Howl’s Moving Castle encompasses everything I love and have come to expect from a Hayao Miazaki classic – stunning animation, fascinating magic, and oh-so-strange and loveable characters. I’ll be honest. I’ve encountered some (cough – completely insane – cough) people who don’t like this movie. I think this has to do with the straight-up absolute bizarreness of some of the characters and plot. But that’s what I love about it.
The wizard Howl swoops into Sophie’s life with all the bravado and flamboyancy of a true hero, setting the humdrum motion of her predictable life into chaos. As she sets off for the first time, seeking to break a witch’s curse, timid Sophie comes head to head with many strange people, from demons to witches, and even a turnip-headed scarecrow. Each with powers and secrets beyond her wildest expectations.
The way each character talks can be weird and explain-y about their inner thoughts or reactions. But, on top of adding to the quirky, funny nature of the movie, there’s something about this that ties in with one of the underlying themes that I love so much – the changing language (and magic) of Sophie’s own voice.
Sophie starts out as quiet and dowdy, but as she breaks off on this adventure, her voice slowly grows louder, becoming hilariously witty, and even finding ways to manifest itself in the world around it: “I said move!” she demands of an unbudging plane, crashed into the mouth of Howl’s castle. With one kick she suddenly sends it shooting out.
Howl’s Moving Castle is so strangely out of this world. Yet somehow in its full hearted awkwardness and frankness about human nature, it feels familiar and close to home. Often, like Sophie, I find that I am the last one to see my own strength. But maybe, also like Sophie, in the least expected way I might have what it takes to be the only hero truly needed in saving myself.