One’s idea of self can be a difficult concept to combat in today’s society, riddled with the expectations within social media and the notion to stay within the box. It weakens one’s own views of self, confined and trapped in the collective boundaries. Taking this notion, Howl’s Moving Castle uses themes of freedom, confinement, and identity and integrates it into a newfound sense and inspiration of hope — a celebration of one’s individuality and journey.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Howl’s Moving Castle begins by introducing Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer), a young woman living an uneventful and unconfident life working for her father’s hat shop in Ingary. In Ingary, it is tradition that the youngest of the family, commonly the youngest daughter, would set out in her life to achieve large fortunes and success. Sophie, being the oldest, finds her life to be doomed. She believes everything in her life is bland, from her looks, to her occupation, even to the hats she creates. She holds no confidence or pride in herself or her work. That sense of self negativity combined with her doubt for her own future leads to her being cursed by the evil Witch of the Waste (voiced by Lauren Bacall) — turning Sophie into an old woman. Surprisingly, Sophie uses her newfound appearance to her advantage, seemingly fooling everyone around her and taking initiative to go out and find her own success. Along the way she befriends the magical wizard Howl (voiced by Christian Bale) on his own journey to battle the evil Witch of the Waste.
In drastic contrast from the barren Waste are the absolute masterpieces of captivating and magically immersive artwork that Studio Ghibli is known for. These beautifully constructed landscapes not only engage the audience but also keep them enraptured throughout the entirety of the film. Capturing the audience’s attention is incredibly important to the success of a film, and Studio Ghibli’s unique take of incorporating richly vivid displays is no different in Howl’s Moving Castle.
While one may worry that so much focus in the surrounding landscapes of the characters will distract from the message of the film itself, Hayao Miyazaki’s directive talents ensure the morals are not lost in the delicate fields of flowers and bustling kingdoms. The stunning scenery is simply the first snare to get the audience’s attention. That initial focus is all Miyazaki needs before directing their awareness to the plot of this film itself. He’s truly talented — the dedication in his work evident with the success of dutifully portraying the themes within Howl’s Moving Castle.
Themes rely on the art of storytelling and is ultimately important in the success of a film. In order to achieve that success, writers must engage the audience with an entertaining plot. In the case of Howl’s Moving Castle, there’s a mixture of wild fantasy and adventure with very recognizable human behaviors and actions. It not only brings in the relatability factor but also a sense of fun and excitement. As humans, there’s a desire to experience more, more than what is attainable in this life. This film incorporates magic into normal Sophie — from befriending a wizard, to living in a moving house, to even talking fires. Fantasy movies allow for the imagination of not only the creators of the film, but also those who watch it. It allows the viewers to experience their own little fantasy, even if only for a little while, ultimately making this film incredibly successful.
The film, through Sophie and Howl’s individual and shared journeys, inspires viewers to be courageous and live their life the way they deem fullest and happiest. Often, one finds her- or himself dispirited or hopeless in terms of the way their life is currently going. Whether it be the influence of society, or perhaps family, the sense of being locked or contained in a box is ever-present. This film acknowledges those difficulties and perseveres through, becoming an incentive to persevering through your own life. While the confinements of families or society can be troublesome, there are always ways to work around it or find your own self within those confinements and work from there. Howl’s Moving Castle, while a fantastic fantasy, allows you to discover the themes of freedom, confinement, and even identity for yourself.
The movie takes the feeling of freedom to a whole new level with the soundtrack as Studio Ghibli believes it to be a crucial foundation to a film’s entirety. The audience is introduced to what becomes known as the opening theme of this film, “Merry Go Round of Life” by Joe Hisaishi. True to its classical genre, this song becomes a genuine classic for anyone who’s watched this movie. It becomes a tune you instantly integrate into your mind and spirit, a joyous and uplifting tune that’ll surround you with a pleasant feeling. It feels magical, no matter how many times you listen to it. It’s no wonder “Merry Go Round of Life” is so heavily praised and retained — truly a whimsical work of unforgettable art.
Howl’s Moving Castle is such a wonderful concoction of magic and fantasy, realism and identity. There is so much to take away from this film. Whether you hope to be inspired to conquer your own lifestyle, encounter hilariously lovable characters, or simply wish to tag along on a magical journey, Howl’s Moving Castle will be waiting for you to experience this delicately captivating fairytale.
You’ll “feel so at home.”
Howl’s Moving Castle is rated PG.
Kaitlyn Riley is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl