Metaphor and Howl’s Moving Castle


With reference to specific scenes in a film from a particular genre, director or producer, discuss the screen techniques used to progress the narrative.

Use images where appropriate to show what you mean.

Metaphor and Howl’s Moving Castle

In Howl’s Moving Castle metaphor and allegory are used as techniques of story-telling to tell two stories in one, the literal one of a magical fantasy to both hide and reveal another story with a totally different meaning.

This movie is a fantasy anime about a young girl named Sophie who gets turned into a 90 year-old woman by the Witch of the Waste. She takes refuge in a moving castle that is owned by the wizard Howl. Howl leads Sophie through enchanting adventures. While watching it the whole film appeared to reveal itself as a metaphor or allegory for a love story. It was intriguing as to why the male screen writer portrayed the story from the point of view of a woman until further investigation revealed that the movie is based on a book of the same name by a British female author, Diana Wynne Jones, and this seemed to confirm that the movie is a metaphor for a love story from a woman’s point of view.

Howl’s Moving Castle is by director and screen writer Hayao Miyazaki. He is a co-founder of Studio Ghibli. He champions hand-drawn cel animation but more recently uses computer graphics to enhance the traditional art. (Animation Art: from pencil to pixel, the history of cartoon, anime & CGI, 2004  pp 296-7) He has been creating wonderfully hand illustrated animated films of soaring imagination with delightful scenery and characters for more than 20 years. He does everything from scriptwriting to storyboard sketching  to correcting many of the final frames by hand. (Morrison, 2011)

Allegory is a form of extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. (Schwartz, 1999)  The underlying meaning is religious, political, social, or moral and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas such as charity, greed, or envy. (Open School BC Educational Resources and Services)

Screen techniques used in this film are metaphor and allegory. Metaphor is a figure of speech which  literally means one thing but is used to suggest something else. (Harold Schiffman, 2003) eg ‘She’s a pillar of the community’… a metaphor because she isn’t really a pillar  or ‘It’s a jungle out there…’  when we are in the city.

Allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning, as a way of suggesting a likeness between the two. In other words the whole literal meaning of the story is a front for something else (Harold Schiffman, 2003) as it seems is the case in Howl’s moving castle.

 In Howl’s Moving Castle many of the things happening on the screen seemed to suggest hidden meanings, at first the literal walking on air- a metaphor we use in everyday speech for feeling extremely happy.  “walk on air- Fig. to be very happy; to be euphoric. Ann was walking on air when she got the job. On the last day of school, all the children are walking on air.”  (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies)

On researching metaphors used in this film, online and in books, most of what seemed evident in the movie seemed missed by others eg ‘the narrative of Howl’s Moving Castle ‘is’ a critique of the contemporary, international politics surrounding the Iraq War’ (Smith, 2011) even Miyazaki himself said this, ‘the film is profoundly affected by the war in Iraq’  (Blanc, 2009 p127). I think he too might have missed the metaphors in the original story. The war is a major departure from the original story in the book – Richmond. (Richmond, 2009 p61)‪
“There have been many reviews saying that this is not the best of Miyazaki’s work. Sadly, this is true. Howl’s Moving Castle is a bit more perplexing and a lot more mysterious than his other works…. A lot of people complained that this movie wasn’t very deep or didn’t have different metaphors like other Miyazaki movies. ” (Yu, 2005)
 “If you’ve seen any of Miyazaki’s other films (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke), it’s all the same style of complex characterizations, blurry motives, meandering storylines, and the complete absence of the usual black-white movie moral dichotomy… there are the ever-present themes of pacifism, flight, and personal evolution (Post Punk Cinema Club, 2007) 

Some of the metaphors discovered while watching the film, their meanings and how they progress the story are as follows.

–        ‘It was said Howl, who is very good looking, liked to suck the souls of young girls’…. a metaphor for a player, this sets up the character of Howl.
–        the Witch of the waste is metaophorically Howl’s old girlfriend who seeks his heart again. She has sent blobby spies trying to find Howl, her friends that spy on Sophie.
–        Howl meets Sophie then they walk on air. This visual metaphor shows them first falling in love and the way that feels.-        the witch visits Sophie and belittles her and her place. The old girlfriend confronts her and ridicules her.

–        Sophie turns into an old woman as the witch curses her, she feels  very ugly and worthless after the criticism because her self-image was low to start with. These visual metaphors show the character of the witch and the damage she does to Sophie.

–        Sophie roams the cold barren wastes. Here the metaphor shows how lost she feels and sets the scene for the arrival of Howl’s castle.

–        The castle is actually Howl, it has different faces and lots of baggage which makes it heavy, it moves around to keep hidden, metaphors for a man who presents different faces to the world and keeps his true self hidden because of past hurt.

–        the fire that runs the castle, Calcifer, is his heart.

–        Markl is a small boy who lives in the castle, his inner child. These visual metaphorical characters describe the different parts of Howl’s character.

–        Sophie is in Howl’s castle/life and gains control of his heart, Calcifer, like no-one else ever could before because he loves her. She befriends all the inhabitants, the whole of his being.

–        the ring that Howl gave her draws her to the castle, a wedding ring and their marriage binds them together.
–        Sophie makes it all clean and ordered where it was messy and dirty before, his life is better for having her in it
–        Through the movie the witch gets older, and Sophie gets younger. These metaphors add to the magical fantasy and also show what their characters are really like.

–        Howl rearranges thecastle, his life, with new rooms and a place for Sophie, they moved into a new home.

–        The old witch works out that the fire holds his heart and snatches it and holds it in her hands, burning her, it is too hot to handle. Sophie throws water on them and the castle splits in two and falls apart leaving Sophie all alone in the bottom of the ravine. The other side has the witch holding Howl’s heart. Their life together falls apart when the old girlfriend and Howl have an affair, leaving Shophie depressed and alone. This metaphor progresses the story by showing the effects of the witch’s bad character again and the effect on the happy home life. This is the climax of the film

–        Sophie gets the heart back and pushes it into his chest where it belongs, she forgives him and it transforms him

–        at the end the castle is  better than ever now and they happily get back together. These metaphors are the happy ever after ending to the magical story and the marriage.

‘Spirited Away’ and ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ are 2 more allegorical films by the same director.

In 2001, the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, told the story of a 10-year-old girl’s quest to save her parents from a spell that turned them into pigs after they greedily ate the food of the spirits (Morrison, 2011) The movie is an allegory against materialism and pollution- the male lead, Haku, is really a dragon that represents a river that was blocked up and lost.  In the Bath house Sen manages  to clean a very large ‘stink spirit’ which turns out to be the spirit of another polluted river.  Miyazaki himself says

‪        ” The main theme of this film is to describe, in the form of fantasy, some of the things in this world which have become vague, and the indistinct world which tends towards erosion and ruin.” (Miyazaki, 2002 p15)

“My Neighour Totoro”, it has been said, is about the death of children,  they no longer cast shadows  after it really was May’s sandal that was found in the water and big sister Satsuki searches frantically for her ( this really happened in the 60s, 2 sisters were murdered in the place where it is set). Totoro is the messenger of death and they are whisked around in the catbus on the way to the land of the dead, they can see their mother and father in the hospital but they can’t see them. At the hospital, the mother says “I think I feel May and Satsuki smiling there in that tree…” they just leave the corn there instead of visiting in person. It is said that the sisters were dead at that point, the Japanese pronunciation of “corn” is similar to “kill child”. (whaleking, 2007)

The screen techniques of allegory and metaphor are used in Miyazaki’s films, and in particular Howl’s Moving Castle, as a technique for progressing the story, in this case, of a 90 year old girl cursed by an evil witch and taking
refuge in a magical walking castle owned by a handsome wizard. The metaphor hides but also describes the story of an ordinary relationship for those who can read between the lines (another metaphor). It is a very successful technique used in many movies to educate, influence or tell another story from real life.


Animation Art: from pencil to pixel, the history of cartoon, anime & CGI. (2004). Rowville: Five Mile Press.

Blanc, C. O. (2009). Studio Ghibli: the Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Harpenden: Kamera Books.

Dick, B. F. (2005). Anatomy of Film. Boston: Bedford/ St Martins.

Harold Schiffman, I. P. (2003, July 13). Handout for Language and Popular culture. Retrieved April 13, 2012, from School of Arts and Sciences- University of Pennsylvania: <;

Miyazaki. (2002). the Art of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. San Francisco: Viz Communications.McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, I. (n.d.). Retrieved June 13, 2012, from the Free Dictionary by Farlex: <;

Morrison, T. (2011, June 23). 60 years of Asian Heroes: Hayao Miyazaki. Retrieved June 2012, 13, from Time Asia: <;

My Neighboor Totoro: Tears Come To Mind. (2009, Spetmeber 3). Retrieved June 13, 2012, from Smash Boards: <;

Open School BC. (n.d.). Glossary of terms. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from Educational Resources and Services: <;

Post Punk Cinema Club. (2007, April 19). Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). (blogspot, Editor) Retrieved April 12, 2012, from the Post Punk Cinema Club: <;

Richmond, S. (2009). The Rough Guide to Anime: Japan’s finest from Ghibli to Gankutsuo. London: Rogh Guides Ltd.

Schwartz, D. D. (1999). Introduction to Medieval Allegory. Retrieved April 13, 2012, from English Department, California Polytechnic State University: <;

Smith, L. (2011, Spring). the Projector Film and Media Journal: Wars, Wizards and Words Transformative Adaptation and Transformed Meanings in Howl’s Moving Castle. Retrieved April 12, 2012, from BGSU, Bowling Green State University, Department of Theatre and Film : <;

whaleking. (2007, October 28). My Neighbor Totoro (1988) . Retrieved June 13, 2012, from IMDb: Internet Movie Database: <;

Yu, E. (2005, June 26). Howl’s Moving Castle Review and Analysis. (Blogspot ) Retrieved April 12, 2012, from Manganese: <;


German Expressionism (1919-1926) vs Classical Hollywood cinema

‘Metropolis’ (1926) is a German Expressionist film, it is futuristic but made a long time ago. It is about the evils of industrialisation and class differences. It is Art Deco in style and concerns rich people playing above the poor masses who are working to death at the machines that run everything. A female robot is made and evokes lust in all the men. It was full of very funny but hammy overacting.

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is an early Hollywood film, expressing the philosophy that one man can make a difference,  you can achieve and you can change your community. Frank Capra came from a poor background and put what he found to be true and what works in life into his films- belief in God and capitalism. The acting in this film was much better and more believable.

It is different to Metropolis. It is a personal film because it is easy to relate to him. A large part of the movie is a flashback. It is about how everything affects George Bailey, at the start everyone in town is praying for him, it takes us into his family. It shows him to be a good man with big dreams who gives them up for his family and community, he is playful and reliable, but when things go bad for him and he nearly commits suicide he needs and gets the support of God, angels and everyone he has helped, the whole community.  George, is granted what his guardian angel calls a “great gift:” the chance to see what the world would be like without him

Films reflect the culture of the time: industrialisation as opposed to the American dream in these 2 films.

I liked ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ much more than the weird ‘Metropolis’ because of being able to relate to the main character rather than being ‘preached’ at. I even have a copy of  ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’  which I like to watch with my family every Christmas. This is a good lesson for me on how to reach an audience with your message, make it relatable and believable.

Film Form

Narrative form tells stories. The movie is structured linearly with events happening chronologically. We get emotionally connected with the lead character and we journey and explore with them. These are the films most widely screened. The structure of narrative cinema draws heavily on the 3-act structure (The 3 acts are labelled as: act I: setup, act II: confrontation, act III: resolution ) and character arc (characters must evolve, grow, learn, or change as the plot unfolds) of the ancient Greeks.  ‘The Witness’, is a narrative type movie . The 1st change point of the film is the boy witnessing the murder of an undercover policeman. The 2nd is when he sees a picture of the murderer showing he  is a policeman.

Theme is the central idea that governs and unifies a film and its elements eg ‘love conquers all’ or ‘peace’

Documentary form exposes reality. Documentaries are a collection of scenes and moments assembled in a non-linear fashion. The several sequences in a documentary interweave back and forth to present a specific theme and make a specific point. It starts with a point to prove then only supporting evidence is shown, it is definitely biased but it is the way documentaries work.

Experimental form experiments on the medium. An amalgam of ideas forced together by the film maker without any regard for characters, structure, or theme.’ Edith Piaf’ is an experimental film, in which the story jumps all over the place around her life- old lady to young child etc, it is not a documentary because it uses actors, ‘the Kite Runner was similar”.  Another example of this type of film is ‘Love Actually’. It is an ensemble of parallel stories of different people and different ways to love, it jumps between the different stories but at the end the stories all converge into one.

I found the film, ‘Love Actually’, very interesting, enjoyable and clever because of the way this was done.


When the trailer for Top Gun was re-edited it was made into a gay love story, found on You Tube at So funny!

The scenes of the guys facing each other and giving each other long looks were rearranged and put all together with love music, it was repeated and slowed down.  These were originally challenging looks because they are competing and hating each other, all to make it seem as if there was sexual tension between them. Interspersed with this is a sex scene where only the back of the man is seen and not the woman making the audience think it is the 2 men.

In the film the Fifth Element the dominant style of editing in Western narrative film is used, called continuity editing. Continuity editing, which tries to keep the aesthetic qualities of images before and after a cut the same, is designed to minimize the distraction and disorientation caused by cuts and to establish narrative causality.

Continuity editing seeks to present events in chronological order and show events only once.

In the scene where we first meet the main character played by Bruce Willis we see him wake up then there are quick cuts to things in the room, a fish tank, a futuristic cigarette dispenser, the phone and the monitor of a camera looking outside the door, the cat waiting to be fed. This shows us quickly what his character is like.

In action shots, like when the aliens first appear at the beginning of the movie, when the benevolent aliens are attacked and killed and when the female lead character played by Mila Jojovitch is falling to the taxi, it cuts quickly between different views of the action, close ups of characters faces to show their emotion, POV (point of view) shots, long shots of the action, front view and back view. It cuts quickly between them all to increase agitation and excitement in the viewer. When the action is over the shots last longer between cuts. I learnt a lot about the effect of editing and how to use it from this.

Sound in Film

In ‘Restrepo’, a documentary of war  filmed with 1 camera, the sound is just the background noise, the sound of the train or troop truck they travel in and their talking, a man talking on the radio, crickets at night,   BOOM as as a truck turns over then silence as there is a gun fight.  The camera work is shaky, rough and ready, it is an observational film  just showing what the soldiers are doing, and their ‘talking heads’ as they tell about what happened. This film is unmoving and boring.

The sound helps to make the film seem like a real record of the things that happen as they happen because there is no background music or commentary just the surrounding sounds.

‘Apocalypse Now’ (a movie that I was surprised to discover that I enjoyed) is another war movie. It does not pretend to be a record but is a highly structured film by a film maker. It uses film techniques to create atmosphere and manipulate our emotions. The sound is much more interesting. In the opening scene a guy’s face is upside down (symbol of death) as he lies on a bed with drink, smokes and a gun remembering the war in Vietnam. He is watching the fan as we hear a moog synthesiser sounding like slow helicopter rotors. Then we see his memory of the helicopters. He always wakes up thinking he is back in the jungle. There is psychadelic music playing as he seems crazy in a room in Saigon, drunk, remembering.  His calm voice over contrasts with the wild scenes. In the film there is heavy rock music (meaning death), the sound of helicopters and fires in the forests. When he meets the general we hear cultivated music and there is often an undertone of helicopters.

When we see the multitude of helicopters flying to do battle they play “flight of the Valkyries”, stirring classical music. This film is much more interesting and enjoyable and gets the message across about war much more effectively.  Good lessons here to make films more effective through the imaginative use of sound.

Lighting in Film

I compared the lighting in 2 TV shows that I like, ‘the Office’ and ‘Downton Abbey’.

The lighting in ‘the Office’ is harsh, bright, white overhead lighting as if from fluoro lights in the ceiling, everywhere is lit, this is fill lighting by floodlighting and using the technique called TV lighting. This shows an office environment ie not warm and inviting, but a lamp is placed here and there with a softer light, motivated lighting, which is cast below the shade. Downstairs in the warehouse the lighting is hard and from the side like through an open large garage door. Outside  there is bright sunlight from the side with harsh long shadows from a winter sun. In the club the lighting is soft, low and pink but then focussed on a talking face. It is lit all over with no hint of the pink, key lighting. On the people at the table they are lit pink from one side and yellow from the other, these low coloured lights make it feel like it is indoors in a club. In the car the faces are lit all over with no shadows but there is strong sunlight coming in the left window onto a shoulder.

In Downton Abbey the light is soft and warm inside the upper class areas to denote peace, comfort and gentility. The lady of the house seems to glow all over with a gentle white light, showing her purity and gentleness. The interior is lit with a soft yellow light from the side as id from a window, background lighting. When the gentleman has his back to a window there is strong light in the window but white light from the left onto the faces, key lighting. When the camera angle changes so that there is wood panelling behind and the window on the right, the wood is lit with warm red and a strong white light comes from the right as if from the window.

Downstairs in the kitchen there are strong shadows and lights from both left and right on the face, back lighting and key lighting, the lights are cold and denotes a cold working place with no comfort. Different colours and types of lighting can effect the feeling and convey hidden messages about the scene.

Camera Angles

I love the Austen Powers movies. They are so much fun the way they play around with the style of the old spy movies of the 60s, how daggy the fashions and dancing looked when the movie came out but they were so cool back then.

In the opening scenes of Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery  the use of different camera angles adds to the joy and fun of the people running around chasing Austen, posing for the camera, marching in the band, dancing in the street and Austen hiding from the women then joining in with the fun.

At the start the camera is low, zoomed in on his feet and pulls back as he starts to dance, including more and more people. As he walks towards the camera he doesn’t seem to get any closer, there seems little distance between him and the background. I think it means a telephoto lens as the depth of field is shallow but the people behind him are out of focus.

There is a two-shot of 2 women sitting on a bench, this traditionally shows harmony, they are both reading about Austen then get up to chase him.

There are close up, CU, shots as he takes photos of the models and point of view, POV, shots where we see what he is looking at. Close up shots inspire empathy in us for the subject putting us in their intimate space. POV shots are usually used for the protagonist or antagonist in a film to promote sympathy or fear, in this case sympathy.

As he runs away from the crowd of girls towards the camera it is low down and far back, it alternates between long shots and close ups.

He disappears around a corner chased by the girls and as the same camera stays looking at the corner he comes back around leading a band. It then switches between eye level close ups and high angle far shots ( usually makes the subject small and vulnerable)  looking down on the scene full of dancers and acrobats all with some light hearted swinging 60s music. The whole scene sets the viewer in a happy expectant mood anticipating fun and laughter and tricks.