In September I posted about one of my favorite Japanese anime movies, Spirited Away. Today I bring you another masterpiece by the same filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki: Howl’s Moving Castle.
Sophie, a quiet girl with low self-esteem, is about to find her life turned upside down. While out and about, she has a chance encounter with the mysterious and handsome wizard, Howl. Sophie isn’t afraid of him like everyone else because Howl “only eats the hearts of pretty girls.” The wicked Witch of the Waste is jealous of Howl’s attentions towards Sophie, and puts a spell on her, turning her into an old woman. Unable to remain in her normal life, Sophie ventures into the wastes and comes across Howl’s magical moving castle, a heaping piece of creaky junk powered by the powerful fire demon, Calcifer. The two strike a bargain, agreeing to help each other break the curses they’re under. Sophie hires herself as Howl’s cleaning lady, but finds it’s not so simple a job when the great and powerful wizard is as mature as a two-year-old and a war between two countries threatens to destroy them all.
Sophie handles being cursed into an old woman’s body rather well, considering. She gains more confidence as “Grandma Sophie” than she ever did as a young woman. She works hard and grows to love her new family. When that love shows, she even becomes visibly younger, though it doesn’t break the curse.
Howl may be handsome and mysterious, but at heart he’s really vain and selfish. He’s under a kind of curse as well, though these curses come with a gag order and no one’s able to speak about it. Howl transforms into a hideous monster at night when he flies out to survey the destruction of a war he hates, yet the King is calling upon him to serve and fight, and Howl can’t hide forever.
Calcifer is a fire demon. He and Howl are under a binding curse that keeps Calcifer trapped in the fireplace and running the magical castle. Calcifer is belligerent and petulant, but is most definitely the comedic relief. Voiced by Billy Crystal, he’s my favorite character in this movie.
The Witch of the Waste has been after Howl for years. Though hideous, she’s vain and prideful. She gets some nasty just desserts in the end.
Markl is a young boy apprenticed to Howl. At first suspicious of Sophie, he comes to love her with a little boy’s vulnerability.
Turnip Head is a scarecrow who hops around on his stick and tries to help Sophie. He’s got a turnip for a head, which is what earns him his nickname. He’s got a secret identity that won’t be revealed until the end…
This movie is actually based on a novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. However, though the characters are the same and the inciting incident of Sophie being cursed are the same, the two stories go in completely different directions after that. So much so, that I can’t even compare the two; they are independent plots, and I love them both in their uniqueness.
If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I highly recommend both.
This week I also did a guest post on Kim Kozlowski’s blog about writing and my little helper.