Saturday, March 2, 2013

Howl's Moving Castle

Another film by Hayao Miyazaki that’s a great favorite of mine is Howl’s Moving Castle, or Hauru no Ugoku Shiro.  This movie is based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones and it’s a love story between a young woman named Sophie who is cursed by a witch and a wizard/magician named Howl.

The name of the series comes from Howl’s home, a movable and almost constantly moving conglomeration of parts, that from the outside looks more like a junk pile than a castle.  It turns out Howl is not only a powerful wizard, but a spoiled and temperamental boy who has spent a good part of his life running away from things.  Sophie is a young hat-maker who runs afoul of Howl’s doings when he rescues her from some pushy soldiers.   Because of that encounter, the Witch of the Waste, (yes, a wicked witch) curses Sophie to spite Howl and turns her into a 90 year old woman. 

Sophie’s character is really wonderful dealing with this change, and all the changes that follow it.  She has a no nonsense approach to life, and simply copes and handles everything life throws at her.  She’s freaked out at first, of course, but she then accepts the change and leaves home to try get on with her life.  Sophie enters the waste and comes across both an animated scarecrow who helps her out and Howl’s moving castle.  With the scarecrow’s help, she boards the castle to get warm, and finds that the fire in the fireplace is a living creature named Calcifer.  Calcifer provides the motive power for the moving castle, and much of the magic power involved in it as well.  Sophie also discovers a young boy named Markl lives there with Howl and that the door to the castle is magic and has four settings.  Opening the door on one setting leads to the waste, opening it on two of the other settings leads to two different cities and the forth setting is only used by Howl and his magic.  Sophie joins Howl’s little “family” as the house-keeper, and starts out by thoroughly cleaning the castle.   She goes about the cleaning so ruthlessly that she nearly extinguishes poor Calcifer.  She also is so thorough that she disturbs some of Howl’s potions and he goes from being a bleach blond back to his natural state of black hair.  He throws a tantrum and upsets Sophie, but once again her basic no nonsense approach surfaces and deals with the situation.

Howl, for his part, know that the old lady Sophie is the young Sophie who has been cursed by the witch and he accepts her into his castle and his odd little “family”.  Over the course of the film Sophie and Howl fall in love, and along the way he creates magic places and remodels his home for her.

One of the reasons Howl has been hiding is that the countries of the two cities his house leads to are at war.  The rulers of both countries demand that Howl aid them in their war efforts and Howl is adamantly opposed to helping either of them.  So he hides from them and from the Witch of the Waste.  Sophie discovers all this and tries to help Howl.  She goes to visit Howl’s old teacher, the kingdom’s master magician, Madam Suliman.  This doesn’t work out at all, but in the process Sophie discovers that Howl has made a pact with a demon, and is in some danger of turning into that demon because of over-use of the powers.   Howl and Sophie escape to his castle but take with them a spy in the form of Madam Suliman’s dog, and an old lady wreck that is all that remains of the Witch of the Waste after Suliman has finished with her.  These two characters become more members of Howl's "family" group.

Howl continues to try to stay clear of the war, but he is drawn into it in order to protect Sophie and the others.  During a bombing attack the castle is damaged and Sophie takes matters into her own hands to try to protect Howl too.  In the course of events Calcifer, the fire demon, is dowsed with water by Sophie when the old witch grabs him.  Since Calcifer supplies the castle's power, the remaining castle falls apart when he's dowsed and Sophie fears that she's killed him and hurt Howl.  

Sophie follows a link to the past where she sees and finally understands Howl’s and Calcifer's connection.  She sees that Calcifer is a fallen star demon and as a youth Howl captured him.  In exchange for powers from Calcifer, Howl gave Calcifer Howl’s heart.   Armed with this knowledge Sophie returns to the present to discover that Howl is hurt and staying in demon form.  They return to the single remaining floor of the castle where Markl, the witch and what’s left of Calcifer are.  Sophie releases Calcifer from the pact and returns Howl’s heart to Howl.  Calcifer flies away at first, but decides he likes Sophie and Howl and he returns and stays with them, supplying the Castle’s power.

And Sophie, Howl , Markl and Calcifer live happily ever after.

 This movie is really a very pretty love story that’s fun to watch.  The music is good, the plot is unique and they do an amazing job of getting you to see the young Sophie inside the old Sophie.   Her character really makes the film.  Overall, another Miyazaki film you absolutely should not miss.      

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