The movie background is the mythical early 20th-century realm of the fire demon Calcifer, where magic and technology coexist, and is at war with another kingdom. Sophie, a youthful hat maker who is transformed into an old woman by a witch, is the main character of the movie. She meets a witch named Howl and becomes sucked into his war against the king and to save Calcifer from annihilation. Here are some interesting details concerning the movie’s theme.
The strong anti-war sentiment in Howl’s Moving Castle was inspired by Miyazaki’s opposition to the 2003 Iraq War. Director Miyazaki is a pacifist. Before the Iraq War, Miyazaki made the decision to create a movie that he believed would not be well received in America because it may make American viewers feel uneasy. Madame Suliman appears to be only a conflict-creating sadist throughout the film, and although being intelligent, he does not grasp the futility of the battle until it is too late.
This is consistent with Miyazaki’s assertion that disputes in the real world are arbitrary and created by people with abnormal thoughts, just like those in movies. The film has a strong emphasis on conflict and military presence. Military aspects were stressed from the very first conceptual sketches.
The characters in Howl’s Moving Castle have incredibly complicated personalities; even those who are originally portrayed negatively, like Howl, are revealed to be able to evolve. The universe of the film has no obvious villains or heroes. The straightforward theme of the movie, according to Matt Kimmich, is that “war is evil.”
In the shape of a bird, Andrew Osmond claims that “Howl’s anti-war theme is shown as irreplaceable nihilism as he fights and becomes the worst horror.” Howl risks losing his humanity by changing into a bird; Calcifer did mention that he would soon be unable to change back into a human. In contrast, Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke battles a demonic disease while attempting to mediate a settlement between them.
2. Compassion and Aging
The comparatively upbeat view of the Howl’s Moving Castle movie, according to Miyazaki, is one of its captivating elements. Due to the witch’s enchantment, Sophie grew older and became more comfortable expressing her thoughts and feelings. In the movie, a phony old woman named Sophie tries to save two young guys who fall in love with her and unintentionally put an end to the conflict in her land, breaking the stereotype of “unattractiveness in old age,” according to Elizabeth Parsons. Sophie’s grandma has an influence on her behavior, including cleanliness, friendliness, and concern for those around her. However, these activities are described as heroic and forceful. In Miyazaki’s movies, Sophie is one of the powerful female characters. This, in Parsons’ opinion, also shows the film’s feminist aspect. Although Sophie attempted to pass as a maid in order to gain admission to the castle, the movie also demonstrates that housework is fairly spread, furthering the feminist undertone.
In 2013, Miyazaki stated that Howl’s Moving Castle was his favorite work, and he provided the following justification: “I wanted to emphasize that life is worth living, but I don’t really believe that. change.” In the movie, Sophie is portrayed as overcoming formidable obstacles by learning to prioritize the happiness of those who matter to her over her own, a trait Miyazaki refers to as conscientiousness.
According to Cavallaro, Miyazaki promotes this idea throughout the movie to highlight the qualities of goodwill, as seen, for instance, when the scarecrow covers Sophie’s head with an umbrella when it rains. Howl, the most egotistical and self-centered character in the movie, develops a willingness to put others before himself. Sophie adopts and cares for the Waste Witch when Madame Suliman transforms her back into the old woman, despite the fact that the witch is to blame for Sophie’s curse since she so powerfully exemplifies compassion.
After nearly destroying Howl with her selfish actions, the witch assists in saving the castle at the end of the movie. Old women “may be powerful and weak, positive and negative, nurturing and selfish, mean and adored,” according to Parsons. In other words, they “cannot be easily classed or stereotyped, and they cannot be considered as fantasy males, embodied by malevolent witches.” Additionally, they are given a lot of screen time as lively characters which is uncommon in western movies.
3. Flight and Modernity Criticism
Howl’s Moving Castle, like some of the director’s other works, is inspired by his passion for flying. There are some imaginatively constructed planes in the movie, as well as a sequence where Howl changes into a bird. In his subsequent film The Wind Rises, Miyazaki believes that flight is the most straightforward theme. Miyazaki claims that despite his early attraction to military aircraft, he learned to despise them as a result of the destructive reasons they were designed to serve. Thus, Howl’s Moving Castle depicts both big military ships that are described as ugly and destructive, as well as aircraft that are thought to be safe and lovely. Miyazaki wanted to “represent flying as an object of respect and wonder,” according to Cavallaro, but he was also “aware of its misuse by dishonest strategists and authorities.”
The complex interpretation of flying is a part of Miyazaki’s larger critique of contemporary culture and technology. According to Margaret Talbot, Miyazaki explicitly conveys “deep unhappiness with modern existence,” particularly in light of the negative effects of technology and our increasing estrangement from nature. His movies frequently show technological arrogance as one of the causes of evil. Although battleships were later reported to be extremely destructive, they were spotted moving across the landscape and were characterized as “sparkling with modernity and marching with integrity.” The semi-organic castle, on the other hand, is Carl and Garrath Wilson’s interpretation of “Miyazaki’s Taoist portrayal of industrialism that needs to be in harmony with nature.”
Miyazaki frequently presents lovely images as contrasted to those with contemporary symbolism, like the scene where a war machine interrupts Sophie’s monument, according to Antonio Lioi. This contrast is a component of a critique of modernity’s ecological impact, but Miyazaki also provides an alternative in the shape of a stunning natural setting.
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