Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Old age, transfiguration, magic, and a heart warming love story. What else does someone want when they watch a film? Well if you’re Hayao Miyazaki then that’s all you need to make a highly crafted animation of Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). And for me, well that’s all I needed to have to relive and explore the great depths of our subconscious.

The entire film revolves around the notion and representation of a heart. Do you follow it, or just do things to please others? Without one would you indefinitely turn into a monster, or can the symbol of a heart –love– always bring you back? And not to mention the castle’s structure is a completely automated heart – run and controlled by a fire demon, named Calcifer.

The use of the heart is a strong, and universal idea. Every viewer will have one regardless if human, animal, or reptile – we are all included in the story. However, to relate it to the world around it, Hayao uses metaphors to bring them to existence in the world of the film.

Calcifer controls the heart shaped castle, which began to scream out to me, “It the fire in your heart,” something that you’re told when you are so passionate about something. This doesn’t only create a good story, and character but the idea resonates, with a universal audience, as something we all aspire to be, fuelled only by what is really inside of us.

Within the first ten minutes of the film, we are introduced Sophie –a hat decorator– who only wishes to continue her father’s legacy at the hat shop rather than do what she really wants. However, after a curse of age is placed upon her, she changes into a dream chasing, courageous, young-hearted person. But the blatant scenes of the heart are not the focus of this work, but rather the hidden details by the characters and setting that allow you to be consumed into their world.

“What a dump. When I think of castles, it’s not what I picture,” Sophie grumbles at Howl’s dirty and unconventional castle. I think this quote sums up the entirety of the film without giving anything away. A castle has always been portrayed (stereotypically) as a clean, four walled bounded complex, opposed to Howl’s castle, which is entirely the opposite layout – totally mobile, dirty, and personal.

Aforementioned was the notion that the castle has the structure of a heart, and this is what Howl is encompassed by – his own home is the one thing that he cursed of not owning. Three chimneys pump out steam alike our aorta pumping out blood, while the castle’s entrance is exactly where our human vena cava is, allowing things to enter our heart.

Howl being a sorcerer of extreme magic, always knows when his castle in its many facades is under threat – even when he enters the black door. He effectively would have known Sophie had entered his premises, willingly allowing her into his heart both physically and metaphorically.

As Sophie cleans the castle out, she changes things –some for good, others tipping Howl’s world upside-down– just as a real life relationship would. A person’s entrance into your life can change you even after one day, just like Sophie to Howl. And just as our emotions fluctuate through our journey with a new counterpart, so too does Howl’s when his bathroom potions are mixed.

This couldn’t go with the mention of both Markl, and Turnip Head –or the latter, missing Prince Justin– in relation to Sophie, who both grow fond of her. Just as a functioning human heart needs a healthy inner, so too does the castle. Markl is played to be the ‘son’ to the non-admitting parents Sophie and Howl, while Turnip Head is the friend that is considered apart of the family.

This is developed further when Calcifer is near death. His “spark” was dying, just as a human would slowly dwindle into a questioning state of where their life is going. At that point in the film, you are on the edge of your seat hoping for everything to turn around, just as you hope things turn good in real life.

But I think overall, Miyazaki is attempting to tell a greater story for cinema, and all things that encompass it. Follow your heart, it’s that simple.