Rusty and dark without any pomp the image can be anything but a castle. Without tapering towers or exquisite architecture to match our expectations, Howl’s Castle does not fail to grab our attention. It is not a site one can visit at will. However, if you are lucky you can get a glimpse of the moving castle as it makes its way through magic portals and picturesque landscape. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) is adapted from Diana Wynne Jones’s novel of the same name. Studio Ghibli’s animation coupled with Hayao Miyazaki’s direction makes Howl’s Moving Castle a beautiful journey.
Locating Howl’s Moving Castle: Plot summary
Young Sophie works at her father’s hat store. One day on her way to meet her younger sister, Sophie encounters two soldiers trying to flirt with her. A charming Howl emerges to rescue our damsel in distress. Howl warns her about spirits that are following them. The strange day takes a life-altering turn when Sophie returns home and has an unexpected visitor. The Witch of the Waste- an Elegant woman, a sorceress known for her charms, casts an unspeakable curse on timid Sophie. The spell transforms the eighteen-year-old into a woman of four scores.
In an attempt to make peace with her transformation and find a way to lift the curse, Sophie flees to the land of witches and wizards. She takes refuge in Howl’s Moving Castle and helps keep the place tidy and in order. She comes across bewitched objects, wizards, and demons, and battles with adversities to gain love from her life which had little to offer otherwise.
The Residents of Howl’s Moving Castle-
Howl: The charming wizard and master of the house. Although he created the moving castle and the house functions on his orders, very little of him lives there. He has created portals that allow the house to navigate among terrains adding to its privacy.
Calcifer: the fire demon. Although Howl is the master of the castle, Calcifer runs the show. He keeps the house warm. The house exists because he does.
Markl: This young chap is honing his magic skills. He lives with Howl and runs errands for him. As Howl’s apprentice, he looks into the smooth functioning of Howl’s businesses in his absence.
Sophie: Our protagonist is a later addition to the moving household. Her presence transforms the rotten castle into a beautiful home. She brings along the scarecrow Turnip-head. The Witch of the West later tags along with them.
Rumor has it, Howl consumes the hearts of lovely ladies. Sophie hasn’t felt beautiful in her living years. She therefore believed that she did not run the risk of losing her heart to Howl. As mentioned, Sophie is a victim of the Witch of the West who had been in search of Howl’s heart. Sophie is not the only one under a spell. A bewitched scarecrow was one of Sophie’s first friends who led her to Howl’s moving castle. Inside the castle, she meets Calcifer- the fire demon. Calcifer like the scarecrow Turnip-head is under a curse entwined with his master Howl. The Witch of the West’s obsession with Howl’s heart is no less of a curse in itself. These curses jeopardize their lives but tie their fates together. Stripped of beauty, identity, and freedom these characters rediscover themselves.
The curse and the boon turn out to be two sides of the same coin. Sophie; as a young girl remained confined within her father’s hat shop. She lived a life dedicated to others. However, the curse breaks all her shackles and allows her to fearlessly venture into the mystic lands. Old age becomes a tool for Sophie to negotiate with her freedom. In addition to liberating the characters, the film beautifully redefines age.
Suliman, the head sorceress of the King, strips the Witch of the West of all her magical abilities. She is reduced to her original powerless form of an old lady. She tags along with Sophie and Howl to the moving castle. Suliman’s dog follows their lead. In a heated conversation, Suliman threatens Howl to turn him into a monster. Sophie does not let Suliman get the of Howl and they flee.
What follows is a war between two kingdoms. The battle is inhumane. Howl is drawn into the depths of darkness with very little of his human form left. His heart fuels his home – the moving castle which prevents him from dying. Sophie’s love and efforts to lift the curse stop him from befriending death.
The Beauty of the Cursed Lives
In the initial part of the movie, we see a charismatic Howl save a pretty damsel from some hooligans. In the latter half of the movie, an old woman saves a cursed demon. Howl is aware that Sophie is under a curse. He probably identified her as the young girl he once rescued. While Howl’s love for Sophie undoubtedly grows because of mutual kindness uninfluenced by superficial appearances, Turnip Head’s tale is somewhat different. Turnip-head follows Sophie into the moving castle for her kindness. He helps her with the daily chores and saves the family in the face of stress. Sophie rewards him with the true love’s kiss that lifts off the curse, setting him free. Turnip-head transforms into his real charming human self to everybody’s surprise.
Time and again, Sophie deeply in love with Howl moves beyond assessing his physical attributes to help him survive. She is by his side in his most demonic avatar, in his ugliest human self. Howl took a belief in beauty being the only virtue that makes life worth living. Despite such views, Howl gives in to loving Sophie and his ever-growing family irrespective of their appearance.
The superficial beauty of humans dominates the movie. But, the same is reflected when Howl’s ugly moving castle grabs more eyeballs than the fancy palace or even the mundane beauty of streets and villages. A genuine metaphor for life- inherent qualities sustain attention more than physical appearances.
The perspective of the child is often the purest. Markl’s bond with Sophie bears witness to it. Age or physical beauty isn’t a parameter of judgment for little Markl. He simply loves her for her company. Their bond transcends social constructs and is a treat to the viewer.
An animated movie is a sure treat to the eyes. With a heartwarming storyline that transcends paradigms of age and beauty, the film is an aid to aching souls. It is hopeful and optimistic. Fables and fairy tales have often depicted similar themes. Howl’s Moving Castle is a refreshing take on the same. It celebrates mundane serenity and looks for joy in ugly crevices. A delightful watch with deep metaphor.