Howl's Moving Castle (ハウルの動く城 Hauru no Ugoku Shiro?) is a 2004 Japanese animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli and loosely based on Diana Wynne Jones' novel of the same name. Mamoru Hosoda, director of one season and two movies from the Digimon series, was originally selected to direct but abruptly left the project, leaving the then-retired Miyazaki to take up the director's role.

The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2004 and was released in Japanese theaters on November 20, 2004. It went on to gross $231,710,455 worldwide,[1] making it one of the most financially successful Japanese films in history. The film was subsequently dubbed into English by Pixar's Peter Docter and distributed in North America by Walt Disney Pictures. It received a limited release in the United States and Canada beginning June 10, 2005 and was released nationwide in Australia on September 22 and in the UK the following September. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 78th Academy Awards in 2006.

Ms. Wynne Jones's novel allows Mr. Miyazaki to combine a plucky young woman and a mother figures into a single character in the heroine, Sophie. She starts out as a 18-year-old hat maker, but then a witch's curse transforms her into a 90-year-old gray head. Sophie is horrified by the change at first. Nevertheless she learns to embrace it as a liberation from anxiety, fear and self-consciousness. The change might be a blessed chance for adventure.[2]


Young hatter Sophie is a responsible and beautiful girl, though she does not perceive herself as such, who runs her late father's hat shop. When on her way to the bakery to visit her sister, Lettie, she encounters by chance the mysterious wizard Howl, who takes a liking to her. This arouses the ire of the Witch of the Waste, who has been seeking Howl's heart for herself. Later that night, she comes to the hat shop and curses Sophie, turning her into an old woman. As the curse prevents her from telling anyone of her condition, Sophie decides to run away. Along the way, she befriends a sentient scarecrow that she names Turnip Head, and they come across Howl's castle.

Once inside, Sophie meets the fire demon Calcifer, who powers the castle and recognizes that Sophie has been cursed. Calcifer offers to break the curse in exchange for Sophie's help in breaking the spell between him and Howl, which keeps Calcifer prisoner in the house. Markl, Howl's young apprentice, arrives to create potions and spells for Howl's patrons, and is perplexed by Sophie's presence, but doesn't try to throw her out and in the course of the story comes to love her like an older sister. When Howl appears, Sophie announces that she is the castle's new cleaning lady, hired by herself because the castle was run-down before she arrived. As she adjusts to life in the castle, she discovers that the front door is a magic portal leading to several places.

Currently, the land Sophie is living in is caught up in the beginning of a war, reminiscent of World War I, with its neighbour following the mysterious disappearance of the other realm's Crown Prince Justin, and slowly the war begins to reach the country. Howl receives summons from the King, who orders his various assumed identities to fight in the war. However, Howl fears Madame Suliman, the royal court's magician and his former mentor, and sends Sophie as his mother to decline his participation. At the palace, Sophie runs into the Witch of the Waste, who had previously been expelled from the court many years ago and now seeks to regain the royal house's patronage; instead, Wizard Suliman punishes the Witch by draining all of her power, causing her to regress into a senile old woman. Suliman tells Sophie that Howl will meet the same fate if he does not contribute to the war. As Sophie vehemently protests these measures, Suliman comes to realize the true nature of this 'mother'; Howl then arrives to rescue Sophie, with the Witch and Suliman's asthmatic lapdog Heen tagging along. He gives Sophie a magical ring that would guide her to Calcifer, but Suliman begins tracking her to get to Howl.

Sophie learns that Howl transforms into a bird-like creature to interfere in the war, but each transformation makes it more difficult for him to return to human form (as it is made apparent that any wizard who would perform such a change could lose themselves to madness). Howl shows his appreciation for her by transforming the castle so that it can lead to Sophie's old home as well as Howl's childhood residence, which he gives to Sophie as a gift. Sophie fears he's preparing to leave them, because he knows his remaining time as a human is limited.

Soon after, Sophie's mother visits the house, and somehow recognizes Sophie, despite her old appearance. They then have a happy reunion. However, Sophie's mother is actually under Suliman's threats, and leaves behind a bag containing a "peeping bug" under her orders. The former Witch of the Waste discovers it and promptly destroys the bug by tossing it into Calcifer. Unfortunately, Calcifer gets sick after eating the bug, rendering him unable to protect the castle from being discovered when Markl opens the windows to air out the Witch's cigar smoke.

A few hours later, the city is carpet-bombed by enemy aircraft while Suliman's henchmen invade the hat shop. After protecting the hat shop from the bombing, Howl transforms and draws the guards away, while Sophie and Calcifer bring the castle to the Wastes. Sophie pulls Calcifer out of the castle to destroy the magic and cut off all ties to the city, so that Howl would not be continually forced to defend them, then moves him back in to create a smaller version of the moving machine so they can rescue Howl. Unfortunately, the Witch of the Waste discovers Howl's heart in Calcifer's diminishing flames, and grabs it. To save her from burning, Sophie douses her and Calcifer with water. The castle breaks apart, and Sophie and Heen are thrown over a cliff.

Sophie recovers in tears, believing that she has killed both Calcifer and Howl, as their lives are interconnected. As she is sobbing, Howl's ring points to the remains of Howl's castle door, but Sophie doesn't see it until Heen alerts her; she walks through it, with Heen reluctantly following, and finds herself in Howl's past, where she sees Calcifer being caught by a young Howl as a falling star. Howl stares at the glowing star in his hands, they are seen to talk to each other and made a contract. The result is that he gave Calcifer his heart and Calcifer once said that it was stated in the contract he that he must never leave the fireplace. Sophie is pulled back into present time, but before leaving, she yells to Howl and Calcifer that she knows how to help them, and they should find and wait for her in the future. They watch in surprise as the she is swallowed up by the ground, with a little dog following her. Lost in time and space, and falling to the earth, Sophie is guided back to the present by Heen, who keeps urging her to hurry, before the passageway collapses.

Back in the present, Sophie finds Howl and realizes that he has been waiting for her all along. When they return to the others, Sophie coaxes the former Witch of the Waste to give back Howl's heart, which she puts back in his chest after Calcifer agrees about it. Calcifer returns to his original form and flies away, but returns shortly out of a newfound loyalty to Sophie. The remains of the castle, with everyone still inside, slide down the cliffs, and Turnip Head is forced to almost sacrifice himself to stop the fall. Sophie gives him a kiss, transforming him back into the missing Prince Justin, who had been cursed by a witch until he could receive a kiss from his true love.

By now, Sophie has fully transformed back to her youthful self, with the exception of her silver hair, and Howl recovers, feeling the new burden of his restored heart, though glad to see Sophie again and Howl said that he liked Sophie's starlight hair. Though he has come to love Sophie as well, Prince Justin realizes that her love is for Howl and leaves to put an end to the war, as does Suliman, who has been spying on the group using Heen. Later, Howl, Sophie, and the others are seen aboard a new, flying castle powered by Calcifer of his own free will, high above the war machines still flying over the land. The film ends with Markl and Heen playing on a grassy area of the castle, overlooked by Calcifer, with the Witch of the Waste watching from a chair like a kindly grandmother, while Howl and Sophie share a kiss on a balcony at the head of the flying castle.


Additional Voices by Carlos Alazraqui, Newell Alexander, Rosemary Alexander, Julia Barnett, Susan Blakeslee, Leslie Carrera, Mitch Carter, David Cowgill, Holly Dorff, Moosie Drier, Ike Eisenmann, Will Friedle, Bridget Hoffman, Richard Steven Horvitz, Sherry Hursey, Hope Levy, Christina MacGregor, Joel McCrary, Edie Mirman, Daran Norris, David Hayter, Peter Renaday, Kristen Rutherford, and Warren Sroka.

Differences between film and novel

Diana Wynne Jones did meet with representatives from Studio Ghibli but did not have any input or involvement in the production of the film. Miyazaki traveled to England in the summer of 2004 to give Jones a private viewing of the finished movie. She has been quoted as saying:

"It's fantastic. No, I have no input—I write books, not films. Yes it will be different from the book—in fact it's likely to be very different, but that's as it should be. It will still be a fantastic film."[3]

The film is very different from Jones's original novel. The plot is similar, but it is flavoured with Miyazaki's familiar style. The plot is still focused on Sophie and her adventure while cursed with old age. The main action of the film's story takes place during a war, reminiscent of World War I with monstrously large dreadnought style battleships and airships. The film is located in a fantastical nation somewhat reminiscent of pre-World War I Alsace. Many buildings in the town are identical to actual buildings in the Alsatian town of Colmar, which Miyazaki acknowledged as the inspiration for its setting.[4]

The novel is concerned with Howl's womanizing and his attempts to avoid finding a lost wizard and prince. The film is concerned with his attempts to avoid helping in a national war for pacifist reasons. This aspect of the film's plot is actually rooted in Miyazaki's political views as a pacifist — in an interview with Newsweek magazine, Miyazaki told the interviewer that the movie had started production "just as your country [the USA] had started the war against Iraq", and the subsequent rage he felt about the Iraq war "profoundly impacted" the film.[5]

The book detours for one chapter into 20th century Wales where Howl is known as Howell Jenkins and has a sister with children. This is not used in the film, but one of Howl's aliases is "The Great Wizard Jenkins."

Many of the book's characters are modified. The character of Howl's apprentice, Michael Fisher, is a teenager in the book but a young boy named Markl in the film. Sophie has only one sister in the movie compared to two in the book. The Witch of the Waste in the book is a young and beautiful woman, but a huge heavyset woman who later becomes an old crone in the film. She is a villain terrorizing other characters, but the film transforms her into a grandmother character, and she is even taken into Howl's home. Calcifer, who is a frightening fire demon in the book is portrayed as an adorable, but sarcastic, little flame in the film. The Wizard Suliman is male and an ally, but in the film he is combined with Mrs. Pentstemmon into 'Madame Suliman', a female antagonist. Various other characters in the film are composites of the book's characters, with different motivations and personalities.

Also, the film is more focused on Sophie's curse, the war, and her relationship with Howl.


The soundtrack CD was first released on November 19, 2004 by Tokuma. Artist Joe Hisaishi also composed and conducted a Howl's Moving Castle: Symphony Suite, an album published on January 21, 2004 which includes ten re-arranged pieces from the original soundtrack.[6]


Howl's Moving Castle received mostly positive reviews. USA Today critic Claudia Puig praised it for its ability to blend "a childlike sense of wonder with sophisticated emotions and motives" while Richard Roeper called it an "insanely creative work". Other critics described it as "a visual wonder", "A gorgeous life-affirming piece", and "an animated tour de force." Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, gave it two and a half out of four stars, and felt that it was one of Miyazaki's "weakest" films.[7] The film was also listed by Sight & Sound, the official magazine of the British Film Institute, as one of the best films of 2005. It was the only animated film to be included on the list.

Top ten lists

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2005.[8]



  1. "All-Time Worldwide Box office". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 8, 2008. 
  2. Howl's Moving Castle (2004) NYT Critics' A. O. Scott
  3. "FAQ / Howl's Moving Castle". The Hayao Miyazaki Web. Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  4. The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki by Dani Cavallaro; Publisher: McFarland & Company (January 24, 2006); Page 168; ISBN 978-0786423699
  5. Devin Gordon (2005). "A 'Positive Pessimist'". The Hayao Miyazaki Web. Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  7. "Howl's Moving Castle (2005)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 "Metacritic: 2007 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 2007-12-14. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 

External links

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