Moving Away (End Credits)

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” 

– Rainer Maria Rilke

Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle have characters who go through transformations in a variety of ways. The most important transformations are made to the characters identity. Miyazaki’s art form allows for intriguing and colourful characters who struggle within their fantasy realms and grow through their journey. Miyazaki’s characters’ identities change through the biggest, most important and powerful emotion in the world, love. Love seems to be the one common thing that changes identity more than any magic, spell, curse or forced change could ever do to someone.

Chihiro and Sophie

“I want to say I lived each day, until I died and know that I mean something in, somebody’s life. The hearts I have touched will be the proof that I leave that I made a difference.”

– I Was Here by Beyonce Knowles

Chihiro and Sophie, although from different cultural backgrounds, have a lot in common. Every life that Chihiro and Sophie touch is changed by their presence, by their bravery, and their love. Chihiro and Sophie are both forced into identities by the “villain” of the film which forces them to change. Each grows stronger and takes risks for the ones they love. With their presences, the world they enter is forever changed by their actions; Chihiro changes the Spirit world, gives Haku back his name, saves No Face, gives Boh a Sophie09new perspective on the world, saves a River god, and even changes Yubaba’s life through Boh; Sophie saves Howl’s humanity, gives Calcifer back his freedom, removes the curse placed upon Turnip, gives Markl a family that loves and cares for him, changes the Witch’s view of love and in a way, brought an end to the war. Chihiro and Sophie through their forced identity changes manage to change so many other lives just being part of them that they made a difference to the world.

Haku and Howl

“I don’t know why she’s with me. I only brought her trouble since the day she met me. If I was her, by now I would have left me. I would have walked away…You’ve fallen in love in the worst way and if you don’t go now then you’ll stay…She’s standing in the heart of darkness saying I know you got a soul even though you’re heartless.”

– Walk Away by The Script

Haku and Howl are both powerful magical characters; Haku is a River god while Howl is a wizard. Haku has lost his identity and doesn’t remember his name while Howl has given his heart up and is losing his humanity. Their identities are lost to them and they have no way of regaining their identity by themselves. Haku and Howl both gave away their identities to Howl03another but didn’t know the repercussions of those actions. Haku became a henchman to Yubaba to do her evil bidding while Howl gave his heart to Calcifer to gain freedom at the loss of his own humanity. It is only through the appearance of Chihiro for Haku and Sophie for Howl that they are able to be saved and regain who they were and might have grown to be. Their love for their girls made them stronger and able to resist to some degree the evil in their lives. I guess the saying, love conquers all is true in this case (or at least in the movies).

Yubaba, Zeniba and the Witch of the Waste

“Everybody’s got a dark side. Do you love me? Can you love mine? Nobody’s a picture perfect but we’re worth it, you know that we’re worth it. Will you love me? Even with my dark side?”

– Dark Side by Kelly Clarkson

Zeniba01Yubaba, Zeniba and the Witch of the Waste are possibly the most complicated characters in either film. Yubaba and the Witch of the Waste fill the role of villains for Chihiro and Sophie for some of the films but there is a change in their identities. Yubaba’s villainy and greed is offset with the flip side of her personality in Zeniba who is caring and grandmotherly (although seen in a similar light as her sister when first introduced); their identities are Witch02wrapped around each other because they are twins. Yubaba is the one who steals Chihiro’s identity just as the Witch steals Sophie’s. Yet Yubaba and the Witch are also the ones that unlock Chihiro’s and Sophie’s potential to become stronger and save the world. Chihiro shows Yubaba has a bit of the same grandmotherly side as Zeniba when she calls her Granny and it softens her disposition somewhat; Sophie gets the Witch to finally relent in holding onto Howl’s heart and to move on so he can be saved. The three characters are unable to hold onto the villain status in the end of the film because their identities have shown to be different (in the case of Zeniba) and have changed to be better people.

The Transforming Supporting Cast (The Stink/River god, Boh, Markl and Turnip-Head)

“’Cause nobody wants to be the last one there, ‘cause everyone wants to feel like someone cares, someone to love with my life in their hands. There’s gotta be somebody for me like that. ‘Cause nobody wants to go it on their own and everyone wants to know they’re not alone.”

– Gotta Be Somebody by Nickelback

These four characters are extremely different but have one thing in common: the heroine’s influence onMarkl and Turnip02 them. Each one’s identity goes through a remarkable transformation (usually in the literal sense the most). The Stink god through Chihiro’s sheer will power and a whole lot of dumb luck manages to give him back his identity as a River god. Boh through his short adventure with Chihiro and being changed into a mouse learns to be an individual outside of his mother’s influence. Markl uses magic to change his appearance which causes him to have two identities but with time, he goes from a mannerless child to a carrying loving child with a family thanks to Sophie’s appearance in the castle. Turnip goes from being a speechless scarecrow with a turnip for a head to being returned to his human form (a prince) by Sophie’s kiss. The actions of the River god help Chihiro to save Haku and No Face while Turnip’s actions save the entire family from dying by falling off a cliff. Boh and Markl who are both young are able to learn from a family unit (one from removal and the other acceptance respectively) that changes them into more caring individuals in the future. Therefore, these four characters identity are changed by the heroines in the story who take time to help them, spend time with them through their own journey to their new identities.

Supernatural Supporting Cast (No Face and Calcifer)

“What I really meant to say is I’m sorry for the way I am…I never really wanted you to see the screwed up side of me that I keep locked inside of me so deep. It always seems to get to me.”

– Cold by Crossfade

Face05No Face and Calcifer are who they are because of what they are. No Face is a spirit who has no identity and is influenced by what he sees but only wants a friend. Calcifer is a fire demon stuck in a contract with Howl which is no good for either of them. For both of these creatures, freedom seems to be what they need the most along with someone who can show them kindness and love them for who they are. No Face’s time in the bathhouse utterly changes him to a greedy, selfish creature that wants Sen to be his friend but gains a role model in Zeniba thanks to Chihiro taking him with her to Swamp Bottom. Calcifer’s few close calls of being put out make him want to help Sophie break his contract with Howl, at first for selfish reasons but soon because he sees how she loves Howl, and because he has Howl’s heart may begin to love her himself. Time takes two monstrous characters with abilities to help and hinder others through a journey of discovery that underneath the monster is a kind soul who just needs a little love to flourish.


So what conclusions can we pull about identity in the East or the West? For one, it doesn’t seem to matter what a person’s cultural background is but their identity can be removed from them, forced to change through the influence or appearance of others in their lives and the choice to change is always present in everyone even if they don’t perhaps realize they have changed in the end. The biggest identity changes happen because one person has the courage to simply love those around them for who they are and this is the thing that changes people the most. Being brave and love those around you, and Miyazaki tells us, we can change who we are, who others are and change the world for the better. I believe Kamaji sums it up best, “You can’t beat the power of love.”

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: