The Magical & Nostalgic Feel of Howl’s Moving Castle
Samantha Parker ‘23 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The wondrous world of Studio Ghibli ‘s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), is one of the most beloved and highly successful movies from creative director/producer Hayao Miyazaki. There are various elements as to why Howl’s Moving Castle is so memorable, from the beautiful animation, likable characters, witty dialogue, and the relatable themes. When watching this film, the inner child within creeps out to which you can’t help but be enthralled by the film.
Howl’s Moving Castle follows a young woman, Sophie, who works as a hatter in a shop managed by her mother. There is a war raging during this time. Sophie has an uneventful life and is introduced as unsure of herself. On her way to visit her sister, she meets a mysterious wizard, Howl, who protects her from soldiers that were harassing her. Howl displays his magical ability by levitating both him and her to Sophie’s destination. The Witch of The Waste filled with jealousy and vengeance of Howl’s interaction with Sophie, cast a curse on turning her into an old lady.
Determined to break the curse, Sophie ventures to find a wizard who can restore her youth. During her travels, she befriends an enchanted scarecrow that aids Sophie into discovering Howl’s infamous moving castle. There, while seeking sanctuary she meets a fire demon, Calcifer, who controls the castle and rejects Sophie’s plea to stay in the castle. She bargains with Califer by offering her cleaning and cooking skills in exchange for shelter as well as a deal in which Califer breaks the curse on Sophie if she breaks the curse that binds the fire demon and Howl, Califer agrees.
While living there, Sophie meets Markl, a young apprentice whom she grows attached to throughout the duration of the film and the true personality of Howl which is immature, arrogant, and still has “the heart of a child.” During her stay, Sophie comes to learn about Howl’s anti-war stance, his affiliation within it and the threat of him permanently turning into a winged creature the more he uses his powers. When the King summons Howl to fight in the war, Howl sends Sophie instead to pose as his mother. While heading to the palace Sophie encounters the Witch of the Waste who was also summoned by the King. The Witch of the Waste is sent to a separate room while Sophie is led to the King’s private sorceress. The plan goes wrong when being questioned about Howl, Sophie’s passionate answer defending him makes her appearance look young again. By the danger posed to Sophie, Howl transforms into himself after his disguise as the King fails to trick the sorceress and has Sophie navigate, the Witch of the Waste, who had been tricked and depleted of her powers, and the sorceress dog back to the moving castle. Howl decides to renovate the house by using his powers and he later shows Sophie a special place that is beautiful for her to enjoy.
A few days after those events, the town is bombed and Howl protects them but has to go back into the front lines of the war. Sophie decides she will remove Calcifer and everyone out of the moving castle to save Howl. This results in the castle collapsing and the Witch of the Waste ends up taking Calcifer, realizing he is Howl’s heart which she ends up being on fire. Sophie quickly pours water on her but harms Calcifer. She ends up getting separated from the group only being left with the sorceress dog. Wallowing in her despair of not being able to save Howl; the ring which Howl has given her before she went to the palace lights up a direction for her to follow. Sophie is led to a door that magically opens to reveal a vast darkness but she and the dog follow inside. The vast darkness soon ebbs away to reveal the special place that Howl showed her, there she sees a young Howl by the flower field watching the stars light across the sky and realizes she has been brought to the past. When Howl picks up a fallen star which is Califer she attempts to stop him but is too late as he absorbs Califer. Sophie is beckoned back to the present, as she is about to be portaled back; Howl finally notices her when Sophie yells out to Howl to find her in the future because she now knows how to break his curse. Once back to the present, Howl in full creature form is there and Sophie tearfully tells how to take her to the others. Once there, Sophie retrieves Calcifer (Howl’s Heart) from the witch of the waste and puts it back inside of Howl, simultaneously declaring her love for him. Howl awakes free of the curse and Calcifer is free. The story ends with their new castle that flies with everyone there. Howl and Sophie share a kiss that signifies their happy ending.
Howl’s Moving Castle centers around the theme of independence and becoming your own person. The characters like Howl and Sophie, who are adults that had never grown up. They are two sides of the same coin when it comes to being dependent on others. In the beginning, Howl was a narcissistic, charming person who didn’t take responsibility for his actions. Sophie was an unconfident, people pleaser who never took the next step in exploring who she was. They were both dependent on the people who had always taken care of them. That theme portrayed in this film makes the audience connect their inner child or adolescence as we all try to find ourselves. This adds to the sense of nostalgia that watchers feel throughout the animation.
Family is an important element in Howl’s Moving Castle as it teaches viewers that family can be chosen as well as love, forgiveness, and friendship. Viewers can feel the beautiful and rich relationships between each character and how we can see formed connections throughout the film. The portrayal of friendships is shown that it can be developed over time and shows a realistic depiction of it. The movie shows the audience that forgiveness is a strength and must be on equal footing, that a person must recognize their faults to be forgiven. This element establishes nostalgia because it’s traits that we learn when we are children. Love is a central theme in Howl’s Moving Castle in which it connects all the characters. Sophie’s love was the anchor and cause of transformation for every character. Sophie’s appreciative nature when she cleaned and took care of Califer made him feel like he was more than someone’s puppet. When she cooked food for Markl and would scold him in a motherly way, this made Markl more respectful and responsible. Sophie’s actions to point out Howl’s flaws, challenging him, caring about his well-being, and defending him, prompted Howl to join the war and gave him a purpose. Lastly, saving the witch of the waste, giving her shelter, taking care of her, and forgiving her even when she cast the curse of Sophie, made the witch of the waste let go of her greedy nature and in turn she taught her to forgive herself. Furthermore, Sophie’s love for Howl made her grow more independent and secure in herself when she began to embrace her repressed feelings and in turn broke her own curse. Seeing love in different forms being portrayed in this beautiful animation provides a familiarity in which a watcher can’t help but have a connection to this rich story.
From the curses, creatures, spells, fantastical imagery, music and literal magic, Howl’s Moving Castle is an all out an extraordinarily, enchanting animation that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. The visuals are so detailed and have various bright/bold colours which adds to the allure. The cinematography is incredibly expansive and beautifully crafted that it makes the viewer have a sense of longing to be in that magical setting. The musical score of the movie is captivating and delightful as it takes on a tone of a soft, wondrous feel which makes the heart flutter. The main theme song named “Merry Go Round of Life” composed by Joe Hisaishi, is such an enchanting piece of music that embodies the feelings of love, innocence, and mysticalness. Hisaishi composed a dynamic orchestral film score that displays a waltz melody accompanied by an array of complex musical techniques, harmonies, and rhythms. We can’t help but be entranced by these various elements that embody the pure magical charm of this film.