By Hayao Miyazaki
The story’s synopsis has been expertly summarized by Mrs. Junko Nishimura, the Japanese translator of Dianne Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. Allow me to provide a modified quote of her summary:
The story starts with Sophie, the eldest daughter of a hatter, who gets cursed by the Witch of the Waste and transformed into an old woman. To make matters worse, she’s also sealed from revealing her condition to anyone. Determined to break the curse, Sophie leaves home and sneaks into the castle of the infamous wizard Howl, taking on the role of a cleaner.
Inside the castle, Sophie encounters a world of wonders and peculiarities. The window offers glimpses of an unseen town, and the doors lead to different places. Even the fireplace is home to Calcifer, a fire demon who provides power to Howl. As Sophie spends time in the castle, she gradually falls in love with Howl while being pursued by the Witch of the Waste. Meanwhile, a war breaks out, and Howl, being a wizard, is asked by the king to assist in the victory.
Will Sophie find a way to break the curse and find happiness amidst the chaos?
About the original work
Regarding the original work, it seems it was initially conceived as a Christmas play for children. In the UK, there is a tradition for children to enjoy plays during the Christmas season, and this work shares similarities in structure with C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Silver Chair,’ which was also written as a Christmas play script.
Understanding its origin as a Christmas play helps grasp its essence, but it doesn’t necessarily make the adaptation into a film easier. In fact, it presents challenges.
Visualizing Howl’s house on stage, we can see Calcifer’s fireplace at the center, with flickering flames as part of the costume design. With multiple doors and a window on each side, each door leads to a different world. The drama unfolds with explanatory monologues, and characters enter and exit through these doors, engaging in lively conversations, arguments, laughter, and tears. The grand finale culminates in a chaotic scene where everyone fights and embraces. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the original work is more suited for Kansai-style comedy theatre rather than a film.
Sophie and Howl represent certain aspects of modern life. Sophie, feeling cursed by her youth, and Howl, immersed in a virtual reality of magic, portraying themselves as fashionable and romantic. They can be seen as archetypes of directionless youth. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the work is contemporary or that its content is inherently suitable for a film. The world has become more intense, and many individuals like Howl and Sophie are being overshadowed as society progresses. It’s hard to imagine that a Kansai-style comedic fantasy like this would be widely accepted by the time of its scheduled release in 2004.
So, what to do?
This work could be described as a kind of domestic drama. Before Sophie falls in love with Howl, she establishes herself as a housewife. Her presence binds together the fire demon Calcifer, the apprentice Markl, the dog-man, the scarecrow, and Howl himself, creating a sense of family within the moving castle. However, a war breaks out, not a fairy-tale war, but a modern war between nations, a total war.
Howl seems to be evading conscription, but he is compelled to participate. It’s not a request but an obligation.
Howl desires to live freely and honestly, without concerning himself with others. However, the state does not permit such freedom. Both Howl and Sophie are forced to “choose a side.” In the midst of this, the true face of war is revealed. Fires rain down, explosions occur, and the horrors of total war become a reality in the harbor town behind one of the castle’s doors, in Sophie’s hometown, the palace, and even the wasteland itself.
What will Sophie and Howl do? If this predicament is portrayed accurately, “Howl’s Moving Castle” will be a movie that stands out in the 21st century. However, if the story develops into Howl and Sophie joining forces to stop the war or save people, it would feel hollow. They must confront this challenge while questioning their future way of life.
Changes from the original work
Changes from the original work include the setting, location, and time period. The setting draws inspiration from futuristic sketches by Robida, a caricature artist active in France during Japan’s Meiji Restoration. The society depicted combines magic and science in an ironic portrayal of a machine civilization from the latter half of the 19th century. It’s a time of heightened patriotism, with soldiers heading to battle amid cheers, flowers being thrown, and guns adorned with flowers.
Sophie’s old town is filled with Alsatian houses, and the main street is lined with pavilions from the World Exposition. Steam engines are prevalent, spewing black smoke. The sky over the inhabited towns is clouded with soot, even the blue sky appears gray. On the other hand, the desolate wasteland, untouched by humans, boasts clear blue skies, but it’s cold, windy, and clouds constantly drift by, reminiscent of the Patagonia region in South America.
The Moving Castle
As for the moving castle, in the original work, it merely serves as a magical entrance and exit without a physical form. However, in the film, the castle will be a peculiar assembly of mechanical and architectural fragments, wandering the wasteland on a multitude of iron legs. Inside this structure lies Howl’s house. When Calcifer is released from the contract and emerges from the chimney, the true form of Howl’s house is revealed. The castle will be depicted as tumbling across the wasteland, in disrepair, with parts of the roof and walls missing, and scraps of iron rods and boards sticking out.
In conclusion, while the story is not entirely clear, this is the direction we aim to pursue.
October 28, 2002