Howl’s Moving Castle is best known as the 2004 animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
While it is as beautifully animated as all of Studio Ghibli's other films this was one of the few times Miyazaki based a film on an existing work. The film is an adaptation of British author Diana Wynne Jones’ 1986 young-adult novel by the same name and the first book in the Howl Series.
Miyazaki takes many liberties and diverts from the original story in various ways, however both the film and novel follow 18-year old Sophie’s adventure after being cursed with old age and the journey she undertakes to break her curse with a handsome and mysterious wizard named Howl. Howl, of course, has a magical moving castle and a “fire demon” friend named Calcifer.
In the beginning of the film, we see Sophie struggling with low self esteem.
She is plain, shy, and not attractive like her sister and mother or the other girls she works with in the hat shop. In the book, Sophie is as attractive as her sisters (Lettie and Martha), but struggles against fate, which she believes her life is ruled by. In her world where fairy tales are the everyday reality, destiny is predetermined and being born the eldest of three means she is destined for failure while the two younger siblings will go on to seek their fortunes. But Sophie, unbeknownst to herself, has magical powers. She has the ability to influence objects with her words. She speaks to her hats as she trims them in the hat shop, making predictions about the futures to come for the women who buy the hats. The irony here is that while Sophie believes her destiny is predetermined, she in fact has the ability to shape the lives of others through her words. Sadly, Sophie’s ability was not carried over into the film.
After being cursed by the jealous Witch of the Waste, both in the film and novel, Sophie finds herself in the body of a ninety-year-old, unable to speak of her curse to anyone. It is her curse that ultimately frees her from her fears and beliefs during the course of her curse-breaking quest. It is only when she has nothing to lose in her mind that Sophie finds and accepts her true self.
Curses abound in this story.
Howl, while the opposite of Sophie in personality and looks, is also cursed and hides from the world. He has lost his heart to a demon and at the beginning of the story is vain and only concerned with himself. In the book Sophie’s and Howl’s relationship develops slowly as they go from quarreling to realizing they’ve fallen in love.
Howl’s castle is a combination of machine and magic. Miyazaki makes the steampunk-like contraption a thing to behold and it becomes almost another character in the film. It should be noted that as iconic as the castle has become, the design was not originally created for the film. The design was set to go on display at the Studio Ghibli Museum to fill up an empty space. It was later proposed to Miyazaki as the design for the castle. In order to make it move, he added four chicken legs.
Both versions of the story carry similar themes of things not being what they appear, beauty coming from within, and the power of love to transform.
Speaking of transformations, check out the gallery of Howl’s Moving Castle cosplayers as they spin their own magic to become their favorite character from the movie.
You’re wearing that hat? After all the magic I used to make your dress pretty?”
They say that the best blaze burns brightest, when circumstances are at their worst.”
I don’t cook! I’m a scary and powerful fire demon!”
He’s calling the spirits of darkness… I saw him do this once before when a girl dumped him!”
Here’s another curse for you — may all your bacon burn.”
Oh, yes, I’m the worst kind of witch there is! The one that cleans!”
- Who is your favorite Howl’s Moving Castle character and why?
- What would you like to see in future editions of Cosplay Friday?