Anime: Howl's Moving Castle

Well, a heart's a heavy burden.
Sophie

Howl's Moving Castle (ハウルの動く城 Hauru no ugoku shiro) is a 2004 Animated Adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones' novel Howl's Moving Castle. It was directed by Hayao Miyazaki and made at Studio Ghibli, which accounts for the many lovely visuals in the movie. Now, instead of a Medieval European Fantasy, the land of Ingary is a Steam Punk/Gaslamp Fantasy world filled with both technology and magic.

The story starts roughly same way as the book. During a fantasy equivalent version of World War I, a young girl by the name of Sophie works as a hatter and deals with massive insecurity problems. After an encounter with the wizard Howl, she attracts the attention of the petty Witch of the Waste, who lays a curse on Sophie, abruptly making her physically 90 years old. Though rather accepting of her new age, which Sophie finds to fit her personality better, she still sets out to find Howl and break the spell. An animate scarecrow she calls "Turnip Head" leads her to Howl's eponymous castle, where she makes a deal with fire demon/Ifrit Calcifer to break each other's curses under the guise of becoming Howl's cleaning lady. She also meets Howl's apprentice, a young boy named Markl. Meanwhile, Howl is playing the role of a rogue wizard, doing his best to try and halt both sides of the raging war in the background, but the transformations that he uses in order to fight (into an enormous birdlike figure) are bringing him closer and closer to losing his humanity.

During the making of the film, Hayao Miyazaki was very upset over the US invasion of Iraq, resulting in a strong anti-war message being added into the film. The main theme, however, remains the relationship between Howl and Sophie and how it mends the both of them - turning Sophie's insecurity into strength and Howl's aloofness into a desire to protect and love. Due to a great many details and several underlying storylines for minor characters, the movie can be a bit hard to follow at first - this very thing also allows for the audience to discover new things upon each repeat viewing.

The film focuses on both Sophie and Howl's romance as well as the war plaguing their nation. Unlike the original, which was an Affectionate Parody of fairy tales, the film is a straight-as-the-monster-crow-wizard-flies fairy tale itself.

The writer of the original book, Dianne Wynne Jones, was granted a private viewing of the movie by Miyazaki. She stated that she enjoyed it, and found it a very different (but complimentary) experience from her book.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the book Sophie is described as having reddish blonde hair, but in the anime film she has brown hair. At the end even after getting her youth back she still has gray hair, though Howl describes it as looking like starlight.
    • Howl constantly dyes his hair in the book, but is said to have "mud brown" colored hair. In the film his natural hair color is apparently black.
  • Adapted Out: Angorian, Martha Hatter and Mrs. Pentstemmon, although some aspects of the latter are are combined into Madame Suliman instead.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Suliman is a more benevolent and less antagonistic character in the book, and was also cursed by the Witch of the Waste. His film counterpart inherits her role as Howl's mentor from another character, Mrs. Pentstemmon, a kindly figure in the book who the Witch murdered.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Calcifer being OK after Howl gets his heart back, Howl's reasons for catching a falling star in the first place, and other details are left out of the movie from the original book. Although the reason for the deal is pretty obvious from that sequence. The falling stars shaped like people, die when they hit the ground/lake.
  • Author Appeal: A lot of Miyazaki's favorite staples were added to the film. Even one of his favourite actresses, Lauren Bacall, has a role in the dub.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Prince Justin, being cursed into the shape of a scarecrow.
  • The Baroness: The Witch of the Waste is very much like this during the first half of the movie.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Howl watching Sophie while she sleeps may hint that the curse is already broken but Sophie is renewing it.
  • Base on Wheels: The castle.
  • Because I'm Jonesy: Howl comes to Madame Suliman's castle impersonating the Majesty. The charade breaks down when the real Majesty enters the room. Latter doesn't realize what's going on and congrats Madame Suliman for her excellent work on his double.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Don't ask Grandma Sophie if she's working for the Witch of the Waste, Markl.
    • When Howl's hair is accidentally coloured orange... boy, does he freak out!
  • Bishōnen: Howl and Turniphead when he turns back into a human.
  • Body Horror: Wizards who fight in the war end up remaining as bat-like things, forgetting who they really are. Even Howl is undergoing a painful transformation into a nightmarish parody of a monstrous raven.
    • Also, some of the close-ups on the wrinkled Witch of the Waste plus the visuals of Howl's body dissolving in green slime.
  • Boyfriend Bluff: Sophie first meets Howl when he pulls this to rescue her from being harassed by a couple of soldiers. It gets the soldiers off her back, but has the unintended side-effect of exposing her to the interest of the Witch of the Waste.
  • Break the Cutie: The spell cast on innocent Sophie hits her pretty hard in the face, but she learns to grow out of it soon.
  • Break the Haughty: Madame Suliman does this to the Witch of the Waste.
  • Can't Live Without You: If Calcifer dies, so does Howl.
  • Canine Companion: Hin/Heen.
  • The Casanova: Howl is one according to gossip by the townsfolk. However it's implied that Gossip Evolution occurred. Sophie's sister was genuinely terrified when she found out Sophie met a wizard because "If he were Howl he would rip out [her] heart and devour it."
  • Catapult Nightmare: Sophie is startled after her dream in which she meets Howl as a big monster bird.
  • Character Development:
    • Sophie's is a bit subtle. At first when she's turned into an old woman, she hunches while she walks, uses a cane and is very slow, needing a break every so often. As the film moves along, she begins standing up straighter with her stamina increasing until eventually she doesn't need it anymore. This echoes her low sense of self worth as the film begins. This is also highlighted by how she turns younger whenever she feels confident. She ends up breaking the curse completely by the end of the film and transforms back into her younger self.
    • Howl gets this as well. At the beginning of the movie, he acts in a very mysterious and flirtatious manner, behaving like an experienced lover when he charms Sophie. As the movie goes on, he starts to behave in a more open and natural way around her, until he is willing to act responsibly and fight off the enemy planes to protect his "family".
  • Cigarette Burns: The Witch of the Waste puts her cigar out in Howl's palm which he doesn't seem to mind.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Averted with the Prince Justin whose love for Sophie is not returned. He doesn't seem to care too much though.
  • Coming In Hot: Sophie doesn't know how to slow down the flying machine, so she decides to land by crashing into the castle.
  • Composite Character: Madame Suliman, Howl's mentor and the court magician, is two separate characters in the original book: Mrs. Pentstemmon (his mentor, deceased) and Master Suliman (the court magician, very much alive — and male).
  • Continuity Nod:
    • When Calcifer moves the house, the design he briefly changes to (truly demonic looking and blueish) is Calcifer's form in the original book. As well, the English dub makes references to lines from the original book, such as Calcifer's "Here's another curse: May all your bacon burn." Some other minor details, such as Howl cracking eggs one-handed, are also straight out of the book.
    • In a more roundabout way, the war that is an important event in the movie is little more than an off-hand background comment in the book, if it was even mentioned at all. The second book in the series, however does have a prominent war.
  • Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: The Witch of the Waste does this to Markl during the movie's finale in which Sophie and Howl get intimate.
  • Cool Old Lady: Sophie's pretty tough when aged.
  • Creepy Child: Downplayed — Madame Suliman's page boys are all perfectly pleasant, but all oddly flat, and there's something odd about the way they're not only identical to each other, but strongly resemble a younger Howl.
  • Curse: The Witch of the Waste's rapid aging curse is what starts the plot
  • Cursed with Awesome: Sophie's old age curse is genuinely unpleasant, but it does help her to come out of her shell. She's quite philosophical about it for the most part, quipping that her aging-up means that her rather unfashionable clothes now finally suit her and that aging has apparently made her smarter. It also gives her the confidence to stand up to Howl, who now seems young and immature to her rather than imposing as he was when they first met.
  • Darker and Edgier: The book has war being threatened. The film? War is happening and all magic users are being summoned to fight.
  • Dark Is Evil: Howl's transformations into a near-black bird-monster are destroying him, even when he does have a genuinely good reason to fight.
  • Dirty Old Woman: The Witch of the Waste.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Turniphead, albeit you only fully realize that after knowing the final twist.
  • Evil Plan: Averted. Unlike the book there is no clear villainous plot because The Witch of the Waste is depowered half-way through by Suliman who isn't truly a villain.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The movie with a castle that's moving.
  • Flight of Romance: When Howl first encounters Sophie.
  • Flying Car: A Steam Punk take on the trope.
  • Food Porn: Oh, yes. The eggs and bacon in this film are beautiful.
  • Foreshadowing: Watch the scene where Sophie is cleaning out the ashes, and Calcifer falls into the metal cup and almost goes out. When Howl is breathing on Calcifer to get him going again, you can see Howl's heart beating in Calcifer's flames.
  • Gaslamp Fantasy: The film is set in the fantasy equivalent of World War One and filled with both Steampunk-ish technology and magic, the latter of which sets the main plot in motion.
  • Gentleman Wizard: Howl.
  • Ghibli Hills: as in any Studio Ghibli production.
  • Giant Poofy Sleeves: Sophie's mother wears a dress with these when she first appears.
  • Gonk: The Witch of the Waste after her beauty spell is drained.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Many outfits are fancy and colorful. It's all as pretty as the scenery. Unless it's Sophie's wardrobe.
  • Grande Dame: The Witch of the Waste acts like this for the first half of the movie, but later on karma bites her in the butt and puts a stop to it.
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Not only does Howl replicate Sophie's old room, but he brings her to, essentially, a private dimension featuring stunningly gorgeous Ghibli Hills, which he declares is his gift to her. The gesture works and Sophie even changes back into her younger self for the longest time yet in the film until she realizes that the reason Howl is doing this is because he's about to leave.
  • Gratuitous German: In the background of one scene is a recruiting poster that says "Mut und Willeskraft" ("Courage and Strength of Will").
  • Happily Ever After: The final shot of the film is Sophie and Howl on the balcony of the flying castle and share a kiss. Then they are Riding into the Sunset.
  • Happy Ending: Discussed by Madame Suliman and played straight with Sophie and Howl.
  • Heart Trauma: Howl is literally heartless because of a Deal with the Devil. He gets better eventually.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Becomes a problem for Howl. He can transform into a monster bird but the longer he does so the harder it is for him to turn back into a human, which is why the Wizards who turned themselves into monsters to fight in the war won't be able to turn back as they forgot about their true nature.
  • High Collar of Doom: Madame Suliman's dress has a high collar, although she's more antagonistic than outright villainous (although no less dangerous).
  • I Am Not Pretty: Sophie insists she isn't beautiful, through the movie she gains more confidence in herself.
  • I Have Your Husband: Madame Suliman holds Sophie's stepfather (whom she's never met) hostage, forcing Sophie's mother to betray her by planting a Peeping Bug in the castle.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Sophie doesn't believe that she's beautiful (and doesn't believe Howl, when he says so the first time) and doesn't see any reason for Howl to pay any special attention to her. The fact that, for most of the movie, she looks like a withered old crone does not help matters.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: When Sophie enters the castle, she mentions that one perk of getting old is nothing surprises you anymore. Cue Calcifer speaking to her and Sophie's eyes getting big.
  • Important Haircut: Calcifer needs to move the wrecked castle but needs something of value for the energy to do so. He suggests he use Sophie's eyes, but Sophie quickly cuts her long braid and gives it to him. It's good enough.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Sophie to Howl. She's very insecure about how she looks and acts, and her "old age" spell fades when she's at her least self-conscious, or when she's feeling brave and confident. She becomes younger when she waxes rhapsodic to Madame Suliman about Howl's courage and integrity, but all it takes is for Madame Suliman to say "You're in love with him, aren't you?" to make Sophie cringe and age at once to a crone again.
  • Inter-Class Romance: Sophie and Howl; hat shop worker and a Self-Made Man.
  • I Will Find You; Howl gets hold of Sophie in the beginning because that's what she asked him to do when they shortly meet in his childhood.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Madame Suliman who manages to reduce the Witch of the Waste into an old woman and tries to impale Howl and Sophie.
  • Lady of Black Magic: Madame Suliman and the Witch of the Waste cast spells.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Howl can be described as one. Another nod to the book where he's even more so, though that is partially Sophie's fault. She has latent magic that allows her to bring inanimate objects to life, and accidentally sews her love for Howl into the outfits of his she mends. Cue mass amounts of girls falling for him.
  • Light Is Not Good: As the Witch of Waste learned, magical lamps are the polar opposite of "good". To a lesser extent Suliman as well — she sits in a conservatory, lit brilliantly by sunlight and surrounded by thriving plants, and she appears the very image of benevolence and wisdom.
  • The Load: The Witch of the Waste is this for Sophie and Howl after her degeneration.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Apparently, Sophie keeps her grey hair even after the curse was lifted.
  • Mark of the Beast: Howl's arm changes to feathers.
  • Master of Disguise: Howl can disguise himself as anyone which is to be expected of a Wizard of his caliber.
  • Meaningful Background Event / Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Sophie and Howl are escaping the capital on the airplane, a group of soldiers are seen in the street below shooting at what look like protesters. This is never mentioned again, so it's possible it was just background filler. Or it could be the reason why at the end Suliman asks for the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense, rather than the King.
  • Mistaken Identity: Sophie believes the dog is Howl in disguise and carries him all the way up the palace stairs. Turns out, the dog is Suliman's pet.
  • Mystical High Collar: Madame Suliman's dress has a high collar, and she's the royal sorcerer.
  • Mystical White Hair: Sophie towards the end. Howl even provides the quote for the main page.
  • Mythology Gag: Calcifer briefly transforms into a form that is very similar to what he looked like in the book.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Madame Suliman, the Witch of the Waste and old Sophie.
  • Nice Hat:
    • Sophie's mother's hat had little cannons on it!
    • Averted with Sophie's hat, despite her attachment to it.
    Howl: You're going to wear that hat? After I used all of that magic to make your dress look pretty?
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Justified. In order to keep Howl from defending their home in the city, Sophie breaks the portal link by moving Calcifer outside on which the entire castle collapses.
  • No Immortal Inertia: The Witch of the Waste manages to survive her Immortality Failure, only to age, shrink, and become completely senile.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Downplayed. When the Witch of the Waste loses her powers, she appears to go completely senile and helpless — but she still has a helping of craftiness and all her knowledge of magic. She does still have her moments of confusion. Her obsession with capturing Howl's heart is logical once you realize that like Howl, she gave her heart away to a demon and thus has no heart herself. In the end though, she realistically resembles an old lady with dementia.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: When Madame Suliman tries to capture Howl, there are a few seconds of very creepy singing (seriously, it cannot be overemphasized how creepy the singing is) from the sprites that encircle him. Might overlap with Ironic Nursery Tune.
  • One-Winged Angel: Near the end, Howl transforms himself into a giant flying bear/wolverine-eagle thing to fight off bombers.
  • Painful Transformation: Every time Howl transforms into and out of his bird form, the experience gets more painful and difficult.
  • Partial Transformation: Howl into a winged bird monster thing.
  • Percussive Maintenance: When they try to pull the flying machine out of the castle after the crash landing, it is not moving. Then Sophie gives it a kick on which the vehicle starts propelling out of the castle.
  • Perpetual Molt: Bird!Howl, naturally to show his condition worsening.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Nothing too elaborate, despite the era, but Madame Suliman's dress shows off with the gold trimmings, jewelry, and a fur-trimmed collar.
  • Portal Door: The magic door in the castle leads to far away places and times.
  • Portal to the Past: The castle door towards the end that leads Sophie to Howl's childhood moment with the falling stars.
  • Rescue Romance: Sophie becomes attracted to Howl after he rescues her at the beginning of the movie.
  • Ring of Power: Howl hands one to Sophie. It later leads her to the door in the rocks.
  • Scenery Porn: The movie is stunning in practically every frame.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: The dark bat-like monsters that chase Howl during his flight sequence used to be the other wizards of Ingary, called to fight for the crown; Howl states they've forgotten what they used to be and can't change back. It's also implied that the same will happen to Howl if he keeps on using his raven form — he finds it more and more difficult to change back every time.
  • Significant Background Event: Early in the film, two elderly background characters are heard chatting about the prince of the next kingdom going missing, and how the war is getting worse because of it. It's the only mention of this character in the whole film... until Sophie breaks the spell on Turniphead, and he's restored to his true form—the missing prince.
  • Schizo Tech: Generic 19th Century clothing and locations, but with giant airships, and of course magic.
  • Spared By Adaptation: The Witch of the Waste survives even though in the book she was more of a Disc One Final Boss who got killed off by Howl. Here, she is reduced to a rather fat yet grandmotherly character.
  • Steam Punk: From a distance, the Castle looks like a huffing and puffing mecha. Some cogs are showing as well.
  • Stepford Smiler: Howl. He keeps the charming smile on his face even during some very inappropriate moments, like when burning the Witch's note, or telling Sophie "You nearly killed my friend."
  • The Stoic: The Witch of the Waste is totally unmoved by the bomb attack and keeps puffing on her cigar.
  • Temporal Paradox: Howl isn't lying when he scares lecherous soldiers away from Sophie, saying he's been looking for her for a long time. That action, and that search, however, is what drives the Witch of the Wastes to curse Sophie, which drives Sophie to seek out Howl's Castle, eventually diving into the past and telling young Howl to look for her in the future. Which she wouldn't need to do, if he hadn't found her, and bugger me I've gone cross-eyed.
  • Theme-and-Variations Soundtrack: There are maybe three tracks (of 26 total) that don't include the main theme, "The Merry-Go-Round of Life," in some form.
  • This Was His True Form: Sophie returning to young age during sleep.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: Many beautiful Steam Punk and Magitek examples.
  • Tongue-Tied: Sophie is unable to tell anyone that the Witch of the Wastes has turned her into an old woman.
  • Too Important to Walk: the super-sized Witch of the Waste rides around town in a sedan chair carried by two magically-created mooks.
  • Trash of the Titans: In the film we get to see just as filthy the Castle was before Sophie showed up, including spiderwebs.
  • True Blue Femininity: Sophie changes from a green dress to a blue one when she goes to seek her fortune. Howl later spruces the dress up with magic to make its color brighter and clearer.
  • True Companions: Howl refers to the castle gang as his "family," even though they're all unrelated.
  • True Love's Kiss: Sophie breaks the curse on Turniphead by kissing him, and it is indeed a "kiss from your true love breaks it" kind of spell but as the Witch of the Waste notes, she's already in love with Howl. Turniphead is fine with that, however, as he sees no reason why someone can't have more than one true love over the course of a lifetime. The translators took a bit of liberty with that "true love" wording. The actual line in Japanese translates to "a kiss from someone you love". But then again, it literally means "beloved person", so some artistic license can be forgiven.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: When Sophie sees her mother again for the first time since the curse was inflicted, the mother quickly says, "Oh, you're so old!"—and then goes on to the next subject as if the fact of her daughter's hyper-agedness isn't too big a deal. Ultimately explained when we learn that she already knew, and is selling her out.
  • Utility Magic: Howl's business is this sort of thing; spells for housekeeping and such for a price.
  • Vain Sorceress:
    • The Witch of the Waste, who had been using a spell to keep herself young and beautiful. She gets a lot nicer after she stops using her magic.
    • To call Howl a Vain Sorcerer is like calling the Arctic a bit chilly. He's so obsessed with looking "beautiful" that his hair accidentally being dyed orange causes him to go into a Freak Out before sliding into a depression. The scene is aptly titled "Drama Queen" on the DVD release. Dianna Wynne Jones states that they actually made Howl less of a drama queen in the film.
  • Wangst: An In-Universe example, when Howl throws a tantrum over his hair color - even summoning spirits of darkness and emanating green goo.
    Howl: What's the point of being alive if I can't be beautiful?
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Suliman is often this more than an outright villain.
  • Winged Humanoid: Howl in his bird-like form, at least early on. His transformation becomes much more monstrous when it goes out of control later in the film.
  • Zorro Mark: The Witch of the Waste sends Howl a "scorching love note" via Sophie, which falls on the breakfast table when Howl touches it and burns a scorch mark on the table. However, the permanent marking is averted when Howl proceeds to declare the mark "can't be good for the table" and wiped it away with his bare hand.