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Anime / Howl's Moving Castle

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"Well, a heart's a heavy burden."

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 Steampunk/Gaslamp Fantasy world filled with both technology and magic.

The story starts roughly the same way as the book – During a fantasy equivalent version of World War I, a young woman by the name of Sophie (Chieko Baisho) works as a hatter and deals with massive insecurity problems. After an encounter with the wizard Howl (Takuya Kimura), she attracts the attention of the petty Witch of the Waste (Akihiro Miwa), 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 (Tatsuya Gashuin) 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 (Ryunosuke Kamiki). 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 spells he's using in order to fight 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.

It is also the final film to be produced by Ghibli before it broke off with Tokuma Shoten in March 2005.

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 complementary) experience from her book.

Jean Simmons provides the voice of elderly Sophie in the English dub.

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:
    • Ms. Angorian and Mrs. Fairfax are totally left out, and Martha is combined with Lettie, by leaving out their deception. Ben Sullivan and Mrs. Pentstemmon are also totally left out, though aspects of both of them went into Madame Suleiman.
    • Gaston/Percival is also functionally left out, though a dog does show up at one point.
    • The explanation of why Sophie shifts back and forth at points was left out, rendering it confusing as to why this happens to her in the film.
  • Adaptational Nationality: The movie drops an entire subplot from the book about Howl's origins, and makes him a native of Ingary.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Some of Howl's more prevalent flaws in the books such as his womanizing behavior and chronic irresponsibility are omitted or downplayed. His anti-war attitude is original to the movie, as book Howl had no problem supplying the King of Ingary with magical devices for his troops, although no war actually occurs in the book.
    • The Scarecrow in the book is a rather intimidating figure, even actively terrifying at times. In the film, it is rather jolly and never more than just a bother.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: Applied to the castle itself. The book describes it as a tall black castle made of coal bricks, but the film goes for a dirtier, steampunk-inspired design. On top of that, it now bears a beastly face, giving it the appearance of an enormous mechanical monster.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Wizard 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 whom the Witch murdered.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Calcifer being okay 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 somewhat obvious from that sequence. The falling stars shaped like people die when they hit the ground/lake.
  • Age Lift: Howl's around 27-years-old in the book note , but happens to be an 18 to 21-year-old in the film. Similarly, Michael Fisher is 15-years-old, while Markl is a child around 8-12.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: After Howl's escape from Madame Suliman, all of his fake wizard domains are raided by the authorities, but he had completely removed them from the castle door prior, leaving their empty facades behind. Played straight later when the monsters invade the hat shop.
  • 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.
  • The Baroness: The Witch of the Waste is very much like this during the first half of the movie.
  • Base on Wheels: The castle is a base on legs.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Howl watching Sophie while she sleeps may hint that the curse is already broken but Sophie is renewing it.
  • Berserk Button: When Howl's hair is accidentally coloured orange... he has a literal meltdown.
  • Big Fancy Castle: The eponymous castle is home to a wizard and there's plenty of magic inside it and making it move. In a subversion of the trope, the outside is humongous but the inside is only as big as a two-bedroom house. Or at least, the characters spend most of their time on the ground floor. They have to ascend several flights of stairs to even get to the bedrooms. Much of the castle appears to be unused, if it’s even anything more than a facade, as the castle is in the book.
  • 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 swallow.
    • 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.
  • Brought Down to Badass: Sophie from the book to the movie. In the book, she has a magical power that imbues abilities in inanimate objects she talks to. In the movie, she doesn't have any magical ability. That doesn't stop her from righteously calling out Miss Suliman or the Witch of the Waste, nor from being able to fulfill Calcifer's contract, deal with the stubborn and aloof Howl, undo the old age spell put on her, and save Howl — both when the Witch of the Waste steals his heart from Calcifer and when he's about to go mad from turning into a bird-monster.
  • Can't Live Without You: If Calcifer dies, so does Howl.
  • Canine Companion: Heen.
  • The Casanova: Howl is one according to gossip by the townsfolk. However, it's heavily 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.
  • Central Theme: Be Yourself, or more specifically, don’t be someone or something you’re not out of fear of other people’s judgment or to avoid conflict and responsibility.
  • 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 Prince Justin, whose love for Sophie is not returned. He seems to take it quite well, though.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The interior of the castle can teleport to one of four locations at a time, and there's a dial beside the castle's front door that indicates the present location of the interior. The mechanism is operated by turning the handle, and the dial has four different colours: red, green, blue, and black.
  • 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, deceasednote  and Wizard Suliman (the court magician, very much alive... and male).
    • In the book, Sophie has two sisters: dark-haired Lettie who studies magic and half-sister Martha who works at Cesari's Bakery. The movie merges the two with a blonde Lettie, who works at the pastry shop and is implied to be Sophie's half-sister.
  • Confronting Your Imposter: Howl comes to Madame Suliman's castle impersonating His Majesty. The charade breaks down when the real Majesty enters the room... and doesn't realize what's going on and congratulates Madame Suliman for her excellent work on his double. It's implied that Suliman already figured it out before that, as her spy had told her that Howl would be in disguise and she was getting rather snarky at His Majesty's out-of-character behavior as The Good King, knowing the real Majesty to be a pompous fool.
  • 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.
  • The Dandy: Howl is well dressed and vain, falling into despair at one point when his hair is ruined.
  • 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.
  • Deal with the Devil: Calcifer, being a demon, it able to make supernatural deals with mortals. Both Howl and Sophie make such deals with him. While he's pretty neutral moral-wise, a price for getting anything this way is rather drastic because that's how things work here in Japanese mythology.
  • Dirty Old Woman: The Witch of the Waste.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Turnip Head, albeit you only fully realize that after knowing the final twist.
  • The Edwardian Era: The cars, the clothes, the decor, the setting and the war itself date the film in a 1912-14 Steampunk/fantasy setting.
  • Evil Plan: Averted. Unlike the book, there is no clear villainous plot because The Witch of the Waste is depowered halfway 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 Steampunk take on the trope.
  • Foil: The Witch of the Waste and Sophie. Sophie goes from a plain, self-conscious young woman to an old woman due to the spell from the Witch of the Waste, but learns strength and self-confidence and manages to gain Howl's favor, turning back into a young lady as her self-image improves. The Witch of the Waste is actually an old woman, but is vain and constantly has a spell on herself to look younger than she is, and becomes an old senile woman when drained of her powers... right about the time Sophie starts to turn young again.
  • Food Porn: Oh yes. Just like we've come to expect from Miyazaki. The eggs and bacon in this film are beautiful.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Sophie encounters Howl for the first time, he tells her that he's "been looking everywhere" for her. At first, you think he's just saying this because he's pretending to be her friend in front of the guards. As it turns out, he actually was looking for her, because that's what she instructed him to do when she time traveled back to his childhood.
    • 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.
    • Right after the enemy nation bombs the port, one of their planes drops what appear to be missing posters of a man into the town. Eventually, it's revealed that Turnip Head was the prince of that nation who went missing, and his was the reason the war was being fought in the first place.
  • Forced Transformation: Prince Justin, being cursed into the shape of a scarecrow.
  • Gaslamp Fantasy: The film is set in the fantasy equivalent of World War I and filled with both Steampunk-ish technology and magic, the latter of which sets the main plot in motion.
  • Gentleman Wizard: Howl.
  • Ghibli Hills: Remember what studio made this movie.
  • Giant Poofy Sleeves: Sophie's mother wears a dress with these when she first appears.
  • Glamour Failure: Madame Suliman's special lamp room forcibly removes the Witch's appearance as a younger woman.
  • Gonk: The Witch of the Waste after her beauty spell is drained.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: The Witch of the Waste certainly enjoys a good stogie. She even warns Howl not to deny an old woman her simple pleasures.
  • 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").
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: The chanting of the spirits summoned by Suliman is actually a Bulgarian folk song called Trendafilcheto.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality / White-and-Grey Morality: Like most Miyazaki films, antagonists are grey at worst. Suliman is actually a Well-Intentioned Extremist at worst. The Wicked Witch of the Waste turns out to not be nearly as bad and actually joins the heroes halfway through the movie.
  • 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 their true nature.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Turnip Head destroys his pole when stopping a runaway door that Sophie is riding from plummeting into a crevasse.
  • High Collar of Doom: Madame Suliman's dress has a high collar, although she's more antagonistic than outright villainous (although no less dangerous).
  • Homage: The four-colored circle linked to the magic portal doors closely matches the color patterns of the round stained-glass windows in the empty train station at the entrance to the magical world of the spirits in Miyazaki's Spirited Away.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Sophie insists she isn't beautiful. Through the movie she gains more confidence in herself, but irony comes in when it's revealed Howl had enough interest in her in their first meeting (actually second) that the Witch of the Waste considered her a problem / rival to her for Howl's affections before any of her character development.
  • I Have Your Wife: 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.
  • Invisible to Normals: The shoddily disguised blob-like mooks the Witch of the Waste commands as does Suliman are able to pass through crowds without attracting so much as a double take, which Sophie comments on but never gets addressed.
  • I Will Find You: Howl gets hold of Sophie in the beginning because that's what she asks him to do when they shortly meet in his childhood.
  • 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.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Witch of the Waste curses Sophie into an old woman and later angrily threatens to turn her senile also. Before she can ever carry that out, the Witch gets turned into an even more ancient crone and is left powerless and very senile.
  • Light Is Not Good: As the Witch of Waste learns, 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 she gets depowered.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Apparently, Sophie keeps her grey hair even after the curse is lifted.
  • MacGuffin: Calcifer's pact to Sophie: if Sophie helps him end his pact with Howl, he'll help Sophie reverse the old age spell. Switches at the halfway point when Sophie's spell is revealed to be determined by her self-confidence, and the slow reveal that leads Sophie to figuring out how to get Howl's heart back from Calcifer.
  • Manchild: Howl is initially one, as part of his refusing to take responsibility.
  • Mark of the Beast: Howl's arm sprouts 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 capitol on the airplane, a group of soldiers and tanks are seen in the street below shooting at what looks like townspeople or 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.
  • Men Can't Keep House: The inside of the castle is an absolute mess when Sophie turns up. The bathroom is even worse.
  • 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.
  • Mood Whiplash: Howl's hair-dye incident, the whole scene going for just under 2 minutes. He comically wangsts about how terrible his hair is and Sophie tries to cheer him up. It turns nightmarish for a moment as Sophie discovers Howl is covering himself in green goo, only to whip into sadness as Sophie then complains about herself never feeling beautiful even once in her life, at which point declares she's leaving and never coming back as she cries in the rain for a bit, then has a poignant moment with Turnip-head covering her with an umbrella. Then it goes back to comical with Markl coming and asking for Sophie's help and wondering if Howl's dead only for Sophie to comment it's just a tantrum. And then he loses his towel as she carries him back upstairs.
  • Moving Buildings: Howl's castle walks around on giant mechanical legs, powered by some combination of magic and steam.
  • Mystical High Collar: Madame Suliman's dress has a high collar, and she's the royal sorceress.
  • 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 looks like in the book.
    • At the start of the film, a young lady in the hat shop mentions Howl tearing the heart out of a girl named Martha. In the book, Martha is the name of Sophie's youngest sister.
    • Madame Suliman mentions the Witch of the Waste giving her heart to a demon of greed, an allusion to the Witch's own fire demon in the book, Ms. Angorian.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Madame Suliman, the Witch of the Waste, and old Sophie.
  • 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, which is followed by the entire castle collapsing.
  • 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 from the sprites that encircle him. Although the song itself is actually a Bulgarian folk song called Trendafilcheto.
  • 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.
  • Really Royalty Reveal: Turnip Head is actually the lost prince whose disappearance is the reason the entire war between Sophie's country and its neighbor is being fought over in the first place.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Humorous subverted with the King of Ingary, who at first seems open about the problems of using magic in the war...than its turns out he's just Howl in disguise. The real king comes off as a bumbling Armchair Military.
  • 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 Gorn: Sophie's hometown is devastated by bombs during the final act (thankfully, it was evacuated beforehand).
  • Scenery Porn: The movie is stunning in practically every frame. The laundry scene in particular takes a few moments to show off the beauty of Star Lake and the mountains surrounding it, and who could forget Howl's gorgeous secret garden?
  • Sealed with a Kiss: The final shot of the film is Sophie and Howl sharing a kiss and then Riding into the Sunset.
  • 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 Turnip Head, 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.
  • Shock and Awe: During the movie's climax, Howl kills hundreds of attacking wizard-bat-monsters with a lightning bolt cast on himself.
  • Shout-Out: Howl and Sophie's story has a lot of similar beats to the story of Eros and Psyche from Classical Mythology.
    • First off, Eros and Howl are beautiful winged young men full of mischief, with a reputation for causing heartache. Sophie is a beautiful young woman cursed by something that wasn't her fault - Howl being seen with her made the beautiful Witch of the Waste jealous. Aphrodite sent Eros to curse Psyche because people were worshipping Psyche, a normal human girl, thinking she was equal or superior to the goddess of beauty, and Eros fell in love with Psyche instead.
    • In a dream, young Sophie holds a candle and encounters a sleeping Howl in his monstrous form, only for him to spurn her and disappear, like Psyche holding a lamp over a sleeping Eros to see his true form (as she was talked into it by fears that he might actually be a monster, only to find out he really is a handsome young man, accidentally awaken him with a searing drop of hot oil, and cause him to flee from her.
    • Sophie blames herself for fighting the Witch of the Waste over Calcifer/Howl's heart and accidentally killing him. Psyche is determined to atone for her mistake and save her beloved, so she enters the land of the dead. Traditionally, the entrance to Hades is said to be a cave system. When Sophie sticks her hand into the void-like portal that opened up off the side of some rocks through the magical door, her hand vaguely turns skeletal.
    • The quest to Hades and Aphrodite's trials killed Psyche, but Eros forgave her and brought her back to life. The Witch of the Waste made her full Heel–Face Turn and gave Sophie back Howl's heart, and she brought him back to life.
  • Spared by the 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.
  • Spell My Name with an S:
    • Due to phonetic translation from English to Japanese and back, the character known as Michael in the books became "Markl" in the film. To make matters worse, whenever his name is spoken, it sounds more like "Marco" than anything else.
    • The Swedish and Norwegian dub doesn't only have the same mistranslation, they also call Howl "Hauru", for the same reasons. Slightly justified in that they were trying to lip sync the movie, but it still comes off a bit awkward.
    • Howl's called "Hauro" in the German dub and the mistranslation of Markl also took place.
    • This is justified, as in Japanese (the original language of the film), Howl is written (and pronounced) "Hauru" (ハウル). Neither "Hauru" nor "Howl" have a meaning of their own in German, anyway, and the original book is all but unknown there. The German title just translates to "The Strolling Castle".
      • The same thing happens with the name of Sophie's (step)mother. In the book her name was "Fanny". While she is never called by name in the movie, her name is written as "Honey" in the art book. The romaji for both words is different (Fanny = ファニー, Honey = ハニー), but the pronunciation is nearly identical ("Fanī" and "Hanī", respectively).
  • Stable Time Loop: As some have pointed out, Sophie, in the past, tells Howl to "find her in the future." Come the beginning of the film, and Howl says he's been looking for her everywhere.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The Witch of the Waste wants Howl's heart badly. Literally, in this case.
  • Steampunk: From a distance, the Castle looks like a huffing and puffing mecha. Some cogs are showing as well.
  • Symbolism: When we first see Howl's bedroom, it's a warm and comfortable place full of colorful and shiny trinkets, reflecting Howl's unchanged innocence and purity in the midst of the war. Later, when Sophie has a dream about Howl's curse growing worse, his room has been reduced to a cold and foreboding lair littered with all his belongings, as though prophetically warning her that the war could turn Howl into a monster.
  • 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.
  • 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 Steampunk and Magitek examples.
  • Tongue-Tied: Sophie is magically 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 how filthy the Castle is before Sophie shows 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 Turnip Head 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. Turnip Head 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.
  • Uptown Girl: Howl, a Self-Made Man, is this to Sophie, a hat shop worker.
  • 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 stated 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.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: Most of the plot's "antagonists" are pretty tame and by the end have managed to redeem themselves. One barely even qualifies if only because they're a MacGuffin that drives the latter half of the film.
    • The Witch of the Waste casts the old age spell on Sophie to start the plot, but at worst is just petty.
    • Madame Suliman is waging a war and wants Howl's magic to keep it going, but is implied to be working with the returned Prince Justin at the end to stop it.
    • Calcifer is a fire demon who made a pact with Howl — Howl's heart for Calcifer's power in magic — and makes a pact with Sophie, but he's sarcastic at worst and mostly honest and helpful.
  • 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 wipe it away with his bare hand.


Video Example(s):



The Witch of The Wastes cursed Sophie by transforming her into an old lady, and that it prevents her from telling its cause to others.

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