Howl’s Moving Castle in the War on Terror

A Transformative Analysis of the Iraq War and Japan’s Response

Daisuke Akimoto, Soka University Peace Research Institute, Soka University [About | Email]

Volume 14, Issue 2 (Discussion 4 in 2014). First published in ejcjs on 29 July 2014.


This paper is a film review of Howl’s Moving Castle, directed by Miyazaki Hayao and released by Studio Ghibli in November 2004. This movie is based on the novel of the same title written by Dianna Wynne Jones in 1986. From a perspective of peace research, however, this movie is related to Miyazaki’s anti-war philosophy in the post-9/11 political context and the following US-led War on Terror, especially the 2003 Iraq War. From a perspective of peace research, this paper reviews the storyline of the film with a special focus on war and peace issues. Moreover, utilising ‘transformative adaptation’ as an analytical research method, this paper provides a ‘transformative analysis’ of symbolism reflected in the main characters: Howl, Sophie, Calcifer, and Madam Suliman, which could respectively represent: Japan, Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, and the United States in the post-9/11 international politics. Finally, this paper offers a critical analysis of the 2003 Iraq War regarding its legitimacy and Japan’s response.

Keywords: Article 9, Howl’s Moving Castle, passive conscientious objection, Iraq War, War on Terror.


This is a film review of Howl’s Moving Castle, directed by Miyazaki Hayao and released by Studio Ghibli on 20 November 2004. The story is based on the novel of the same name written by the British fantasy novelist, Dianna Wynne Jones (1934-2011), in 1986. Jones, as a big fan of Miyazaki animation films, willingly accepted a request from Studio Ghibli to animate her original novel (Yomiuri Online 2004). For a casual observer, it is basically a love story between the Wizard Howl, who travels with his moving house, and Sophie Hatter, who suddenly turns 90 years old under a spell. There is a large amount of earlier research that provides general academic analyses (e.g. Hibi 2003; Kano 2006; Levi 2008; Kiridoshi 2008; Aoi 2010; Chen 2010; Fujitsu 2010; Hikawa 2010; Kotani 2010; Maejima 2010; Otsuka 2010; Suzuki and Inaba 2010; Yanagi 2010; Smith 2011; Napier 2012; Robinson 2013), and of course, some analysts point out in the existing literature both similarities and differences in the movie and the film (e.g. Levi 2008).

Still, the clearest and most significant difference between the original novel and the animated movie lies in the fact that the latter specifically focuses on ‘war’, whereas the former only touched upon the issue (Yomiuri Online 2004; Smith 2011). In particular, as emphasised by Producer Toshio Suzuki, Miyazaki desired to depict “love under fire” or “romance under the fire of war” (senka no koi) (Suzuki 2005: 97). From a perspective of peace research, this movie is related to Miyazaki’s anti-war philosophy in the post-9/11 political context and the ensuing US-led War on Terror, especially the 2003 Iraq War. This is because Miyazaki showed his strong opposition to the US-led War on Terror, especially US President George W. Bush (Kano 2006; Kiridoshi 2008; Smith 2011; Napier 2012; and Robinson 2013).

In order to examine the issues related to war and peace in the film, this paper begins with an overview of the storyline, and provides an analysis of symbolism hidden in the main characters: Howl, Sophie, Calcifer, and Madam Suliman in the post 9/11 political context. As an analytical method, this study employs ‘transformative adaptation’, which enables analysts to examine the film beyond its content. This essay argues that these four characters symbolise respectively: a) Japan as a passive ‘conscientious objector’ based on ‘passive pacifism’; b) Article 9 as a symbol of war renunciation; c) Japanese Self Defense Forces; and d) the Bush administration that encouraged its allies to participate in the War on Terror. Finally, this paper provides a critical analysis and discussion regarding the legitimacy of the 2003 Iraq War and Japan’s response in comparison to the case of the 1991 Gulf War.

‘Transformative Adaptation’ as an Analytical Method

As Miyazaki’s earlier film, Porco Rosso (1992), which narrates the interwar period between WWI and WWII, was influenced by the outbreak of the 1991 Gulf War, the film Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), created in the middle of the Iraq War, deals with a war in Europe in the 19th century, the ‘age of patriotism’ when great powers expanded their military power and territories in Asia and Africa (Animage 2005: 37). From another historical perspective, the town where Sophie Hatter lives is the motif of Alsace, which was a source of territorial dispute and armed conflict between France and Germany for many years (ibid: 90, 149). Moreover, the firebombing in the film reminds the audience of the bombing during the Second World War (Smith 2011).

Nonetheless, the creation of this film was heavily influenced by the US-led War on Terror as well as the outbreak of the 2003 Iraq War. Notably, Miyazaki remarked that he was angered by listening to the speech by US President George W. Bush who asked the world: “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” (White House 2001) and continuously repeated this rhetoric to justify the War on Terror. In response, Miyazaki expressed his stance as being on “neither side!” (Kano 2006: 287). Likewise, Miyazaki did not attend the Ceremony of the Academy Award after the United States started the military attack on Iraq, presumably because he intended to keep a distance from the White House in order to show his anti-war stance (Kiridoshi 2008: 473). As well as Miyazaki, the producer of the film, Suzuki, commented that: “When we were making it, there was the Iraq War. In Japan we were not in a very good economic situation. From young to old, people are not very happy” (Darlington 2004 cited in Robinson 2013: 368).

Internationally, the director of the Venice International Film Festival, Marco Muller, regarded this movie as an ‘anti-war’ message against the Iraq War, commenting that: “Possibly the strongest anti-war statement we have in the entire festival” (Cavallaro 170 cited in Smith 2011). It is, therefore, self-evident that this film represents Miyazaki’s anti-war message against the US-led War on Terror in the post-9/11 political context. For this reason, it is important to contextualise the historical background of the 1991 Gulf War, the political situation of the 2003 Iraq War, and Japan’s responses as shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Sequence of the War on Terror and the Release of Howl’s Moving Castle
Year Month Historical Background and Political Events
1990 Aug Iraq invaded Kuwait (Gulf Crisis)
Nov UN Peace Cooperation Bill was scrapped in Japan
1991 Jan The Gulf War broke out (US-led multi-national forces vs. Iraq)
1992 June Japan enacted the PKO Law
2001 Sep 9/11 Terrorist Attacks in the US
President Bush referred to ‘individual/collective self-defence’
NATO allies expressed their willingness to support the US
Japan expressed its ‘political support’, but not military assistance
The UN adopted Resolution 1368 to combat terrorism
Oct The Afghanistan War broke out
Japan created Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law
2002 Jan President Bush called Iran, Iraq, and North Korea the ‘Axis of Evil’
Sep President Bush adopted the Bush Doctrine on ‘pre-emptive strike’
Nov The UN adopted Resolution 1441 referring to ‘serious consequences’
2003 Mar The Iraq War broke out
May The UN adopted Resolution 1483 for post-war reconstruction
July Japan enacted Iraq Special Measures Law
Dec Japanese Air Self Defence Forces dispatched to Iraq
2004 Jan Japanese Ground Self Defence Forces dispatched to Iraq
Nov Howl’s Moving Castle screened in Japan

Note: This chronology was created by the author (Akimoto 2013: 165-204)

In earlier research, some analysts examined this film in terms of war and peace issues. For instance, Susan J. Napier (2012) pointed out that the film deals with a war-related issue, especially the “firebombing of civilians.” Jeremy Robinson (2013: 367) observed that the firestorms in the movie remind audiences of the bombings of “Dresden or Hamburg or London or Hiroshima or Nagasaki,” and furthermore, “the scenes of sailors jumping off the ship” are the image of “historical moments such as Pearl Harbor” (ibid: 368), but fundamentally, “in relating the movie to the Iraq War, the piece automatically becomes critical of America” (ibid). In terms of methodology, Lindsay Smith (2011) analysed the correlation between this film and the 2003 Iraq War by applying the ‘transformative adaptation’ analytical method in order to scrutinise “transformed meanings” which “encourage critics to move beyond a mere study of how a book and a novel differ when analysing the adapted text.” By utilising the ‘transformative adaptation’ method as a useful analytical tool, Smith investigated the “transformed meanings” in the context of the foreign and security policies of the United States (ibid). Thus, although subjectivity is an inevitable issue in film review (Mogi 2010: 78-79), it is still important for those who analyse Miyazaki’s animation to investigate “allegorical meanings” as symbolical messages of the director (Ikeda 2010: 145-154). Building up the earlier research and the methodology, this paper employs ‘transformative analysis’ as a research method through the lens of peace research paying special attention to war and peace in the post-9/11 context. Finally, the paper will analyse the legality or illegality of the use of force in the 2003 Iraq War and Japan’s response.

During Peacetime: The Encounter of Sophie and Howl

The heroine, Sophie is the oldest daughter of the Hatter family who lives in a European-style town (Kingsbury) in a fictitious country (Ingary) some time in the 19th century. The Hatter family lives alongside a steam locomotive railway line, and makes a living by creating and selling hats. Due to the death of Sophie’s father, Sophie is in charge of her family business; her step mother is involved in another romance. Sophie and the citizens of Kingsbury basically enjoy peace (Animage 2005: 12, 91). One day, in the middle of a military parade in preparation for war, two soldiers speak to Sophie, trying to pick her up. Sophie politely turns them down, but the soldiers do not give up on her. All of a sudden, the wizard Howl shows up out of the blue and saves Sophie with his magical power (ibid: 13-15).

While this scene may seem to depict nothing more than the daily lives of soldiers and those of civilians in preparation for war, through an application of the ‘transformative adaptation’ and from a perspective of Japanese politics, the scene reminds Japanese audiences of US military bases in Japan, and especially calls to mind the 1995 rape incident in Okinawa. In the incident, three American service men abducted and sexually assaulted a 12 year old Japanese girl (New York Times 9 September 1995). This incident sparked a nationwide debate and developed into diplomatic tension between the two nations (Maedomari 2011: 24). Nonetheless, in the film, it is important to note that Howl tells Sophie that the soldiers are not necessarily evil (Kiridoshi 2008: 471) implying that Miyazaki opposes war and violence, but not the existence of military forces and soldiers in Japan.

After she comes back home, the Witch of the Waste visits Sophie’s shop and casts an evil spell on Sophie. Immediately after that, Sophie suddenly becomes an old woman of around 90 years old. Now that she is a senile woman, Sophie thinks that she cannot stay at the shop anymore, and decides to embark on her trip (Animage 2005: 16-18). On her way, in the middle of the Waste, Sophie comes across a scarecrow that helps to find her accommodation, which turns out to be the How’s moving castle. Thanks to the kind scarecrow, Sophie enters the castle and meets Fire Demon Calcifer, which is fixed in a fireplace. Calcifer tells Sophie that he moves the castle but cannot move there due to the contract with Howl. Meanwhile, Sophie makes up her mind to stay in the castle as a professional housekeeper and cleans and cooks for Howl and his disciple Markl (ibid: 19-21, 26). Even in the peacetime however, Howl’s castle constantly moves away from the Witch of the Waste and military service of his country.

Passive Conscientious Objection: Howl’s Response to Conscription

In the meanwhile, the country prepares for a war against its neighbour country and some warships appear in a festive mood. When Sophie and Markl wait for the return of Howl, a royal summons comes for Howl in preparation for the coming war (Animage 2005: 26-27, 92). Although Howl does not obey the royal summons, he turns into a bird-like monster trying to stop the military aircrafts from attacking his city in the night sky.

This animated transformation into an animal monster during wartime is a typical metaphor (LaMarrer 2008) in that humans lose their humanity in war. When he returns home, Howl says that it is a terrible war changing his country into a sea of fire (Animage 2005: 33). The next morning, Sophie and Markl go out shopping and they witness military aircraft dropping leaflets regarding the war, so they decide to go home. Back inside the house, Howl is in a panic blaming Sophie for the change of his hair colour from blond to reddish orange (ibid: 34-35, 92).

Howl tells Sophie that he runs away from the Witch of the Waste and royal military service, but he cannot refuse the royal summons because of his promise at wizard school. Sophie suggests that Howl should go to see the King in person so that he could become exempt from military obligation. Still, this weak hero asks Sophie to go to the royal palace in his place because he is scared of his master, Madam Suliman, a royal witch (Animage 2005: 40). Here, the question is: Does Howl refuse the military service on the basis of pacifism? In order to answer the question, a typology of pacifism and peace movements provides useful examples, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2: A Typology of Pacifism and Peace Movements
Type of Pacifism Peace Movement
a) Religious pacifism Society of Friends (Quakers), Pax Christi (Catholic), Fellowship of Reconciliation
b) Liberal internationalism UN Associations, National Peace Councils, World Disarmament Campaigns
c) Anti-conscription War Resister’s League, Amnesty International
d) Socialist internationalism International Workers of the World
e) Feminist anti-militarism Women for Peace, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
f) Ecological pacifism Greenpeace, Green Party (esp. in Germany)
g) Communist internationalism World Peace Council
h) Nuclear pacifism Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, European Nuclear Disarmament, Physicians for Social Responsibility, etc.

Note: Source from Barash and Webel slightly modified by the author (2006: 39).

Compared to the types of pacifism above, there seems no evidence in the film that Howl avoids his military obligation because of his political or religious belief, but it seems that he ethically hates going to war. In this sense, Howl’s opposition to military service can be described as ‘passive conscientious objection’ based on ‘passive pacifism’ or ‘egoistic pacifism’ rather than active pacifism based on religious or political convictions. Yet, by taking Miyazaki’s ‘anti-war pacifism’ into consideration, the hero demonstrates his ‘non-killing’ attitude, since Howl in the movie never kills even though he is under attack and wounded.

Moreover, similarly to liberal internationalism which is called ‘pacificism’ but is in fact a relative pacifism that “does not entirely renounce… [war] as an instrument of policy in extreme circumstances” (ibid), Howl’s pacifism is also a ‘relative pacifism’ or ‘pacificism’ that recognises the right to self-defense by non-lethal methods. Either way, Howl’s response to royal conscription is ‘passive conscientious objection’ based on his hatred of killing, fighting, or dying in illegitimate warfare.

A Transformative Analysis of the Main Characters in the Post-9/11 Context

On her way to the royal palace, Sophie comes across the Witch of the Waste who was also summoned for conscription, as if in national mobilisation for total warfare. Yet the Witch of the Waste is deprived of magical power in front of the palace and suddenly becomes an elderly woman (Animage 2005: 41-42). Inside the palace, Sophie, who impersonates Howl’s mother, meets Madam Suliman, the Royal Witch, in a greenhouse on an upper floor of the high-rise royal building. Madam Suliman sees through Sophie’s pretense to be Howl’s mother, however. Suliman tells Sophie that Howl used to be a competent wizard and her last disciple, but is no longer obedient to Suliman. Suliman contends that Howl’s magical power is extraordinarily strong and it should be controlled and used for the sake of the royal palace and its military service. On hearing this, Sophie criticises the way Madam Suliman and the royal palace treat her, the Witch of the Waste, and Howl (Ibid: 43; 79).

What are the allegorical meanings of Howl, Sophie, Calcifer, and Suliman? In the light of transformative analysis in the post-9/11 political context, it is possible to interpret that they symbolise respectively: Japan, Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the Japanese Self Defense Forces, and the United States as shown in Table 3.

Table 3: Allegorical Meanings of Main Characters by Transformative Adaptation
a) Wizard Howl and his Moving Castle

Japan as a ‘passive conscientious objector’
= Passive pacifist who hates to kill or die
= Passive conscientious objection
= Relative pacifism (fight for self-defence)
b) Sophie Hatter

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution
= Active pacifist who opposes war
= Active conscientious objection
= Absolute pacifism (always avoid war)
c) Fire Demon Calcifer

Japanese Self Defence Forces
(Based on a contract in childhood)
= Desire for power/military normalisation/
possibility to transform into a militarist state
d) Royal Witch Madam Suliman

The United States (as a military ally)
(Based on a promise at magical school)
= Balance of power/alliance pressure on Japan to fight for collective self-defence

Note: An original interpretation in relation to Japan’s security identity (Akimoto 2013: 37)

First, Howl’s behaviour and his castle running away from the royal conscription based on passive/relative pacifism is consistent with Japan’s security identity as a ‘passive conscientious objector’ that does not exercise the right to collective self-defense despite its military alliance with the United States. Whereas Howl criticises the act of war as ‘killing’ and ‘murder’, he is involved in warfare in a non-lethal manner. This ambivalent and rather schizophrenic attitude towards issues of war and peace is similar to Japan’s changing security policy. Second, it is reasonable to regard Sophie as Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which renounces war in general. Indeed, Sophie, who believes that it is better for Howl to be a coward, tries to dissuade Howl from going to war. The heroine’s action is moreover related to the termination of the war in the film. Third, Fire Demon Calcifer can be considered as the Japanese Self Defense Forces, which is vital for Japan’s territorial independence. In the film, Howl made a contract with Calcifer in childhood, which could be interpreted as the 1954 Self-Defense Forces Law. Due to the contract with Howl, Calcifer cannot move out of the castle, just as the Self Defense Forces cannot be dispatched to warfare outside Japan. Fourth, the Royal Witch, Madam Suliman, who constantly pressures Howl as her junior partner to participate in the international conflict is congruous with the United States that waged the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War. Like the United States, Madam Suliman is influential enough to put an end to the war by her own decision. Japan’s passive response in the case of 1990 Gulf Crisis, for instance, was sharply criticised by the international community at that time, but still Japan did not dispatch the Self-Defense Forces to US-led military operations, but instead sent troops for post-war peace operations based on United Nations resolutions (e.g. Akimoto 2013: 165-204).

Suliman, moreover, warns that Howl is likely to become a dangerous archenemy due to his extraordinary magical potential in the end. Then, what is the implication of Howl becoming the archenemy (The King of Devils)? It is logical to consider that Howl, just like Japan’s extreme militarism that seeks to maximise its military power including nuclear weapons, is potentially capable of becoming an aggressive militarist state. Thus, transformative adaptation as an analytical framework is applicable to the understanding of symbolic meanings of the main characters in the context of post-9/11 international politics.

In the middle of the debate between Sophie and Suliman, Howl in the disguise of the King suddenly turns up in the palace and successfully escapes with Sophie. Howl tells Madam Suliman that there is no need for wizards to join the war. Moreover, Howl says to Suliman that he does not intend to fight his teacher. In response, Suliman magically reveals Howl’s true identity as a bird-like monster, but Sophie finds out that it is only a trap. Ultimately, both Howl and Sophie manage to escape from the royal palace (Animage 2005: 44-46).

During Wartime: Howl’s Non-Killing Policy and Love under Fire

After their return to the castle, Howl becomes a bird-like monster and goes back to war again in order to stop the firebombing of the city and protect his castle. In the scene, Howl shows his ‘non-killing’ policy, but is damaged by the attack of the enemies. As the war intensifies, Howl turns into a huge monster and loses one of his legs, and moreover, nearly loses his human mentality. In response, Sophie tells Howl that she loves him (Animage 2005: 48). In this way, Sophie tries to stop Howl from resorting violence or killing and dying in the war.

Significantly, there are no scenes or depictions of Howl as a ‘hero’ who kills enemies during warfare throughout this movie. Originally, Miyazaki had planned to draw vivid battle scenes, but he decided not to visualise such scenes after the outbreak of the Iraq War (Kano 2006: 280). Kano Seiji inferred that Miyazaki might have considered the feeling of theaudience and might have feared that his movie would reflect actual warfare (ibid). In addition, there are no scenes of killing even in the outtakes of the film (ibid: 290-291), and hence, it is fair to infer that although it is not clearly explained in the film, Howl does not kill the enemies even in warfare. Moreover, in the novel version, Howl also loves living creatures, even the spiders in his moving castle, and tells Sophie not to kill even a single spider while she cleans the house (Jones 2005). Dianna Jones, the author of the original story, specially requested Miyazaki not to change the personality of Howl (Yomiuri 2004). In this respect, Howl’s non-killing tendency in the film is consistent with this characteristic in the original novel.

The most symbolic scene representing Howl’s ‘non-killing’ policy is depicted when a gigantic military airship comes to the flower-filled field where Howl and Sophie have a conversation. On seeing the military airship, Sophie asks Howl whether they are enemies or not, and Howl replies that it makes no difference because they are all ‘murderers’ going to burn towns and people. In this scene, Howl shows his strong antipathy towards killing innocent people indicating his non-killing policy. In the next instant, Howl magically unplugs sockets of electrical switchboards inside the battleship without killing or harming the enemies (ibid: 53). As shown in Table 2, Howl as a passive/relative pacifist fights enemies for self-defense, but does not kill them, especially in the presence of Sophie as a symbol of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.

After letting Sophie escape from pursuers from the battleship, Howl turns into a bird-like monster again and returns to the sky where several night bombers are flying to burn cities (ibid: 54). The bombarding airship finally appears over the town where Howl’s castle is located. Sophie goes out to look for her family’s house, but bombs dropped by the bombarding airship are rapidly approaching. In that split second, Howl flies through the rain of bombs and catches up a bomb which is approaching Sophie (ibid: 60-61). This sequence of the film effectively depicts the ‘firebombing of civilians’ as shown in Photo 1 (Napier 2012: Studio Ghibli 2005: 167).

Figure 1. The Famous Scene of Firebombing in Howl’s Moving Castle

Cassegard, Figure 1

Howl’s Moving Castle (Studio Ghibli 2004, 2005: 167; Napier 2012).

The firebombing of civilians is not only ‘illegal’ but also a ‘war crime’ in terms of international law, especially Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC 2002: 5-10), and therefore, we may read this scene as a reflection of Miyazaki’s anti-war pacifism and objection to war in general, particularly the 2003 Iraq War. Moreover, the reason why civilians are victimised in this film is because the royal palace is protected by a strong magic (Hirao, Sugita, and Hashizume eds. 2004: 21) implying that politicians are allowed to stay in a safer place, while civilians are victimised despite the fact that they are not directly responsible for waging the war. As soon as Howl saves Sophie from the bomb, he flies back to the battlefield, despite the fact that Sophie earnestly asks him not to fight. Yet Howl replies that he should return to the battlefield in order to protect Sophie. This means that he intends to prevent the enemies from attacking his house, Sophie and Markl, by exercising the right to self-defense as justified in Article 55 of the United Nations Charter (United Nations 2014). Thus, Howl opposes royal military service as a passive conscientious objector, but at the same time, resists against the violent enemies by non-lethal means.

Sophie opens the black door of the Howl’s moving castle which leads to the battlefield, and she witnesses Howl fighting the bombarding aircraft (Animage 2005: 62-63). On seeing the battle scene, Sophie makes up her mind to stop Howl from fighting by moving his castle. Notably, Sophie explains to Calcifer that it is better for Howl to remain a coward (ibid: 64-65). In the middle of the moving, the Witch of the Waste finds Howl’s heart inside the fire of Calcifer and steals it, but Sophie stops the witch by pouring water on top of Calcifer’s fire. Since the fire demon Calcifer is under contract with Howl, the death of Calcifer means that of Howl. Sophie cries at the loss, but a ring given by Howl starts emitting a bright light and Sophie comes to understand the secret of the contract between Howl and Calcifer.

After that, Sophie manages to find Howl on the verge of death and then kisses him so that he could stay alive (Ibid: 66-70). After they return to the castle, Sophie breaks the contract between Howl and Calcifer, and the castle without Calcifier’s magical power collapses. Yet the scarecrow saves Sophie and other housemates, and Sophie kisses the scarecrow too as a token of gratitude. The kiss breaks the spell which had held the scarecrow, returning him to his true self, prince of the neighbouring country. The prince returns to his country in order to cease the war. In response, Madam Suliman initiates the termination of warfare, and Howl and Sophie live happily ever after (ibid: 71-72).

As a Discussion Topic in Peace Education: The Legitimacy of the War

As revealed in this paper, the film Howl’s Moving Castle just like other Studio Ghibli films has a profound anti-war implication in terms of peace education. Similarly, a number of observers (Kano 2006; Kiridoshi 2008; Smith 2011; Napier 2012) have pointed out that the film conveys an ‘anti-war’ message for audiences, including children (e.g. Smith 2011), and therefore, this film can be raised as an example of a discussion topic on the war. As for the relevance of the film to peace education, Lindsay Smith noted that: “Howl’s Moving Castle might be read as anti-war propaganda, demonstrably teaching children that war is bad, and that adults should instead seek peaceful resolution to their conflicts” (ibid).

More specifically, however, the legitimacy of the use of force in the 2003 Iraq War needs to be discussed in a peace education classroom. In particular, it is imperative to understand the difference between the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War regarding its legality or illegality in the light of international law. Although peace research always seeks resolution of conflicts “by peaceful means” (Galtung 1996), the 1991 Gulf War is recognised as a just war or legal use of force based on the authorisation by the United Nations Security Council, whereas the 2003 Iraq War tends to be criticised as an unjust war devoid of concrete legal bases (e.g. Akimoto 2013: 165-204).

In the case of the 1990 Gulf Crisis, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 678 authorising the use of force with the famous phrase, “all necessary means,” and the US-led multi-national force was established. On the basis of Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter and Resolution 678, the use of force as just was legitimised in the 1991 Gulf War. In response to the war, the Japanese government, because of the historical constraints of Article 9, did not make any direct military contribution, except for a financial one of as much as US$13 billion for the multi-national forces. Nonetheless, the international community criticised Japan’s response as a ‘non-bloodshed’ policy (e.g. Akimoto 2012). In this regard, Japan’s attitude towards the 1991 Gulf War as a just one can be regarded as a passive ‘conscientious objection’ based on its relative pacifism.

On the contrary, the 2003 Iraq War lacked adequate legal bases and the use of force could not be fully justified. Although the Koizumi government politically supported the war conducted by the Bush administration, Japan did not dispatch its Self-Defense Forces to assist in the attack on Iraq. In this sense, Japan’s response to the 2003 Iraq War also can be regarded as passive conscientious objection at a national level. Nevertheless, its objection is not necessarily based on absolute pacifism but relative pacifism, and moreover, Japan showed its political support for the war (Akimoto 2013: 165-204). Yet, Japan’s contribution to post-war peace operations in Iraq based on UN resolution 1368 can be regarded as a positive contribution to the reconstruction of the war-torn country as Miyazaki also recognised. Moreover, the director was impressed by the fact that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces completed the peace mission without killing any Iraqi people. Miyazaki, therefore, does not deny the necessity of the Self Defense Forces for the purpose of self-defense and international peace operations (Miyazaki 2013: 8-9), as does Howl in the film.

Although it is important not to politicise an educational curriculum, the difference between a just war and an unjust one should be discussed as a topic of peace education; yet it is also important for students and teachers in peace education to consider possible solutions to peaceful resolutions of international disputes in the first place. Watching this film can be a first step in peace education regarding the US-led War on Terror, particularly the 2003 Iraq War. In addition, although Japan’s participation in post-war reconciliation in Iraq is a controversial topic in Japanese politics, its legitimacy as well as contributions could be discussed in peace education classes in relation to this film.


This paper critically reviews the film Howl’s Moving Castle from a perspective of peace research in combination with ‘transformative analysis’ as a research method. It has confirmed the argument of earlier research that the creation of the film was heavily influenced by the outbreak of the US-led War on Terror, especially the 2003 Iraq War. Yet, one of the first analytical discoveries of the film through the lens of transformative adaptation indicates that the scene in which Sophie is picked up by two soldiers allegorically reminds Japanese audiences who are sensitive to Japanese politics and Japan-US military base issue of the 1995 sexual assault incident in Okinawa.

In terms of the typology of pacifism and peace movements, we have observed Howl’s response to conscription systems. In comparison with several types of pacifism and peace movements, we have identified that Howl’s attitude towards conscription can be categorised as ‘passive conscientious objection’ based not on religious or political belief, but on ‘relative pacifism’ because he does not wish to kill others and die in war. This is how Howl exercises the right of self-defense in order to protect his house, Sophie and Markl.

More importantly, through the transformative adaptation method, this paper offered an original analysis of the allegorical meanings of the main characters: a) Howl and his moving castle; b) Sophie Hatter; c) Fire Demon Calcifer; and d) Madam Suliman, respectively. We have argued that a) Japan corresponds to a relative pacifist and passive conscientious objector; b) Active pacifist who stops Howl from killing on the basis of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution; c) Japanese Self Defense Forces that could protect the territorial independence of Japan; and d) The United States that urges its allies to exercise the right to collective self-defense. Howl’s ambivalent attitude towards war is as changeable as Japan’s security identity. Still, this film consistently emphasises Howl’s non-killing policy, even though he fights back against his enemies during warfare.

In addition, films that contains an anti-war message can be used as a discussion topic in peace education, especially regarding the legitimacy of the 2003 Iraq War in comparison with the 1991 Gulf War. We acknowledge that the 1991 Gulf War was legally authorised by Resolution 678 of the United Nations Security Council, although peace research prioritises peaceful resolutions whenever possible. Unlike the 1991 Gulf War, however, the 2003 Iraq War was not sufficiently authorised by the United Nations Security Council and the use of force was therefore and unfortunately illegitimate. Japan showed its political support for the United States, but did not join the war because of the constraint of Article 9 of the Constitution. Japan’s vague security attitude is congruous with Howl’s passive pacifism and the exercise of the right to self-defense in a non-lethal manner. All in all, the film can be watched as educational material in peace education both for children and adults in the context of post-9/11 global politics.


Akimoto, Daisuke. 2012. ‘‘‘Positive Pacifism’’ and the Development of Japan’s International Peacekeeping Operations’. Soka University Peace Research Vol. 26, pp. 27-53.

Akimoto, Daisuke. 2013. Japan as a ‘Global Pacifist State’: Its Changing Pacifism and Security Identity. Bern: Peter Lang AG International Academic Publishers.

Animage. 2005. Roman Album: Hauru no Ugokushiro (Roman Album: Howl’s Moving Castle). Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten.

Aoi, Hiroshi. 2010, 2004. ‘Sutandado wa Osuki?: ‘‘Mahotsukai Hauru to Hino Akuma’’ no Miyazakiryu Arenjijutsu (Do you Like Standard?: ‘‘Howl’s Moving Castle’’ arranged by Miyazaki)’. In Yuriika (Eureka): Poetry and Criticism Vol. 36/13. 2010, 2004. Tokyo: Seidosha, pp. 71-77.

Barash, David, and Charles P. Webel. 2002. Peace and Conflict Studies. California: Sage Publication.

Cavallaro, Dani. 2006. The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki. North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

Chen, Dominick. 2010, 2004. ‘Ugoku Shiro no Keifugaku: Shinteki Network no Toposu toshite (Genealogy of Moving Castle: As a Topos of Psychological Network)’. In Yuriika (Eureka): Poetry and Criticism Vol. 36/13. 2010, 2004. Tokyo: Seidosha, pp. 84-93.

Darlington, Shasta. 2004. ‘Japanese Animation Casts Spell Over Venice Fest’. Reuters. 5 September 2004.

Fujitsu, Ryota. 2010, 2004. ‘Sutajio Jiburi no Ayumi: Hai Kosuto, Hai Risuku, Hai Ritaan no 20 Nen (The History of Studio Ghibli: 20 Years of High Cost, High Risk, and High Return)’. In Yuriika (Eureka): Poetry and Criticism Vol. 36/13. 2010, 2004. Tokyo: Seidosha, pp. 205-216.

Galtung, Johan. 1996. Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization. London: SAGE Publications.

Hibi, Yoshitaka. 2003. ‘‘‘Shiro’’ kara no Nagame (Views from ‘‘Castles’’)’. In Yonemura, Miyuki. 2003. ed. Jiburi no Mori e (Towards Forest of Ghibli). Tokyo: Shinwasha, pp. 56-81.

Hikawa, Ryusuke. 2010, 2004. ‘Producer no Shotai: Sutajio Jiburi, Miyazaki Hayao Sakuhin to Suzuki Toshio (Real Identity of the Producer: Sudio Ghibli, Works of Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki)’. In Yuriika (Eureka): Poetry and Criticism Vol. 36/13. 2010, 2004. Tokyo: Seidosha, pp. 124-129.

Hirao, Tomoya, Midori Sugita, and Keiko Hashizume (eds.). 2004. Hauru no Ugokushiro Tettei Gaido: Hauru to Sophie Futarino Yakusoku (Howl’s Moving Castle In-depth Guidebook: Howl and Sophie and their Promise). Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten.

ICC (International Criminal Court). 2002. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Available at (accessed 24 February 2014).

Ikeda, Yuichi. 2010, 2004. ‘Tamashii no Janru no Tameni: Miyazaki Sakuhin ni okeru Animation to Aregori (For the Genre of Soul: Animation and Allegory in Miyazaki Films)’. In Yuriika (Eureka): Poetry and Criticism Vol. 36/13. 2010, 2004. Tokyo: Seidosha, pp. 145-154.

Jones, Dianna Wynne. 2005, 1997. Hauru no Ugoku Shiro 1: Mahotsukai Hauru to Hino Akuma (Howl’s Moving Castle). Translated by Junko Nishimura. Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten.

Kano, Seiji. 2006. Miyazaki Hayao Zensho (The Complete Miyazaki Hayao). Tokyo: Film Art-Sha.

Kiridoshi, Risaku. 2008. Miyazaki Hayao no Sekai (World of Hayao Miyazaki). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo.

Kotani, Mari. 2010, 2004. ‘Mahotsukai wa Dareda (Who is a Wizard/Witch?)’. In Yuriika (Eureka): Poetry and Criticism Vol. 36/13. 2010, 2004. Tokyo: Seidosha, pp. 64-70.

LaMarre, Thomas. 2008. ‘Speciesism, Part I: Translating Races into Animals in Wartime Animation’. Mechademia Vol. 3, pp. 75-95.

Levi, Antonia. 2008. ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. Mechademia Vol. 3, pp. 261-263.

Maedomari, Hiromori. 2011. Okinawa to Beigunkichi (Okinawa and the US Base). Tokyo: Kadokawa.

Maejima, Hidekuni. 2010, 2004. ‘‘‘Eiga Ongaku no Kakushin’’ eno Kaiki: ‘‘Jinsei no Merry-Go-Round’’ no Imisurumono (Return to the ‘‘Essence of Film Music’’: The Meaning of ‘‘Merry-Go-Round of Life’’)’. Yuriika (Eureka): Poetry and Criticism Vol. 36/13. 2010, 2004. Tokyo: Seidosha, pp. 137-144.

Miyazaki, Hayao. 2013. ‘Kenpo o Kaerunado mottenohoka (Constitutional Revision is out of Question)’. In Studio Ghibli. 2013b. Neppū. 18 July 2013. ‘Special Edition on Constitutional Revision’. Available at (accessed 22 January 2014), pp. 4-12.

Mogi, Kenichiro. 2010, 2004. ‘Bunmyaku ni Dakare, Jiyu ni Yumemiru koto (Freely Dream in the Context)’. In Yuriika (Eureka): Poetry and Criticism Vol. 36/13. 2010, 2004. Tokyo: Seidosha, pp. 78-83.

Napier, Susan J. 2012. ‘The Anime Director, the Fantasy Girl and the Very Real Tsunami’. The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Vol. 10, Issue 11, No. 3. 12 March 2012. Available at (accessed 22 February 2014).

New York Times. 1995. ‘Americans Charged In Rape in Okinawa’. 9 September 1995. (accessed 22 February 2014).

Otsuka, Gichi. 2010, 2004. ‘2004 Nen Animation Junrei: ‘‘Hauru’’ to Ugokanakatta Shiro (Animation Pilgrimage 2004: ‘‘Howl’’ and the Castle that did not move)’. In Yuriika (Eureka): Poetry and Criticism Vol. 36/13. 2010, 2004. Tokyo: Seidosha, pp. 94-100.

Robinson, Jeremy Mark. 2013. The Cinema of Hayao Miyazaki. Maidstone, Kent: Crescent Moon Publishing.

Smith, Lindsay. 2011. ‘War, Wizards, and Words: Transformative Adaptation and Transformed Meanings in Howl’s Moving Castle’. The Projector Film and Media Journal Vol. 11, No. 1. Available at (accessed 20 February 2014).

Studio Ghibli. 2004 DVD. Hauru no Ugokushiro (Howl’s Moving Castle).

Studio Ghibli ed. 2005. The Art of Howl’s Moving Castle (Ghibli the Art Series). Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten.

Suzuki, Toshio. 2005. ‘Sophie toiu Character wa, Josei no Tamensei o Taigen shiteimasu (The Character of Sophie embodies the Diversity of a Woman)’. In Animage. 2005. Roman Album: Hauru no Ugokushiro (Roman Album: Howl’s Moving Castle). Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, pp. 96-98.

Suzuki, Toshio, and Shinichiro Inaba. 2010, 2004. ‘‘‘Ugokushiro’’ no Itokoto de, Anime wa Hajimaru (Animation Starts with a Single World ‘‘Moving Castle’’)’. In Yuriika (Eureka): Poetry and Criticism Vol. 36/13. 2010, 2004. Tokyo: Seidosha, pp. 44-56.

United Nations. 2014. The Charter of the United Nations. (accessed 24 February 2014).

White House. 2001. ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People’. 20 September 2001. Available at (accessed 22 February 2014).

Yanagi, Miwa. 2010, 2004. ‘Muteki no Shojo Senso (Invincible Girls’ War)’. In Yuriika (Eureka): Poetry and Criticism Vol. 36/13. 2010, 2004. Tokyo: Seidosha, pp. 60-63.

Yomiuri Online. 2004. ‘Hauru Gensakusha Dianna Wynne Jones san ni Kiku (Interview with Dianna Wynne Jones, the Author of Howl’s Moving Castle)’. 8 October 2004. Available at (accessed 20 February 2014).

Yonemura, Miyuki. 2003. ed. Jiburi no Mori e (Towards Forest of Ghibli). Tokyo: Shinwasha.

About the Author

Daisuke Akimoto is Assistant Professor at the Sōka University Peace Research Institute in Japan. He holds a PhD (Asian Studies and International Relations) from the University of Western Sydney, an MA (Peace and Conflict Studies) from the University of Sydney, and a BA (Humanities) from the Sōka University Japan. His research interests include Japan’s pacifism and security policy, Japan-Australia relations, international peacekeeping operations and nuclear disarmament.

Email the author

Back to top