Last night we watched the Studio Ghibli film, Howl’s Moving Castle. Here’s a little insight to our random thoughts about some of the major themes and quirky characters:
Miyazaki’s movies are known for their deeper meanings, and this one is no exception. The biggest theme we noticed is the destruction of war. Sophie is repeatedly bothered by the scenes of war and at one point runs up the street, despite her old age, away from a sinking ship. Sophie is disgusted and afraid while the townspeople stick around to watch. Later Sophie and Howl see a ship above them and she asks whose it is. Howl responds, ‘“it doesn’t matter.” Howl is saying both sides cause destruction; therefore, no one is better than the other. But it doesn’t end there. These scenes go beyond a simple message of world peace. Studio Ghibli includes anecdotes about the power of the monarchy, corruption, warfare and propaganda. There is even some commentary about information uncertainty. When it is revealed that Turnip-head is a prince from a neighboring kingdom, he is quick to denounce the war. His disappearance is one of the causes for tension between the kingdoms, and after bouncing around in the fields for who knows long, he quickly wants the war to end. We have more thoughts on turnip-head, but more on that later. For now, his disappearance shows political actors make decisions off of incomplete information.
Can we also just take a minute to talk about how scrumptious the food in this film looks? One of the first scenes inside of Howl’s castle we watch Sophie and Howl cooking breakfast. There’s something about the Miyazaki animation that makes all the food look extra supple and juicy—talking bout you bacon strips. It gives the illusion of melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness and fills us with a shameful amount desire for animated treats.
One of the most memorable moments is when Howl dyes his hair the wrong color. This is where we started to notice how strongly connected characters’ identities are to their appearances. Howl throws a massive angsty fit and turns into a blob. Sophie is immediately disgusted by his vanity and announces she has never been beautiful a day in her life. Both of these characters are initially attached to their personal appearance in selfish ways. Howl’s blonde hair is a key part of his identity, and we see that as his personality grows throughout the movie he cares less about it. In the beginning of the film, Sophie is incredibly insecure about her appearance and finds being turned into an old lady as a relief. The transformation gives her an excuse to accept her appearance instead of trying to love herself. Throughout the movie we watch as she learns to appreciate her appearance as she returns to her normal age. Overall, characters’ identities are tied to their appearances until they learn otherwise—and depend on their wit and kindness instead.
Arguably, the cutest moment in the entire movie is when Sophie pulls Calcifer out of the fire to sweep away the ashes. Calcifer is begging to be left alone but Sophie picks him up anyways. We see how tiny and cute he is. Specifically we see Howl’s heart in the flame, which looks like a cute lil butt as Sophie dangles him through the air. Calcifer is the comedic relief every dramatic movie needs. Throughout Howl’s Moving Castle, Calcifer goes through his own story line and struggles between his contract with Howl and his former life as a star. He ultimately returns to the sky, but we still get to see how adorable he is as a flame.
Alright, today in “misplaced subplots” we return to the character affectionately named turnip-head. At the end of the movie, turnip-head is revealed to be a missing prince. He is turned back into a human by a kiss from Sophie who, as it turns out, is his true love. His timing could not be more wrong, as it occurs during a tender scene between Howl and Sophie being reunited. Maybe we’re just assholes, but this scene is always enormously humorous. We think it’s because upon declaring his love he is immediately shut down or because this subplot seems like a random revelation during Sophie and Howl’s tender moment. This scene never fails to lighten the mood.
Comment with your thoughts on Howl’s Moving Castle or some recommendations for other Studio Ghibli films to analyze.
Sending love and delicious breakfast foods,