Howl’s Moving Castle: the meanings of Hayao Miyazaki movie

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Among the most beloved and successful movies produced by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, Howl’s Moving Castle sums up many of the elements that the Japanese filmmaker loves: the extreme fantasy, the magic that penetrate reality, the shapes of the imaginary creatures (or even buildings) that overcome the wildest creativity. But one thing that distinguishes Miyazaki’s Castle from the other films is the strong educational component of the story, which is taken from the novel by Diana Wynne Jones but, through Miyazaki, moves often on different directions, in order to send specific messages. Universally valid messages, as often oriental art wants to spread, worth remembering from time to time. We highlight five of them.

Coward is who has nothing to defend


In the novel Howl is a womanizer, in the movie this trait has been reduced but the protagonist is still a elusive character, who struggles to bind with others, carrying a peculiar selfishness. In the second part of the movie, Sophie lists to the Suliman some of Howl’s character flows, and cowardice is one of them. But some scenes later, Howl himself explains his change to Sophie, when she asks him not to fight, to flee from the war: “I’m sorry. I’m done running away, now that I have something I want to protect. It’s you. Sophie.”

Love makes young


Youth and old age are themes always present in the film, from the moment when little Sophie is transformed into an old lady, for a curse that will last the whole vision. Being old gives you physical ailments, it makes you notice “how hard it is to move”, but it also gives you an astuteness that you don’t have when you’re young, and the wisdom of who always knows what’s right. In any case, one thing is sure: when you love, you no longer age. And in the movie, we often happen to see Sophie fluctuating halfway between the advanced age (gray hair that no longer go away) and the strength of youth (when her face loses every wrinkle and turns again into a child’s one): it’s when her feelings for Howl are stronger. Love is a flame that remains constant during every stage of life, and for Miyazaki it becomes the glue between moments of life that are away from each other.

You can’t change what’s far away from you


There is a scene about the end of the film, short and in fact minor, but beautiful for the message that it launches. It happens when Howl returns almost dead from the war, while the castle is destroyed and the flame of Calcifer, Howl’s heart, is extinguished because it is squeezed in the hands of the old witch. Sophie has to take Howl’s heart from the old woman’s hands, but she doesn’t want to let it go. The instinct could be to rip it by force, sure that that’s the right thing to do at that moment. But it’s not what we see. Sophie acts in a surprising way: she hugs the witch, and she prays her on tears, asking to understand, to hand over the heart, because it is necessary. It only takes a few seconds to realize the truth, and the flame is back in Sophie’s hands. If you want to convince those who prevent the Good to flow, you have to get closer. You can’t change someone’s head if you attack him, if you put the wall of conflict between you and him. Only when you are on the same side, you can influence each other.

Appearances don’t matter, what you have inside does

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During the whole movie there is continuous surprise in discovering that the exterior appearance of the characters does not always coincide with their nature. Not only Sophie, who behind the old body still hides a young spirit. Howl himself alternates a charming prince look with the forms of the Dark Raven, and you are never sure whether he is a monster or a good character. But Sophie trusts what she saw inside him. In the same way she trusts what lurks behind Turnip Head appearance. And on the contrary, the nice aspect of Suliman hides the intentions of a war profiteer. There are many factors that can change the physical aspect. Time, wounds, tricks, even spells. You just have to trust what’s inside.

War never makes any sense


If in the book, the war has only a marginal role, whereas the film is rich in sequences of bombardments from which one cannot escape. For Miyazaki, it was an element that had to be added, for the impact that Iraq war was having on him in those years. Throughout the film you don’t understand the real reason for that war, you don’t know what is the target of those who attack. For the poor civilians, and for the persecuted by the conflict, war is only an inexplicable force against which it is impossible to survive. You can’t fight something that exists with no reason. It is not possible to understand the weaknesses, the roots to be eradicated. It seems only a destructive fury that never stops, persisting on perpetuating its power. And Miyazaki could not accept this. War has no reason or justification, and that is how it is shown in the movie.


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