Capturing the Character’s Sensibilities in Howl’s Moving Castle

 By Kitaro Kousaka (Animation Director)

The recent Miyazaki works are unpredictable, not explanatory.

Interviewer: Mr. Takasaka, your involvement with Miyazaki’s works as an animation director started with “Princess Mononoke” and this is your third time, isn’t it?

If you include “Whisper of the Heart”, it would be the fourth time. But I’m not exactly a Ghibli person, so I often get involved in a supportive role midway. I started working on this after finishing the previous work “Nasu: Summer in Andalusia” around July 2003.

Interviewer: What was your first impression of “Howl”?

I initially picked up the original book, but I thought reading it wouldn’t matter since the story would change anyway, so I stopped reading halfway through. So, my first contact with the entire story was through Mr. Miyazaki’s storyboard, and I was really drawn to Sophie then.

Interviewer: In what aspect?

I liked her resilient life, not overly concerned about herself turned old by magic. I think how wonderful it would be if everyone could live like Sophie. There are many people in reality who get overwhelmed by various things and break down. I’m one of them. I think she’s a character that lightens our mood.

Interviewer: Sophie became more proactive about living after getting old, didn’t she?

There are things you can gain from getting old, and you stop fussing over the small things. I wonder if this tough way of living, this human image, is a theme that runs continuously through Mr. Miyazaki’s works.

Interviewer: Having been involved with Miyazaki’s works for a long time, have you felt any changes recently?

I think it’s become less explanatory recently. In movies, you inevitably need a certain bird’s eye view to explain the situation, but in the case of Mr. Miyazaki, he relentlessly progresses at the eye level of the protagonist, so you really don’t know what will happen next. This is a change from the very calculated feel that was in previous works like “The Castle of Cagliostro”. On the other hand, I think the characters’ liveliness has been amplified.

Interviewer: Scenes such as Sophie and Howl meeting and the two of them taking a walk in the sky were exciting for us viewers.

I think Mr. Miyazaki is doing it because he believes he will definitely enjoy it if he does it that way, as well as pleasing the audience. But on the other hand, there are probably people who just don’t get “Howl”. Especially people who consider themselves movie buffs. If you try to watch it logically, you’ll probably be left behind halfway through. I think it’s a movie that’s more interesting to watch with your right brain more open than usual.

I drew Howl thinking of him as a modern young man

Interviewer: Was there any explanation from the director about the character Howl?

There was no formal explanation, but various topics came up in daily conversations.

Interviewer: For example?

Mr. Miyazaki said that Howl is a genius wizard, but he is also a typical modern young man who can’t fully grow up because he’s holding something in his heart. When Sophie visits Howl’s room, there are a lot of trinkets, aren’t there? That’s essentially the same as young people today collecting figurines. It’s his shell. So, I was drawing Howl as if he really was a young man of today.

Interviewer: Which scene remains in your memory from the animation directing work?

I can’t really see my own work objectively. But the castle was interesting. I thought it was a very imaginative existence with a lot of charm. It’s also silly, but I always enjoyed seeing it in rushes.

Interviewer: How about in the way of drawing characters?

Mr. Miyazaki gave a lot of detailed instructions, but I forgot them. One thing I can say is that he really dislikes passive expressions. There’s a way of reacting where you pull back a bit and say “ahh” when you’re happy. But Mr. Miyazaki would say, “If you’re happy, put your face forward”. He dislikes any kind of passive reaction.

Interviewer: To always go forward?

Yes. I animated the scene where Markl and the others pull out the flying kayak that got stuck in the castle, and at that time, I was told to “only move the kayak in the direction of it going out”. The movement of it bouncing back into the castle due to the reaction of being pulled is not good for Mr. Miyazaki. I really felt his directorial intention to keep going in the direction where the feelings are headed.

About Kitaro Kousaka – Born in 1962 in Kanagawa prefecture. He became freelance after going through production. Since participating as an animator in “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”, he has served as an animation director in Miyazaki Hayao’s works from “Princess Mononoke” (co-worked) to “The Wind Rises”, and has played a major role in many Ghibli works. His directed works include “Nasu Summer in Andalusia” among others.


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