It’s a story about family. A family who travels in a bonkers RV and includes a scarecrow with a turnip head, a brooding wizard who wears jackets without putting his arms in the sleeves, and a fire demon who is good with curses. In this edition of Creations of Chaos, it’s Studio Ghibli’s, Howl’s Moving Castle.
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Date Released: 2004
Version Watched: English Dubbed
Howl and His House
Howl is a powerful wizard. As a child, he gave his heart to a fire demon, bonding the two, and leaving Howl with the side effects of being moody and intense. He can be cheerful, charming, and thoughtful one minute, and can be exceedingly selfish and have a complete meltdown, literally, the next.
His powerful talents make him a hot commodity during a time of war. Much to his dismay, he is pursued by both sides. Not wanting to fight for either side, Howl does his best to fight his own battle, keeping both armies from blowing everything to smithereens. His work makes him a target of the opposing kingdoms all the more, so he stays on the move in his steampunk-ish, jumble of a castle. With its fish front, dragon’s tail backdoor, and chicken feet, the castle is quite the site as it lumbers across the countryside.
Howl is accompanied by the fire demon, Calcifer, who exclaims one of the worst curses ever uttered, “may all your bacon burn.”
Another resident of the castle, is Howl’s young apprentice Markl.
As Howl’s cozy, unorthodox home, wanders about, it begins filling up with a collection of quirky squatters. As his house guests grow on him, Howl learns that he may need his heart after all.
The Quirky Collection
Sophie- When Howl helps the young hat maker Sophie out of a sticky situation, it draws the ire of The Witch of the Waste, one of Howl’s former flings. The jealous and vindictive Witch places a curse on Sophie that turns Sophie into an old woman, who is unable to tell others of her plight. Being a hard working problem solver, Sophie keeps a positive attitude as she searches for a way to break the curse. As the first addition to the Moving Castle household, the Granny version of Sophie is able to add order, structure, and a good dose of hygiene to the home.
Turnip Head – He’s a snappily dressed scarecrow with a turnip for a head. With a constant smile drawn onto his face, he’s exceptionally nice and helpful. Everyone is sure he is under some kind of curse, but it’s not until the end, when Sophie kisses him, that his curse is broken, and it is discovered that Turnip Head is a lost Prince.
The Witch of the Waste – In an effort to persuade Howl to join the war effort, the King’s sorceress-advisor drains The Witch of the Waste of her powers, then threatens to do the same to Howl. Without her powers, The Witch digresses into a feeble, old woman. Sophie adds The Witch to the castle, so that Sophie, who is herself an old woman because of the Witch, can be sure The Witch is taken care of. I can’t say I would have done the same for someone who cursed me. In her feebleness, she is sweet and endearing.
Heen – The final addition is Heen. An old dog, he essentially defects from being the manipulative sorceress’ servant, to joining the castle crew. A helper at heart, he’s a great addition, and does his best to offer comfort where he can.
One day Howl looks at his collection of misfits, and he remarks,
“Seems like everyone here has problems,” before happily inserting himself into the mix. With the help of Calcifer, Howl magically remodels the castle’s interior for, the “growing family”, and by the end, a family they become.
It is said that Howl’s Moving Castle was created primarily as a commentary against war, particularly Hayao Miyazaki’s disgust at the United States’ involvement in the Iraq War, but that’s never the story I see when I watch the film. I view it more as an eccentric guy who goes on a journey where he picks up an assemblage of quirky individuals. They start out as strangers, and even for some, enemies, who develop a friendship. Then, through their individual and shared trials, they grow into a family. They accept each other’s differences and baggage. They learn how to work together and take care of each other. I think these are the greatest lessons to be learned from the film, and if everyone could learn and apply these lessons, there would be no war or films that are needed to speak out against it.