The Comfort Food Paradox of ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’

A heart is a heavy burden. Here's how, in spite of its grimness, Hayao Miyazaki's film lightens the load.
Howl's Moving Castle

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video about Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle.

Comfort food films should never be contentious. Of course, the “comfiness” of a film can, to a degree, be objective. That’s why lists like this one exist. But, ultimately, if a film feels like chicken noodle soup to you, that shouldn’t be a matter of debate. These are the movies you hold close to your chest in abject darkness or a cozy afternoon. If Italian splatter films bring you bliss, so be it. If cheesy mid-’90s romcoms do it for you, lean in. And if the unapologetically anti-war masterpiece by an auteur brings you peace, that little slice of heaven is yours, baby.

This brings us to Howl’s Moving Castle, a film that in spite of — and in response to — its own grimness, remains unabashedly reassuring. If you throw a dart at Hayao Miyazaki’s IMDb page, you will almost certainly hit a work of indelible coziness. Howl’s Moving Castle enthusiastically ticks that box. But the film is also one of the most texturally complex and thematically thorny films in Miyazaki’s filmography.

Loosely based on Diana Wynne Jones’ novel of the same name, Howl’s Moving Castle is a love story between Sophie, an idealistic if shy hat-maker, and the childish, self-indulgent wizard, Howl. The film is also the clearest and most damning anti-war film in a career littered, if not defined, by pleas for pacifism and compassion. It’s no secret that Howl’s Moving Castle is Miyazaki’s response to, and protest of, the Iraq War.

The film depicts a hawkish nation-state embroiled in a war waged for the sake of war itself. War, in Howl’s Moving Castle, is capricious, an act instigated by leaders with shallow interests and an aloof attitude towards the consequences of their actions. In response, Howl, our impetuous radical, fights fire with fire and is consumed in — quite literally — a dehumanizing cycle of violence.

And yet, the film, for all its bleak on-the-nose-ness, undertakes two very different comforting gestures. First, the inherent Miyazaki warmth of small, cumulative details: the enviable breakfasts, the flights of fancy, and the sprawling fields of wildflowers. And second, that powerful, magnetic promise that moral compasses can materialize and inspire selflessness. That fantastical consolation that people in power can, and perhaps will, change for the better. The video essay below shows us how, in the bleakest of circumstances, Howl’s Moving Castle fights for comfort, compassion, and kindness.

Watch “Howl’s Moving Castle – an Underrated Masterpiece“:

Who made this?

Jace, a.k.a  BREADSWORD is an LA-based video essayist who specializes in long-form nostalgia-tinged love letters to traditionally ignored animation features like Treasure Planet, The Cat in the Hat, and The Road to El Dorado (the above video is something of a deviation from the norm). Impeccably edited and smoother than butter, BREADSWORD essays boast an unparalleled relaxed fit and an expensive narrative tone that starkly contrasts the sing-songy “video essay voice” that has become so prevalent. Essays like this take a lot of time to put together and somehow BREADSWORD makes it all look effortless. You can subscribe to them on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields: Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.