Hayao Miyazaki is a master storyteller whose films have garnered tremendous critical acclaim and have won over the hearts of millions of people all over the world. Despite the beauty of Miyazaki's Oscar-winning Spirited Away, my all-time favorite Miyazaki film will always be Howl's Moving Castle. Adapted from Diana Wynne Jones's novel of the same name, Miyazaki's version of Howl's Moving Castle offers a magical love story that transcends time and introduces a heroine whose selfless nature will teach you a valuable lesson about self-love and acceptance.
Sophie Hatter, The Milliner's Daughter
Sophie Hatter, the oldest of two children, is a young woman who spends most of her days inside a room full of hats. While her younger sister is working at a pastry shop and living away from home, Sophie is confined to the hat shop she has inherited. Working alongside her absent-minded mother now that her father is dead, Sophie works tirelessly to keep the shop's business afloat. Being a milliner herself (a person who specializes in making or selling hats), she's happy to do her job and says she doesn't mind doing it.
Every time she sees the way other women let themselves be so carefree around others, specifically men, she feels small and insignificant, convinced that she will never compare to them. She's quiet, reserved and a little too serious for a young woman of her age, but she makes do. When she meets Howl, her life does a 180 degree turn. Bearing the brunt of the Witch of the Waste's derision for Howl, she's cursed and transformed into an elderly woman.
The Curse Is A Reflection Of Self
When Sophie morphs into an older woman, she's surprised at first, but immediately adapts to the situation. It's as if Sophie feels more at home in the body of an older woman, than in her younger self. Ripping away appearances, the elderly woman is a reflection of who she really is, or at the very least, how she feels about herself.
Once cursed, she no longer has to make excuses for herself and is able to live freely. Her youthful appearance seems to be a deterrent in the beginning, but as she gets used to her old wrinkled body, she realizes that regardless of what she looks like, she can still be the same person. From expressing her disdain for Madame Suliman, to scolding Howl for skirting his duties, to teasing Markl and Calcifer, she demonstrates a confidence in herself that she would've never found if she had stayed hidden in that hat shop and refused to venture out into the world.
Accepting The Person You Are Is Self-Love
Howl's Moving Castle has a love story at the center of its narrative, but it isn't solely a story of love between two individuals. It's about self-love and feeling at home in your own skin. Throughout Sophie's life, she's kept her real self hidden away, molding herself to fulfill the demanding expectations of running a hat shop and bearing the burden of responsibility for being the oldest.
While she's an elderly woman, there are moments where her features morph back into her younger form. Most of these instances occur when she's voicing her true feelings without holding back. She's not aware of it at the time, but soon comes to realize that she holds a divine strength inside of her. She accepts herself as she is and is unashamed to pursue her love for Howl. In doing so, she saves him from the devastating effects that trading his heart for magical powers have had on him throughout his life.
She Helps Howl Overcome His Own Demons
While Sophie struggles to come to grips with the curse the Witch of the Waste has placed on her, she arrives at the extravagant moving castle of the renowned wizard Howl. Though he's vain and childish at first, his demeanor changes the more he gets to know Sophie. Her growing self-confidence builds a stronger bond between them and Howl realizes that he's a better man when she's around. Slowly but surely, the darkness inside of him is healed by Sophie when she returns his heart to him and frees Calcifer from serving Howl forevermore. Perhaps this mutual healing speaks to the serendipity of life. There are moments we live through and experience, that at first may seem harsh, but once we overcome them, we're better for it.
Through Sophie Hatter, we are taught to love ourselves and accept whatever size, shape or form we have been given. Only then will we be able to fully give away our heart with no regrets. To think that a curse led Sophie to Howl is a reminder that sometimes one must weather the chaos of life to unlock a piece of ourselves hidden deep within. Learning to accept and love who you are, warts and all, is a struggle. What should be prioritized is the fact that everyone's description of normal is different. Embracing those differences by accepting the intricacies of our own nature and setting them free for all the world to see is part of the beauty of life. You only live once, and to live in a box is tedious work. Love yourself and accept who you are, because if you don't, no one ever will.
What Miyazaki film is your favorite, and what did it teach you? Let me know in the comments below!