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


Loving the Beast

“May Calcifer live a thousand years, and may Howl recover his heart.”

– Sophie

Calcifer01Calcifer is a fire demon who has made a contract with Howl. Calcifer is in charge of powering and moving the castle at Howl’s bidding. He’s chained by his contract by Howl; he does as Howl asks and he received Howl’s heart in return. Calcifer is unable to leave the house or move from the fireplace on his own.

Calcifer is not well behaved for anyone but Howl. He eats anything including egg shells, and peeping bugs. He is afraid of water because it means he will go out meaning he and Howl will die. He does ask Sophie to break his spell and contract as they (him and Calcifer02Sophie) are running out of time as Howl is turning into a monster due to him having Howl’s heart. He is obstinate about doing things because he’s “a demon.” But over time, he is able to understand Sophie better and her motives for doing things.

Calcifer eventually returns Howl’s heart with Sophie’s help and he is able to return to his Calcifer03falling star state where he gains what he wanted most, freedom. He misses his friends/family and returns to them, gaining a kiss from Sophie, which makes him happy.

Calcifer’s identity is that of a demon bound by a contract, and with and without Howl’s heart is eventually changed. He has Calcifer04his moments where he is selfish and only cares about himself, but he knows by the end Sophie will take care of him, just as she takes care of Howl. He is willing to do anything for Sophie without
anything in exchange. He is only stronger with the help of something from others and he must devour it to be able to use it to fuel his own abilities. Alone and without fuel for his fire, he is unable to do much of anything for anyone. Calcifer’s identity, therefore, is selfish yet caring, but dependent on others.

Staying At The Castle

“Are we a family?”

– Markl

“Yes, we’re family.”

– Sophie

Markl and Turnip have small roles within throughout Howl’s Moving Castle but their identities go through transformations just as their bodies do the same thing. Albeit the two characters being very different, there is the one thing they have in common, a mutual love for Sophie, which transforms them the most.

Markl and Turnip


“I love you, Sophie. Please stay.”

– Markl

Markl01Markl is a young boy who is an apprentice to Howl. He appears to be in charge of the two shops that Howl owns, dealing with day-to-day business functions and basic spells. He seems to have learned to be serious in his dealing with customers and knows what can andMarkl03 can’t be done around the house like getting Calcifer to cooperate. He is a curt, straight forward, mannerless, messy child. He devours his food, has messy hair that goes everywhere as well has a messy room, and tells Sophie to stop messing around with the door. None-the-less, Sophie’s appearance has a great influence on Markl. He becomes polite, helpful, happy, carefree child.

Markl02As a wizard’s apprentice, Markl has the ability to do magic. He places a cape on and is able to change his appearance to an old man with a large grey beard. He only takes on this identity when going outside of the castle in town or dealing with the public. This identity of Markl’s is gruff, grumpy and a bit cynical. When shopping with Sophie, he says he doesn’t Markl04like potatoes or fish. This gruffness and the old man appearance disappear as soon as Markl’s hood comes off and he returns to a normal young boy.

Markl becomes attached to Sophie and Heen (Suliman’s spy dog) which makes him happier and act more like the child that he is. In the end, he has a family that love him that has made all the difference to his identity.

Markl05Through the family unit, Markl is able to define his identity and express himself in a more childlike manner. Even with his cape on and his old man appearance, he tells Sophie he loves her and doesn’t want her to leave. His persona’s identity is pushed aside for his identity to reveal itself to its fullest extent. Therefore, Markl’s identity is defined and changed by the appearance of Sophie who takes care of him like a son.



“You may be a turnip, but you’re a good turnip.”

– Sophie

Turnip01Turnip is completely defined by his actions as he is unable to speak. He is a scarecrow with a turnip for a head. Sophie and Markl aren’t sure what he is but speculate he might be a demon but Howl who must have heard of Turnip looking after Sophie says, “So you’re Turnip. You’re under quite a spell too. Seems everyone in our little family is complicated.” Turnip is under a spell which has turned him into a scarecrow.

Turnip03Turnip helps around the castle, hopping up and down to move; he does laundry with Sophie, gets her shawl when it flies away, brings her an umbrella when she is out in the rain crying, runs around with Markl, helps find things, picks up the Witch, and looks after Markl when Sophie falls out of the falling apart house. He saves everyone from falling off the cliff Turnip04by using the post that keeps him up as a kind of brake but ends up losing most of it. Sophie kisses him in thanks for saving them and Turnip transforms into a prince.

Turnip is a prince from another kingdom but “a cruel spell turned me into a scarecrow” and as the Witch reveals, “A spell that only your beloved’s kiss could break.” Sophie is the young prince’s beloved but he comes to terms that she is in love with Howl. He leaves to stop the war but will return once again.

Turnip05Turnip’s transformation into a prince at the end is out of a fairy tale. To western audiences, the theme is one we are familiar with. A prince cursed into an ugly creature/shape must be kissed by his true love to break the spell. Yet Turnip could only be returned to a prince by his beloved’s kiss not true love’s kiss. Thus, for Turnip, Sophie is his dearly loved person but knows that “a fickle heart is the only constant in this world”Turnip06 meaning that now that he has returned to his human form and Sophie has chosen Howl, he will move on and find love elsewhere, even though he wishes to return to his new unroyal family.

Turnip and the prince’s identity is one of loyalty and understanding. His transformation at the end, changes his identity from a silenced scarecrow who could only communicate how he felt through actions to an eloquent, handsome prince who knew the inevitability of the world when it comes to unrequited love.

A Long Climb (For The Witch of the Waste)

“He who catches a falling star, oh, heartless man. Your heart shall be mine.”

– Witch of the Waste

Witch01The Witch of the Waste does not have a name but an epitaph for who she is. Her reputation as a witch proceeds who she is as an individual. She is a legend and a myth wrapped up in one but still real. The Witch’s only goal is to have Howl’s heart for herself. So when her blob henchmen chase after Howl and Sophie, she becomes jealous of Sophie. Her jealousy causes her to place a curse on Sophie to turn her old. The dramatic irony for the Witch is that she is in return turned old (which is actually her true age).

Witch02The Witch prizes her beauty, thinks she is superior to others and feels power and status is all that matters along with possessing the heart of Howl. The Witch has a very classic western “white” superior identity. Her desire to possess Howl’s heart is materialistic as she doesn’t seem to want it for the same reason’s Sophie does, love. Still she does admit Witch04that she is still in love but after states, “Men, why ever should we want them? But a young man’s heart is so delicious!…and so adorable too.” The Witch’s true intention with Howl’s heart is simply to possess the heart of a young man even if she had fallen in love with him at one time.

Witch03The Witch’s world starts to fall apart when she is summoned to see the King, believing that Suliman finally has need of her power. She states, “It’s been 50 years now, since they drove me out of here. I’ve been longing for this day ever since.” Still, being forced to climb up the steps of the palace has already started her to age, using Sophie’s cane to help her. Her appearance loses its prime and proper beautiful look to a sweating, hunched, woman. She takes a blow to her pride onto of her beauty when she has to admit to Sophie that she doesn’t know how to break the spell. When the audience finally sees her again, she has been turned into an old feeble woman.

Much like Howl, she had made a deal with a demon “who consumed her, body and soul, long, long ago.” This is why she has been returned to her proper age and stripped of her powers because of the bargain she made. The major difference between Howl and the Witch is that Howl had Sophie to save him where no one was able to save the Witch.

Witch05The Witch as an old woman finally enters into Howl’s home. She needs to be spoon fed by Sophie, and stares at Calcifer calling him a pretty fire continually. Her new state has made it appear as if she’s harmless and unable to do anything for herself. This is not entirely true as we see her realize Suliman has sent a peeping bug to spy on them but doesn’t realize that by giving it to Calcifer to eat that she’s made it easier for them to be found.

Upon learning of Calcifer having Howl’s heart, she grabs it, causing herself to light on fire. Witch06She holds it to herself even as she burns but saved by Sophie. She thinks Sophie is mean for trying to take Howl away from her; she just wanted his heart for herself. Finally, the Witch realizes how much Sophie wants Howl’s heart and why, telling her, “Oh, well, in that case, you’d better take good care of it.”

Witch07The Witch’s identity is changed in the slightest ways by being transformed into a harmless old woman. She is protective of Howl, just as Howl is protective of Sophie but for different reasons. The Witch doesn’t want Suliman to find Howl because she wants his heart and if Suliman found them then it wouldn’t be possible. She has lost her pride, her beauty, her powers and everything she prizes most inthe world. Despite it all, her goal never changes, until Sophie asks for it. She knows the power of love and allows for it to flourish. The Witch finally stops being someone to be feared (as Howl fears her) and someone who’s identity has changed after being forced to change by Suliman and with the influence of Sophie’s love for Howl. In the end, she gains a family, happiness and peace on Howl’s moving castle.Witch08

Finding Howl

“That boy is dangerous. His power is too great for one with no heart.”

– Madam Suliman

Howl01Howl is a young wizard with a reputation. His moving castle is known by everyone and he is known for attracting young women and tearing their hearts out (although the audience never sees him do such a thing). The audience learns quickly that he is good looking and a bit of a lady’s man who’s “only after beauties.” Despite the fact, Howl doesn’t reveal his name to Sophie when they first meet there is no other wizard it could be that took her flying through the air.

It is suggested and seen throughout the film that Howl is a very powerful wizard as Suliman notes he was “a student of such Howl02marvelous gifts.” He has a fire demon controlling the movement of his home, and recognizes powerful sorcery such as when The Witch of the Waste leaves a note for him in Sophie’s pocket. Whenever Howl uses magic, his appearance grows darker, almost more sinister. As we see him Howl03fighting in asiren/harpy-like form, we realize he is slowly losing his humanity whenever he uses powerful, dark magic. The further into the film and into Howl’s world we travel, the more we see it harder for Howl to revert back into a human, and it takes great effort and pain each time. His talk with Calcifer one night tells us that if a witch or wizard takes on an animal or monster form for too long, it is hard to return to
being human as the individual forgets how to be human. It is only thanks to Sophie’s love for Howl10Howl that he is able to combat this problem and return to human form in the end. This pull between man and the beast within is a part of Howl’s identity as a wizard; he knows the risks but to do what needs to be done, he continues to do so anyway. Howl’s beast side may allow him to fly and to protect those he loves later but it pulls his humanity from him as he does not even respond to a kiss but stares blankly ahead. The return of his heart, marks the return of his humanity, thanks to Sophie and her love for him.

Howl’s personality is over the top dramatic, childish, and carefree more often than not. He kind-heartedly tells Sophie “try not to torment my friend” when she nearly let’s Calcifer go out. He fondly looks in on Sophie when she is sleeping. Yet when Sophie mixes up the bottles and ruins the spells in the bathroom, he comes screaming and panicking down the stairs showing her the colour of his hair. He cries about how hopeless it is and that “I’m done for. What’s the point in living if you aren’t beautiful?” Howl is not only being dramatic but also vain. He thinks Howl05being beautiful is the only point to life. In his depression, he calls on the spirits of darkness and his skin secretes a green liquid. Sophie says, “my, he’s dramatic” and that he was acting like a child having a tantrum. It seems the incident is soon forgotten as Howl never returns his now black hair back to blond.

Howl also admits to being a coward. The Witch of the Waste scares him to death and thus why he tries to keep her away. He only approached her originally because she was interesting, she terrified him and he ran away. It is also his cowardliness that causes him to get Sophie to go to Madam Suliman in his place to tell her that he is “an idle, good-for-nothing.” It is Sophie’s speech about who Howl is that allows the audience to see what Sophie thinks of him and how she feels about him; she says, “You call Howl Howl08heartless. Yes, he’s selfish and cowardly and unpredictable, but he’s straight as an arrow. He only wants to be free. Howl won’t turn into an evil monster. He’ll battle the demon on his own. I believe in him.” This simply gets Suliman to see his weakness which is Sophie. Yet it is Sophie that makes him be courageous. She gave him courage to show up to face Suliman and to protect the family when Suliman figures out where they are staying. He tells Sophie, “I’ve finally found someone I want to protect. You.” To Howl, Sophie is a reason to be brave, strong and protective, to be a hero.

Howl09We know Howl gave his heart up to a demon, and it is hinted at several times that Calcifer is the one who has it. He caught a falling star as a young boy, ate it thus giving up his heart and Calcifer was born. This is why he acts like a child and dramatic because he hasn’t been forced to grow up and take responsibility as he has no heart. Despite not having a heart, he is able to see Sophie’s beauty when she can’t see it for herself. He has little sympathy for other people though because he gave up his heart for freedom. He goes by the names of Pendragon and Jenkins but tells Sophie, he uses as many names as he needs to ensure his freedom. Freedom is important to Howl. So he is willing to take on as many names and thus identities as he needs to, to get what he wants. This may be why he so easily decided to take the form of a harpy/siren (half human, half bird) form because his identity is flexible and flight gives him freedom that non-wizards do not have.Howl11

In the end, Howl changes his identity for Sophie, which allows him to receive his heart back. He tells Sophie, “I feel terrible like I’m trapped under a stone” and she simply replies, “Oh, yes, a heart’s a heavy burden.” Howl had spent most of his life without a heart and once again receiving it has to learn how to think about others and care for them. This essentially saves him from becoming the monster he continually transforms into. Howl’s identity changes from selfish to selfless, from cowardly wizard to courageous hero due to Sophie’s influence and with the return of his heart changes his identity for the better because of love.

An Old Curse

“They call it a castle, but once you get inside, it’s a junk heap.”

– Sophie

Howl’s Moving Castle unlike Spirited Away is based off a book by British author Diana Wynne Jones. Immediately, western audiences are able to understand the background contexts and social cues. According to Anita L. Burkam, “Miyazaki aims for a looser interpretation, starting with the plot itself…the movie portrays her as a normal girl turned by a curse into an old woman, reacting to strange events around her, more the object of the plot’s action then its protagonist”[i]. The movie may be called Howl’s Moving Castle but it is Sophie who’s perspective the story is filtered through.


“The good thing about being old is that you’ve so little to lose.”

– Sophie

Sophie01Sophie is an 18 year old hatter who enjoys her own company and working more than hanging out with the girls of the shop. She dresses simply and doesn’t like her appearance believing she isn’t beautiful. Before Sophie knows it, she is being swept into an adventure by a wizard who is very handsome. Her sister Lettie warns her later that if the wizard is Howl that he might have stole her heart which he is known for doing. She dismisses her sister saying that he would never be interested her, he only goes after beauties. It appears to Sophie that her Sophie03adventure is over but it is only beginning. Sophie’s life changes when her youth is stolen from her by the spell that The Witch of the Waste puts on her because the wizard she met and helped escape was Howl. She becomes an old woman with a hunched back, wrinkles, and grey hair. Her identity has changed with her aging. Her clothing choices now match her age, she notes before leaving home to go to the Wastes where wizards are.

Sophie’s journey to the Wastes is slow due to her increased age as “it’s not easy being old.” In need of a good cane, she finds a moving scarecrow that has a turnip for a head (her least favourite vegetable). Thanks to Turnip Head, she gets a cane but doesn’t want him to continue to follow so asks him to find her shelter to sleep in. Thinking she has tricked him believes she has gotten more Sophie04cunning with age.

Sophie is noticing the changes to her perception of the world from being old. She feels the cold more, has more aches and pains, moves at a slower pace and that her mind has become cunning with age. These are all changes to Sophie’s physical and mental identity that she is noticing. She is no longer the 18 year old hatter but an old woman.Sophie05

Her entry into Howl’s house, continues to show the changes that her personality are taking in such as telling the little girl that “she’s the scariest witch” in a joking way and is more forceful with her actions when she bribes Calcifer into doing what he’s told which Howl states is not an easy feat.

The audience also sees another change to Sophie when her emotions trigger, she can appear younger or at least have more energy. She starts cleaning, scaring bugs and mice out of the house as she makes the house look more presentable. Markl states, “A witch rages within” as she energetically cleans the house. When she discovers that Calcifer is actually the cause of the moving castle, she becomes excited and moves around quicker to see the outside.


It becomes apparent that Sophie moves back and forth between her two identities of young and old with the state of mind she is; she appears younger when she’s busy or happy or at peace like when she is asleep.

Sophie07When Howl has a tantrum over his hair colour, she gets scared and upset telling him “I’ve never once been beautiful” and runs outside into the rain where she stands crying looking younger. Admitting to never believing herself beautiful and crying makes her feel better and creates a shift in how she deals with beauty.

Sophie’s meeting with Madam Suliman, at Howl’s request, brings out bravery in Sophie that is becoming more pronounced as the story continues. She is upset that Suliman sets traps for her aged guests, can’t believe that she Sophie08would strip people of their powers and becomes passionate about who Howl is as a person, growing younger as she talks. When Suliman says she’s in love with Howl, she recoils turning old immediately. The audience begins to realize that the changes to Sophie’s identity is because of her feelings for Howl; she finds it easier to brave and wants to do anything she can to protect him.

Sophie’s love for Howl knows no bounds as she doesn’t mind if he’s a monster and is simply worried that he’ll leave her. She will do anything to help him but instead of asking for help, he goes back to trying to stop the war and she Sophie10gets frustrated with the whole place (and its craziness). It is also obvious that being in love has made her appear younger even if she’s still appearing old as she stops using a cane and is able to do tasks easier.

In the end, she knows she has to protect Howl by moving the family away from the bombs falling. She gives up her hair in order to get Calcifer to move the house again and the Witch realizes what Sophie Sophie11hasn’t; that Calcifer has Howl’s heart. Stuck between saving the Witch from burning and killing Calcifer and Howl, she pours water on them. She cries not knowing whether she killed Howl or not.

Learning of Howl and Calcifer’s past helps her understand Howl better and runs to the childhood Sophie12counterpart but the power of the ring is unable to keep her any longer in the past. She calls out to them, “Howl! Calcifer! It’s Sophie. I’ll come back. Wait for me in the future.” Through this, she is able to realize that Howl may have known who she was when he picked her up in town the first time and that he had to wait a long time for her to return to him. She gives back Howl’s his heart and manages to save Calcifer and then breaks Turnip’s curse. Sophie ends up with her happy ending with Howl.


Sophie’s journey causes her to change from an awkward young woman into a beautiful and strong woman. Her constantly changing identity from young and old causes a duality to her personality that helps her grow and flourish. Being old gives her a new perspective of life and opens up her personality which when young was reserved. Through this Sophie takes risks all in the name of love and for her new family. Her new found bravery allows her to save those around her and for the end to come to the foolish war. Thus Sophie’s identity changes due to the forced physical curse she is placed under which allows her to identity to change for the better.


End Notes

[i] Burkham, Anita L. “From Page to Screen: Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle” (The Horn Book Magazine, 2005), 554 – 555.

A Monster Called “No Face”

When a character’s name is simply No Face, a lot of conclusions can be drawn without looking deeply into any of his actions. No Face essentially has no identity, he is a blank slate at first that simply wants a friend. Outside influence forces this misunderstood character to change for the worse.


You might not even have noticed him the first time watching the film; he is just a spirit standing on the bridge as Chihiro and Haku cross the bridge to the bathhouse for the first time. He’s ignored by everyone around him. During the day, now Sen sees him on the bridge and politely bows to him as she crosses. This moment must have been odd for him as he’s never been noticed by others Face02before. This causes him to follow Sen and happily comes inside out of the rain. He returns the favour to Sen by getting the tag she needed for the bath tub. Sadly, No Face doesn’t understand things completely and produces more tags for Sen then she needs (despite it coming to her advantage later). He sees this and the reaction to the workers had to the gold produced by the River god and takes it as a lesson. If he can make things for Sen, she’ll be happy and she’ll be his friend.

The bathhouse is not a good environment for No Face as he entices a frog with gold, eats him Face03and soon starts growing larger, demanding more things (now that he has words), continues to entice the workers with gold, and eating copious amounts of food. He has been consumed by greed and worldly wants but he has also learned he will get attention from people if he offers them gold. He now has the attention of people (all but the one he wants). His greed and need for attention soon has all the workers doing anything and everything to get money (their own greed fueling his need for attention). Upon finally finding Sen, he offers her a lot of gold but she refuses. Once again, he doesn’t understand why Sen doesn’t want what he has to offer her despite everyone else’s reactions. First she didn’t need more tags for the bath and now she didn’t want gold. He wanted her to accept his gifts and be his friends. In his upset state, he drops the gold he offers her and eats another frog and slug. The workers go into a panic and call him a “horrible monster.”

Yubaba tells the workers that “your greed attracted quite a guest”, meaning that the workers greed for gold and material wealth
attracted someone who only knows how to consume which only is only fueled by their greed. He becomes out of control and Yubaba can’t control him. Sen arrives and he offers her food and gold but again she doesn’t want it. For the third time, No Face can’t understand why she doesn’t want anything from him despite his willingness to give her what she wants. He only wants her because he’s lonely, he obviously needs a friend. When No Face chases after Sen afterwards, Yubaba tells him, “not on her premises”, and we start to see this scene in a much darker tone than originally.

The images of the women before now in the bathhouse start to take on a different tone. The women in kimonos may not just be workers in the bathhouse but a form of geisha meant to entertain guests. Geisha, despite popular culture, were not prostitutes as the “geisha ideal did not contradict the ethos of the ‘maiden’ since it involved no sexual activity”[i]. Despite this, “before modern times the boundaries between them and the higher-ranking prostitutes were notFace04 always clear” because in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, “geisha included both men and women who not only performed on stage but also freely sold sexual favors”[ii]. With this fact in mind, we begin to see the darker undertones expressed with No Face. No Face is in a bathhouse with geisha and is trying to buy Sen. Thus Yubaba’s words, “not on her premises” starts to suggests she runs a business where her girls cannot be bought for sexual favours and that she is not going to allow No Face to touch Sen in an inappropriate manner. This theory is reinforced by Lin’s words to No Face when he follows Sen outside the bathhouse: “No Face, if you so much as touch that girl, you’ll pay for it!”. Lin seems to know that No Face’s intentions earlier were not as innocent as Sen seems to think they are. He may really be a monster after all but I just think he’s a little misunderstood.

No Face’s identity though is made clear by Sen. She says to him, “Where did you come from?” and tells him “You should go back to where you came from. You can’t help me with what I want.” She asks him more questions when he is unable to respond. “Where’s your home? Don’t you have a mom and dad?” and finally “Can’t you go home?”. He responds by telling her he’s lonely but he hasn’t answered the question. No Face has no identity. He has no collective group to say he belongs to. As mentioned before, in early Japan, a person’s identity was based on the family unit and for No Face, with no home he has no family and thus no status or identity. He is an outcast.

Face05Sen’s questions cause him to get confused as to who he is. His ingestion of three people has caused him to consume three different identities which do not seem to help him any. The three identities cause him to consume everything. The only thing that seems to be part of his identity is his connection to Sen. He just wants her while the other identities he has absorbed want to be pampered and feed, all in the name of greed. He has become corrupted by the bathhouse environment which is because his identity was a blank slate; it was easily influenced and shown incorrect behaviour and motives for getting what he wanted: a friend.

Face06When he is finally back to his “self” after purging himself of everything and anything bad, he seems to lose the “monster” who only knew how to consume. He continues to follow Chihiro as much like Boh, he isn’t entirely sure what to do. Sen seems to be the only one who can help him perhaps gain some form of an identity that he can call his own. Her trip to Zeniba is what finally gain No Face what he needs: a home, a friend, a family, and an identity. Zeniba is able to teach No Face how to do things that are productive for others instead of greedy consumption. In the end, he seems happy to have found a home.


Overall, No Face is a complex character due to his none identity and his ability to absorb other people’s identities. His none identity allows others to forcibly influence his decisions, his actions and create a monster where there was none before. No Face simply wanted to be part of a collective identity or to find a way to gain his own identity which thanks to Sen, he gains the beginnings of a better environment to grow into a proper identity.

End Notes

[i] Johnston, William. Geisha, harlot, strangler, star: a woman, sex and morality in modern Japan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 38.

[ii] Johnston, Geisha, 38.

Previous Older Entries