Howl’s Moving Castle is a 2004 fantasy film by Studio Ghibli, adapted from the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. The film, like the novel, is set in a world where magic is a common phenomenon and used by many magicians. Howl’s Moving Castle revolves around Sophie, a young hat-maker who encounters the titular wizard, Howl. Because of this encounter, Sophie gains the ire of the Witch of the Wastes and is cursed into a 90-year-old by the Witch. Sophie then finds herself working for Howl as a cleaner in hopes of finding a way to undo this curse.
The central focus of the film is Sophie’s metamorphosis from a shy and unmotivated person to someone who is more confident and loving. However, the film also makes a point in developing its other characters, especially Howl. Kathryn Hansen’s analysis, “Physical Metamorphosis in Howl’s Moving Castle” argues that the physical transformations the characters undergo in the film reflect the character development. Sophie’s transformation into an old lady is the best evidence for this.
Throughout the film, Sophie gradually changes from a hunched ld lady to a more dignified and younger self whenever she experiences moments of self-confidence and assurance because of her growing relationship with her new companions. In the end, she is able to break the curse by herself, signifying this newfound self and her love for Howl. Meanwhile, Howl is also changed by Sophie’s acts of love and becomes more selfless and courageous, as opposed to the vain wizard who was trying to run away from his responsibilities in the beginning of the film.
Another focus of the film is the war that is already happening when the film begins. In Devon Gordon’s interview with Miyazaki, “A Positive Pessimist”, Miyazaki expresses his disdain over U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq, further noting that his version of Howl’s Moving Castle is affected by this war.
In the film, the kingdom that Howl works for is currently in war with another country and is recruiting all the magicians it could find to bolster its forces. This is a contrast to America and its rallying of flags whenever the war with Iraq first broke out. Furthermore, the steampunk-inspired technology present in the film is there to emphasize the militaristic nature of the kingdom.
At the center of this conflict is Howl. Howl works against his former teacher, who practically has more power than the king, by sabotaging the kingdom’s forces in order to avoid this war. His efforts can be seen as a commentary of a world that doesn’t want this senseless war that could claim many innocent lives.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a film that emphasizes change. All the characters change for the better, ending the film in an optimistic note, especially regarding its anti-war subtext. The main antagonist’s decision to end the war after seeing her former pupil’s and Sophie’s efforts encourages change through pacifistic methods and reflects Miyazaki’s pacifistic stance towards war.
Physical Metamorphosis in Howl’s Moving Castle. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2014, from
Gordon, D. (Interviewer) & Miyazaki, H. (Interviewee). (2005). A ‘Positive Pessimist’ [Interview Transcript]. Retrieved from The Daily Beast Web Site: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2005/06/19/a-positive-pessimist.html
Miyazaki, H. (Director). (2004). Howl’s Moving Castle [Motion Picture]. Japan: Studio Ghibli