The Brilliance of Howl’s Moving Castle: Book & Film

As someone who was not a fan of Spirited Away (I know, I know. I think some of the character designs were a bit too creepy for me!), I was cynical when I sat down over the weekend to watch Howl’s Moving Castle, also by director Hayao Miyazaki.

I loved it.

For me, the brilliance in Howl’s Moving Castle first hit me in the relatability of Sophie’s character. By all accounts, she is unremarkable. Working in a hat shop and knowing that she is the least beautiful and accomplished of her two younger sisters, Lettie and Martha, signifies why her being cursed into becoming an old woman is so effective. She feels and acts as if she is older than she really is, choosing not to go out like the other girls in the city to celebrate May Day. Additionally, something I enjoyed that the movie did and the book did not do was show Sophie’s curse fading in moments when she feels free or is recognizing her affection for Howl. It was incredibly touching, and it worked to display her character progression.

This is what makes the contrast between her and Howl’s character all the more interesting to explore; they both wish for freedom but are tied down in different ways. By meeting each other, they are challenged and are forced to grow and confront their various issues. In the book, Sophie is critical of Howl’s ‘womanizer’ personality as he goes out to pursue different women only to drop them when they fall in love with him. In the film, she is critical of his overall selfishness and vanity. While I believe the movie could have done more to make Howl unlikable (he is VERY unlikable through most of the book), the film primarily focused on justifying the romance between them. Like a traditional fairy tale, both parties are under a curse that only the other person can help them break.

As someone who is usually incredibly critical of adaptations (being a film student), this is the first example of a book/film relationship where I both appreciate and love each, despite their vast differences from one another. The movie brings to life the descriptions given in the book, respecting the character designs given in the text but also translating them to fit the medium of animation. While changes are made (such as the character of Michael being around 15 years in the book and being changed into a child named Markl in the film), they still complement the basic structure of the story.

If you can, I encourage you to read the book (or the whole book series since it is a trilogy!) and watch the film. They complement one another quite well while still being very separate and distinct pieces of art. Overall, it is an incredible story that deserves to be appreciated.