Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Howl's Moving Castle

After seeing Spirited Away only once, I was deeply in love with Hayao Miyazaki's animation. Finally, someone who realized the medium's capacity to be surreal, magical, and transformative. "It's like spending two hours in someone else's deeply meaningful dream," said Janet. So Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki's 2004 adaption of a Diana Wynn Jone's novel, moved to the top of my NetFlix queue.

The two films have a striking number of parallels. Both feature young heroines who become entangled in magical worlds as the result of enchantments, who unravel the past of mysterious magical benefactors and liberate them by helping them find their true selves. But Castle is more grown up, a little darker and scarier than Spirited Away, but also with more complexity in the characters and the plot.

It is, more than anything, a story about transformations: every single character undergoes a physical as well as metaphorical reshaping. Sophie, a young woman cursed by the jealous Witch of the Waste, is turned into an old woman, and goes on a quest to reclaim her youth. Howl, a perpetual adolescent of a wizard, transforms into a giant bird in his efforts to avert a war, and struggles to regain his full humanity. Enemies turn into friends, friends into enemies, minor players become major players . . . and all their stories are linked together in a beautiful synchronicity.

The movie has some funny moments that struck me as very Buffy-esque in their mash-up of the fantastic and the all-to-human. In one scene, Howl reads a curse that has magically appeared during breakfast: "That is ancient sorcery, and quite powerful too. 'You who swallowed a falling star, o' heartless man, your heart shall soon be mine,' " Howl recites seriously. Then, after a beat: "That can't be good for the table." Or, when the enchanted fire Calcifer (voiced by Billy Crystal) is asked to cook breakfast: "No! I don't cook! I am very powerful and scary fire demon!" Or when ominous shadows gather around a despondant Howl, his apprentice Markl says, "He's summoning the spirits of darkness . . . I saw him do this once before, after a girl dumped him."

I could (and probably will) write a full-length essay giving a Jungean spiritual analysis of Howl's Moving Castle. Some college senior taking a graduate seminar in film studies will probably thank me for writing his term paper. Or maybe not . . . I found it interesting (and a little sad) that most of the links that I googled up on "Howl's Moving Castle analysis" were ads for term paper services. But among mountains of online reviews (many mixed in their reactions), only one pointed out that the heroine's name was Sophia, literally "wisdom", and saw it as a pointer to a larger allegory. In dream analysis a house is a standard symbol for the self, and moving castle of the title undergoes a continual transformation through the story, reflecting the wizard's own internal evolution.



Blogger linen said...

Thank you for this piece of analysis. I too just watched Howl's Moving Castle and found it profoundly moving. I am a big fan of Studio Ghibli. I found it really interesting how Sophie's age changes throughout the story - sometimes she is 90, sometimes she looks middle aged, and then her original 18 years of age. She flickered between these ages and I was wondering what triggered the transformations. Was it because she was falling in love with howl? Was it because the witch of the waste lost her power and so her spell was starting to break? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this. In the end she is young but her hair remains the colour of starlight. Most interesting.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Juan Mendez said...

I know I'm taking a big chance since you posted this in 2007, but did you ever write anything about Howl's Moving Castle?

I ask cause I just re-watched Howl and found some many things I didn't see before. I Googled looking for analyses but couldn't find much. I kinda want to write my own paper about the movie.

There is so much going on in the movie about self image that I think would be really important to point out.

Another thing I thought was interesting was that Sophie didn't know magic but yet was able to manipulate and get around as best as everyone else. I would say her magic or strength was in her personality. And many of the skills Howl relied on were tied to his personality. And his transformation into that bird thing was more like a manifestation of the image he had of himself.

I also thought an amazing part of the movie was that the characters accepted each other during the moments that were hard for them to accept themselves. It was more than patience there was a real co-suffering going on in their compassion.

I appreciated the Buffy-esque comment and understand what you're referencing.

4:56 PM  
Blogger The Thin Man said...

Wow. What a coincidence. I had just downloaded my very first Kindle e-Book for my ten-year-old son, and it was . . . Howl’s Moving Castle.

No, I had not written more about it, but it’s clear there is still more to be said . . . now I’ll have to go back and watch it again.
You are right on in thinking that the story revolves around self-image. The transformations are not really transformations, merely the falling away of illusions and pretenses until the characters fully accept themselves for who they are.

Thanks for writing.

6:08 AM  

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