Movie Wednesday: Howl’s Moving Castle
by Amy Frantz, Brave Writer alum
Sophie works in a hat shop and mostly keeps to herself, until one day after work she encounters a young handsome wizard who escorts her on her way to visit her sister. And, oh yes, he also takes her flying above the city streets on nothing but magic. However, that night the jealous Witch of the Waste puts a curse on Sophie, which transforms her into an elderly woman and prevents her from explaining what has happened to anyone. Sophie sets out into the country to try and lift her curse, but instead she finds an enchanted scarecrow who leads her to the dreaded Howl’s moving castle. Within the castle Sophie finds magical friends, a lot of housework that needs doing, and Howl himself, who is selfish and vain but also charming… and is none other than the wizard she met before being cursed. But outside the castle, war is brewing and the king has summoned all the witches and wizards to him and Sophie soon realizes that her own curse is not the only one that needs breaking.
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Howl’s Moving Castle is a 2004 Japanese animated film from Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki of Spirited Away fame. The film is loosely based on the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones.
Howl’s Moving Castle is considered steampunk. Steampunk is a subgenre which utilizes a seemingly historical setting, usually vaguely 19th century around the industrial revolution, combined with anachronistic technology which is steam-powered but distinctly futuristic. This gives the piece the feeling of both being familiar and strange and works well with the rich visual style typified by Miyazaki’s work.
The film features themes of age, empathy, and the impacts of war. Sophie, the film’s protagonist, is not shown as being held back by the “curse of old age” as the Witch of the Waste intended, instead she finds a sense of freedom in being old. Howl’s “heartlessness” is shown through vanity and selfishness, but never cruelty, and he learns over the course of the film how to care more deeply for others.
- It’s implied in the film that Sophie may have magic of her own. Do you think Sophie has her own magic? Explain your answer.
- Why do you think Howl wanted to be without a heart?
- When we first meet the Witch of the Waste, we rush to think of her as a villain. But as the film progresses, we see that really she’s just jealous and maybe a bit childish. Do you think there is a central villain to the story? If so, who or what do you think it is and why?
- A common theme in Miyazaki’s films is flight. If you could fly, how would you use this power?
- This film has a lot to say about wartime. Do you find yourself ever agreeing or disagreeing with what the characters say about war? Explain your answer.
DIY Glowing Calcifer – YouTube video