Howl’s Moving Castle is widely known as the film that Miyazaki himself has said goodbye to Studio Ghibli and began a new stage in his career. Now, just before his 70th birthdays, we will take a look at ten interesting facts about this film!
1. Howl is actually 17 years old
Although Howl is said to be in his late 30s, this information comes from the book “Howl’s Moving Castle”, on which the film was based. In Sophie Hatter’s diary it says that Howl was 17 years old when they met and that she kept running into him throughout her life. Therefore, in addition to being a young adult novel (see: YAL), this also implies that the events of the film took place during one brief summer between Sophie’s teen years and early twenties — possibly even earlier than age seventeen — thus making everyone in there about ten or eleven (or both).
2. The fight scene with Markl and Turnip Head vs. The Witch of the Waste was entirely improvised
This scene in the film is considered one of the greatest animation fight scenes ever. When Sophie goes to visit Howl’s castle, she sees his apprentice Markl playing with Turnip Head. She then interrupts them to bring Howl some food and they begin to play tag with their swords. The scene plays out with a mixture of real-time dialogue and voice-over narration by Sophie. Animators Steve May created the rough character designs for this scene without any input from director Hayao Miyazaki, who only became involved when he saw that nobody had started animating it yet. He described it as “really messy” because everyone was still figuring out how long each shot should be before starting work on them, so Miyazaki decided to just “wing it and animate the scene as I went along.” And that’s what he did: he just made up the fight as he drew it. Because of this, no two shots are the same length and they vary in movement from slow-motion to fast-forward. Animators were irritated at first because Miyazaki wasn’t following any set pattern but gradually grew impressed as the animatic came together.
3. The Castle in Howl’s Moving Castle was meant to be Mary Poppins’ House
According to an interview with director Hayao Miyazaki, the castle in the film was meant to be based on Mary Poppins’ house. However, he never got around to showing it because there are too many representations of castles in his head.
4. The title “Howl’s Moving Castle” is actually a pun
The Japanese title for Howl’s Moving Castle is “Hauru no Ugoku Shiro,” which means something like “The Castle that Flew with Howl’s Wings.” The word ‘hau’ can mean both ‘wings’ and ‘chaos.’ Thus, the title can also be read as ‘how chaos moved the castle,’ or even ‘chaos howls,’ lol!
5. The scene where Sophie’s hair becomes her dress is a reference to Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”
In the film, Howl gives Sophie a pair of magical shoes that can transform into her dressing gown. In Lewis Carroll’s book “Through the Looking Glass”, Alice has a similar experience when she puts on a pair of enchanted gloves and they turn into a skirt right before her eyes.
6. Director Hayao Miyazaki based Howl off of Peter Pan
Miyazaki says that he modeled Howl after Peter Pan because both characters have no parents, never grow up, and have an Alice in Wonderland-esque adventure in their respective stories. It’s easy to see how Howl’s character is similar to Peter Pan since they both have a rebellious personalities, are forever young, and love adventure.
7. Howl’s Moving Castle was deemed offensive for having an implied gay romance
The film caused quite the stir in 2005 when it was released in America, thanks to accusations that Miyazaki had hidden undertones of homosexuality between Howl and Markl (the apprentice who lives with him). However, this controversy was entirely fabricated by journalists hoping to create a splashy headline. The scene that supposedly caused the uproar is when Howl saves Markl from an infamous group of bandits, who are implied to be gay due to their flamboyant appearance and behavior. However Miyazaki has since stated that he didn’t intend for them to be interpreted as homosexual characters, but merely “beastly.” He even said that the only reason why they were dressed in pink was because it would make them stand out more against the black night.
8. Sophie’s age changes depending on which version of the film you watch
In both Japanese and English versions of the movie, Sophie is officially 19 years old. However, in the French version, her age is listed as 39, which may be due to France’s higher drinking age (16) or simply some mix-up/mistake on Miyazaki’s part.
9. You can see a ghostly image of Lisa and Yubaba in an early scene
If you look closely at the beginning scenes when Sophie first encounters Howl, you can briefly see what looks like blurry images of her late mother and sister sitting on either side of her. These are actually two very detailed scenes that were removed from the final version of the movie, but still show up in some trailers and promotional pictures.
10. Howl’s moving castle was originally going to appear in “My Neighbor Totoro”
In Miyazaki’s original concept for “Howl’s Moving Castle,” it would have been a new home for Satsuki and Mei after their house is destroyed by the infamous forest spirit, Totoro (as you can see by the early storyboard). However US distributors deemed that Miyazaki should change it into a stand-alone movie instead of part 2 of “My Neighbor Totoro,” and the rest is history.