One of Studio Ghibli’s most critically acclaimed movies, Howl’s Moving Castle, is a firm fan favorite. Although it wasn’t as big a hit at the box office as Spirited Away, it was nevertheless a huge success, garnering critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination. Here are a few fun things you never knew about the movie…
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1. Sophie Is A Witch In The Novel
The movie’s portrayal of Sophie is a little different to the novel. While the Sophie of the film has no magical powers, the novel depicts her as gradually discovering her powers the more time she spends around Howl, and other magical beings. The decision to leave this out of the film was based on a desire to give Sophie a unique perspective as an outsider with no magic looking in on the shenanigans of more powerful beings and helping them remember their humanity.
In the novel, she gradually comes into her power and ultimately defeats the Witch of the Waste and a Fire Demon of her own. While the movie left most of this character arc out of the film, there are still a few nods to it. Markl asks if Sophie is sure she isn’t a witch, while Sophie can move Calcifer from his hearth and even take him out of the Castle without killing both he and Howl. How she can do this is never explained in the film.
2. Sophie’s Second Sister
Another element that is left out of the film is Sophie’s extended family. While Lettie – Sophie’s pretty and popular sister – appears briefly in the movie, the novel also includes Martha, a second sister. She has, ironically, been sent to learn to become a witch in the novel. As part of her apprenticeship, she can change her appearance to look like other people, allowing her to work at a nearby bakery. Lettie works at the bakery in the movie, and Martha is never mentioned.
3. Christian Bale Was Up For Any Role
One fan of the film and the beautiful animated style of Japanese artistry was Christian Bale. He was so impressed by Spirited Away that he agreed to play any part available in Howl’s Moving Castle. As it turns out, he was given the role of Howl himself.
4. The Birth Of Batman’s Growl
Speaking of Christian Bale, he’s now better known for playing the role of Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy. Many fans view this trilogy – and Bale’s portrayal – as the pinnacle of live-action versions of Batman.
In the film, he also created the infamous ‘Batman growl’. While fans of the caped crusader may suppose this growl first appeared in Batman Begins, it can actually be heard in Howl’s Moving Castle, which predates the trilogy.
5. Ghibli Collect Batman Actors
It’s not unusual for big names to appear in Ghibli films. However, Christian Bale isn’t the only one to appear in a Ghibli movie while also donning the mask of the Batman. Michael Keaton – who played Batman in 1989’’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns – also took on the starring role in Porco Rosso.
6. Sophie Has Twice As Many Voice Actors In The English Version
Much of the film’s plot revolves around the fact that Sophie has been cursed to appear as an old woman. In the original Japanese version, Chieko Baishô voiced both young and old versions of Sophie. In the English dub, however, the choice was made to have young Sophie voiced by Emily Mortimer, while Jean Simmons lent her voice to old Sophie.
7. Markl And Lettie Were Both In The Hunger Games
Part of Howl’s Moving Castle’s charm is the characters’ depth, even when they are only minor. Howl’s young apprentice, Markl, stands out as a great character, perfectly voiced by Josh Hutcherson. Meanwhile, Sophie’s sister, Lettie, only appears briefly and has few lines, yet manages to be memorable and perfectly captures the pretty, vivacious girl that makes Sophie feel so plain by comparison. Voiced by Jena Malone, the actors playing both Markl and Lettie would both go on to star in The Hunger Games.
It’s not the only time Ghibli has caught an up-and-coming star, as Tom Holland’s first ever role was in Arietty, long before he went on to become Spiderman.
8. Hayao Miyazaki’s Private UK Screening
While the UK release of the movie was set for the Autumn of 2005, Miyazaki went the extra mile and flew over to the UK to give the author of the original novel, Diana Wynne Jones, an early look at the film in a private screening during the Summer of 2004.
9. Hayao Miyazaki Wasn’t The Original Director
Speaking of Hayao Miyazaki, he wasn’t originally slated to direct Howl’s Moving Castle. That privilege was given to Mamoru Hosoda in the first instance. When he left the project, Miyazaki took over. Given much that we see in the film, from the inclusion of a war plot to the appearance of Miyazaki’s much-loved flying machines, it’s strange to think how different the movie would have been without his direction.
10. The Castle Is A Metaphor For Howl
One of the most distinctive elements in How’s Moving Castle is the depiction of the castle itself. Visually, the movie captures Dianne Wynne Jones’ original vision for the castle while also putting the now-familiar Ghibli stamp on it. There are a lot of metaphors at work in the film, but perhaps the most beautiful is how the castle reflects Howl himself.
The castle is a hulking, roaming, completely disorganized beast that contains pockets of beauty and wonder, like Howl’s bedroom. As knowing Sophie begins to change Howl and we see him evolve, he reshapes the castle into a more orderly version of itself.
We can also view the blocked door, which only Howl can pass through, as a representation of the darkness confined within Howl’s mind.
11. The Castle Makes No Sound
The castle is an impressive animation piece, with many intimidating elements, like a huge, almost face-like front and a cannon. Despite the exterior appearance, the castle’s interior is minimal for much of the film. One communal space downstairs acts as a living room, dining room, and kitchen. Upstairs there’s a bathroom and Howl and Markle’s bedrooms.
The castle appears to be huge to make it more intimidating to anyone who happens to see it stomping through the wastes. To reflect the fact the castle isn’t really as big and bad as it seems, director Hayao Miyazaki made the decision to minimize the noise it makes while moving. There are some mechanical noises as it wanders the wastes and the occasional expulsion of steam, but honestly, very little noise considering its size and appearance.
12. Miyazaki Added The Theme Of War
Director Hayao Miyazaki is well-known for his obsession with airships and military motifs. One of the biggest divergences from the original novel is that the military theme of war was added to the movie of Howl’s Moving Castle.
Why? Well, like we said, Miyazaki is a total geek when it comes to the military, tanks, fighters, and flying machines. If you watch all of Miyazaki’s Ghibli movies you’ll notice he finds a way to sneak flying machines if not outright war into pretty much everything – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind features a giant warrior capable of destroying the world; while Laputa: Castle in the Sky features a robot army, and the titular character in Porco Rosso is a war pilot.
While you might think this means Miyazaki is a warmonger, it’s actually the opposite. While he’s fascinated by the machines of war, he’s philosophically against it and views war as something to be avoided. Hence, Howl’s Moving Castle features a subplot around the kingdom Sophie and Howl live in, being at war with a neighboring country.
Throughout the film, scenes focus on the pitfalls of war, from the distribution of enemy propaganda to wizards transforming themselves into monsters to fight for the king. Howl and Calcifer have a couple of pointed conversations about this. Despite this, Howl has the power to turn the tide of the war, and for this, he is pursued by Madame Solomon, who instigated the war for her own ends to begin with.
Sophie, meanwhile, is the anchor tying Howl to his principles and the concepts of love and peace, preventing him from losing himself to the magic and the monster he becomes as a result of using it.
Looking for more awesome Studio Ghibli movies to watch? Check out our list of the best Ghibli films, ranked.