Seeing Howl’s Moving Castle for the First Time at this year’s Studio Ghibli Fest!
When quarantine began, my husband and I decided to choose different movie series to watch to keep ourselves entertained locked up at home. We watched all the Harry Potter movies including Fantastic Beasts, all the Disney Live-Action, all the Marvel movies, and then we decided to watch all of the Studio Ghibli movies on HBO. I had only seen two Studio Ghibli movies as a child and my husband had always wanted to watch them but never did. We began our marathon, but unfortunately got sidetracked and never finished all of the movies. One of the films we did not get to see was Howl’s Moving Castle but finally had a chance to see it during Ghibli Fest at our nearby theatre. We went with our close friends who really loved the film and I thought why not try and analyze what this movie is about. If you watch Ghibli films, then you know how strange and confusing the movies can sometimes be leaving a lot for the viewers’ interpretation. I think of Miyazaki films to be kind of like puzzles where the viewers can decipher the deeper meanings in the stories. Howl’s Moving Castle is no different from this and I’m going to give it my best shot as I review.
Now a lot of other Studio Ghibli movies I had watched left my husband and me scratching our heads at the end of the movie. My Neighbor Totoro probably confused and shocked us the most, but Howl’s Moving Castle wasn’t quite so puzzling. Just like the other films, the movie’s storyline can be a bit random at times or have a little explanation. It is just one of those things where you kinda have to go with the flow and not ask so many questions.
The movie begins with our lead protagonist, Sophie who works in her family’s hat shop. Right off the back, we see how Sophie is more of the quiet type who doesn’t go off socializing or do much other than work. We also get the first clue that Sophie doesn’t think highly of herself as we see her look into the mirror and cover her face with her hat. She does leave the hat shop and goes out into the town to meet with her sister at a bakery. During her walk, however, she is harassed by two older soldiers (a very uncomfortable moment might I add) until she is rescued by a handsome young man who appears to be a wizard. She is unaware of who the wizard really is, but he gets her safely to the bakery so she can see her sister. Sophie tells her sister of what occurred between her and the mysterious wizard, and immediately her sister thinks she may have run into Howl, our second lead character who we will get into more later. Being the insecure girl Sophie is, she quickly dismisses the idea of Howl talking to her because we are learning of his reputation of stealing the hearts of pretty girls. Basically, this story has a lead of a young girl who doesn’t know how special she is, and a heartthrob playboy who also can use magic. So not that crazy, right?
After Sophie’s visit with her sister, she returns to her hat shop where she faces a new obstacle; a large, disturbing witch enters her shop and places a curse on her. Turns out this witch has a fling with the wizard in the past and didn’t like seeing him rescuing this other woman so she decided to place a curse on Sophie that turns her into an elderly woman. Now looking later into the movie and how the spell affects Sophie, I theorized that the spell may not have been just an aging spell, but rather a spell that made Sophie look on the outside what she felt like on the inside. Just a possible theory of mine after observing everything, but not necessarily correct. Before I continue on with the plot, let me just say, that this movie was super funny and probably one of the most entertaining stories from all of the Ghibli films. The theatre was cracking up for most of the movie and Sophie’s dialogue as an older woman was a hoot. I think this movie was better for me to watch now versus a child because it has more of an “adult story” with adult characters versus Kiki’s Delivery Service which is more cute and precious.
Because Sophie has turned into an unrecognizable elder woman, she decides to leave her shop and family behind to look for somewhere to break the curse. She begins a trek up into the wastelands where it is said to have many witches and wizards around. She ends up running into a scarecrow who is alive and helps her find a moving castle to keep warm. She realizes the castle is Howl’s, but she is cold so she goes inside the castle anyways. Inside the castle, she meets probably my favorite character, Calcifer, a fire demon. He is a talking fire demon who needs to break his bond with the castle owner, Howl. Calcifer makes a deal with Sophie to help each other with breaking their curses.
After falling asleep for the night, Sophie wakes up to see the castle turned into a wizard shop with a small boy named Marco running things. Once Howl returns home, he sees Sophie but doesn’t recognize her as the young girl he helped. He was the wizard who did help her at the beginning of the film though. She claims Calcifer let her in and has hired her as a cleaning lady. With the curse put on her, she is not able to speak on it or let Howl know what has happened to her. Therefore, she really does become their cleaning lady and begins to build relationships with all of them. It is not clear to me when Howl learned exactly who she was, but I feel like he knew all along. We see him seeing her as her young self while she is sleeping, but I honestly think he always knew.
As the story continues, we learn about each of the characters, especially how much of a vapid, self-absorbed man Howl is. Howl doesn’t have his heart and acts very selfishly and cowardly. Despite all of this, everyone becomes more of a family and Sophie grows feelings for Howl. With her new love for Howl, Sophie becomes a more strong and courageous character sure of herself which causes the spell to break at certain moments. The more she is sure of herself, we see her as a young woman again. In the end, everyone changes and she is able to break the spell and become young again. She is no longer the shy and insecure girl she was before. Howl is also able to grow as a person and learns to care for someone other than himself. He puts himself at risk to protect Sophie which leads him to stop running from his fears. Sophie also helps Howl in that she is able to return his heart back to him. She learns that Calcifer has his heart and finds a way to keep Calcifer alive while returning Howl’s heart. They are now able to all live and love together.
Now there are other conflicts, characters, and subplots in this story, but my main focus was on the love story between the two main characters. Howl and Sophie both had personal self issues to work through that ended up being reflected on their personal appearance with Sophie turning older and Howl having difficulty turning into a human after being a bird for parts of the movie. However, both were able to rescue each other and give them the boost they needed to be the best versions of themselves. I’m a sucker for a good romance story so this stuck out to me the most and I think it was easier to read between the lines on their character development.
Other parts of the story get resolved, but there isn’t as much detail as to why the issues started or why they finally ended. For example, one of Howl’s main conflicts is refusing to fight in an ongoing war for the King even though the King’s advisor was once Howl’s teacher. The King’s advisor is a pretty messed up lady and even scarier than the witch who put the curse on Sophie. The war happening is due to the prince of the opposing land missing who actually was turned into the scarecrow helping Sophie. In the end, the curse is broken on the prince and he is able to return home to end the war. The King’s advisor finds out her curse on the prince has been broken so she decides it is also time to end this war. I don’t really get what changed her mind though because all in all we don’t truly get to see her true motives. We know she wanted Howl to return to fight for them, but not much other than that, I can only believe she had a change of heart because she saw how Howl was able to love and not become the monster as she saw him. Maybe everything was a lesson made particularly for him. All left to be interpreted.
All in all, I really loved this movie and would place it in my Top 3 Studio Ghibli films. Both my husband and I were pleasantly surprised at the film and were pleased to watch a story with older characters rather than characters like in the movies: Ponyo, Kiki, and Totoro. We love those movies, don’t get me wrong, but it was nice to have the change especially because the movie was so humorous and dare I say cheeky. If you haven’t seen the movie or would like to walk down memory lane, it is available on HBOMax with the other Studio Ghibli Films.
What is your favorite Studio Ghibli movie? What do you think the story was trying to say? What other Ghibli film should I watch next? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to like, share and subscribe to get notified of new posts. Be sure also to follow Bombshell on social media on Facebook (@bombshellgamingandstyle), Twitter (@bombgame_style), and Instagram (@bombshellgamingstyle) where you can also get notified of new posts or videos. Until next time my bombshells, Bye!