for what she did to Sophie. Similar to Spirited Away, Miyazaki advanced the cause of mystical appreciation of bonds with other people, no matter who they are and what they look like. After the Witch of the Waste suffers at the hands of Howl’s old mentor Suliman, Sophie helps her immediately. There is no scene where she weighs up the pros and cons – she doesn’t even give it a second thought.

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Another great theme at play here is that Miyazaki shows that being old is not a depressingly unappealing fate. I’m not overly sure how the elderly are viewed in the East, but from a Western perspective this was very refreshing and gives life to the old adage ‘you’re as old as you feel’. At first, Sophie is horrified at her appearance and fakes illness to avoid showing her face to her family. However, she eventually begins to see it as a new persona, and now she realises how dreadfully short a human life can be she doesn’t feel so self-conscious or worried about how she is perceived. Her elder self is a definite improvement on her younger persona – she is bolder, more energetic, and also more fulfilled. She quickly adapts to changes and is not afraid to speak her mind (or tell off a certain snarky fire demon). While she sleeps, Sophie’s face becomes young again, but as she wakes, and trying to save Howl, she becomes aged again. Perhaps an allusion to the wisdom of age that Howl himself lacks? Sophie certainly looks after him, and tries to make him understand the effect of his impulsive actions.

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A third theme of Howl’s Moving Castle is its ongoing message of being anti-war, and resisting the call to arms in favour of the greater good and following one’s heart. Howl grew up in an old mill house in the rustic countryside opposite a glorious lake. It’s a great contrast to the war-riddled and polluted city where Sophie grew up. Even as Howl tries to fight against the war, he is a great birdlike creature fighting against the destructive power of man.

A truly beautiful film both visually and spiritually, Howl’s Moving Castle is another masterpiece for Miyazaki. Oh, and Heen is brilliant. I loved Heen.

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