Revered animation writer and director Hayao Miyazaki has built his illustrious and inspiring career around certain themes that he has returned to time and time again in his many decades of work. These include the spiritual realm, the sanctity of nature, and the wonder of flight. But perhaps his most defining theme, which pervades each of his works to some degree or another, is the crucial need for compassion toward one another. In Miyazaki’s films, it isn’t violence or deception or debate that changes the world and saves other people, it’s displays of compassion that come from pure love for other people.
No other film in Miyazaki’s canon of great animated features has this more prominently displayed in its story and themes than 2005’s Howl’s Moving Castle.
Based on a novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, but with many elements and themes largely changed for the film, Miyazaki’s fantasy romance is set in a fictional kingdom where modern technology and magic coexist alongside one another. It’s in this setting, where two kingdoms wage war against one another, that Sophie, a young hatter, meets the wizard Howl and is suddenly turned into an old woman due to a curse from a witch who is after Howl. In search of a way to break the curse, Sophie moves into Howl’s home (the titular moving castle) and changes the lives of the people around her as well as the war itself through her compassion.