Sophie’s Silver Braid

Howl’s Moving Castle may not be the first film you think of when talking about Studio Ghibli or Hayao Miyazaki, but it’s no less worthy of recognition.

Like most Ghibli films, the lead is a self-sufficient young woman, but in the case of this film, eighteen(-ish)-year-old Sophie spends most of her time on screen as a ninety-year-old woman. She finds Howl thanks to a rather helpful scarecrow, and after making a deal with Howl’s fire Calcifer, she tries to find a way to lift the spell cast on her which turned her into an old woman.

While Sophie makes a great feisty old lady, I think she looks rather fetching as her spell begins to wear off, when she regains her youthful face and body, but retains her silver hair from being old. It could be a representation of the experience she gained as an old lady, overcoming hardships in ways she couldn’t have dreamed of before.

Below are a few scenes capturing some of the moments as Sophie’s curse begins to fade.

Princess of the Wind Valley

official art by Hayao Miyazaki

In the early 1980s, before there was a Studio Ghibli, there was Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, a Topcraft film which paved the way for the legendary Japanese animation studio to launch in 1986 with Laputa: Castle in the Sky.

All the soon-to-be-Ghibli hallmarks were already there for Nausicaä: high animation production values, a Joe Hisaishi score (peppered with 1980s synthesizers in this case), and a self-sufficient girl as the lead. Miyazaki’s environmentalist themes were also leading the way in this allegorical fantasy. Nausicaä was a lot darker than I remembered it, but Miyazaki would double down on these themes more than a decade later with Princess Mononoke.

Which brings me back to the heroine of the story, Nausicaä. She serves as a model for many of Ghibli’s future lead characters, and perhaps has the most in common with San from Princess Mononoke. Given the similarities between Nausicaä and Princess Mononoke, that’s not too much of a surprise.

So Princess Nausicaä, who has the ability to communicate with nature, is the first in a long string of Ghibli leads who are among my favorite anime characters.