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