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Anime Info

Creator: Hayao Miyazaki
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Movie (2:04)
Purchase: Here From Amazon

English Voices: James Van Deer Beek, Anna Paquin, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill

Summary

+ Beautifully rendered hand drawn animation
+ Adorable heroes
+ The story is fast paced
+/– References to Treasure Island removed from the Disney dub

Overview

Castle in the Sky is a delightful fantasy fable. It further develops the themes and motifs that Miyazaki is famous for. Children will enjoy the adventures of heroes their age while adults will appreciate the thought provoking themes.

Public Rating

Our Rating

Score of 4 out of 5
4 out of 5 · Highly Recommended

Castle in the Sky Anime Movie Review

Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 11/10/2006

Introduction

Hayao Miyazaki is a man of immense talent and epic imagination. Although he began his forty year animation career working on television programs he made his debut as a feature film director in 1978 with the comedic caper film The Castle of Cagliostro. Miyazaki's films are known for their thoughtful stories featuring young protagonists, important, socially aware themes, and beautiful, predominately hand drawn animation.

Released in 1986, Castle in the Sky is a showcase for one of Hayao Miyazaki's favorite themes: humans in flight. Set in a pseudo- 19th century fantasy world of steam powered machines, giant airships, and flying castles, it tells the story of Pazu a young mining engineer's assistant as he aids a girl named Sheeta in her quest to learn her true identity. Along the way they have many adventures involving pirates, the military and even secret agents. Their quest may even lead them to the secret behind Laputa, the mysterious Castle in the Sky.

Review

Released a scant two years after Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Castle in the Sky shows the continued growth of the anime artist who is today revered as a genius. Although it doesn't quite match the thematic power of Princess Mononoke or the visual splendor of Spirited Away it is well worth watching. It is better animated than Nausicaa, and the story feels less convoluted. The film begins in medias res – as Miyazaki throws the audience right into the action as a band of air pirates (perhaps the inspiration for the air pirates in Disney's Tale Spin) attack a luxury airliner that resembles the technological love child of Titanic and Hindenburg. The pirates, led by an old woman named Dola but referred to as Mama by her crew are after the Levinstone, a jewel possessed by Sheeta, a young girl in the custody of two dark suited gentlemen. In the confusion of the attack, Sheeta escapes from her custodians and climbs out the window. In a shocking move, and much to the pirates' chagrin Sheeta apparently jumps to her death rather than be captured.

A beautiful and clever title sequence designed to look like an animated woodcut gives some of the back story of the ancient and advanced civilization of Laputa breaking free of the surly bonds of Earth and becoming airborne on several flying islands and giant airships. Miyazaki loves flight and flying machines and has depicted some form of flight in almost every one of the films he has directed. As the title sequence ends we return to the plight of Sheeta and are amazed to see that rather than falling to her death, Sheeta is floated to safety by her mystical amulet. The scene shifts to Pazu as he returns to work after buying his evening meal. He is amazed as Sheeta drifts to rest on the scaffolding outside the mine where he works. Much like Ray Steam from Otomo's Steamboy, Pazu is a clever boy with an almost innate sense for mechanics that will serve him well in his adventures. Good natured and compassionate, Pazu takes Sheeta home and looks after her. Meanwhile the pirates are scouring the countryside looking for their lost prize.

The next morning we get a better look at Pazu's hometown. It is exaggeration of an Irish or Welsh mining town built into the sides of a canyon and crisscrossed by railroads and bridges. We also learn more about Pazu, he has lived alone since the death of his father and besides being a talented trumpeter, he is obsessed with flying machines, and his father's journal pertaining to the legendary Laputa. Sees a photo of Laputa taken by Pazu's father she is enthralled by it as if there was some connection between her and the legendary Kingdom. To Pazu, solving the riddle of Laputa means not only recognition but vindication for a father branded a liar and who died searching for Laputa.

Miyazaki's films are often very sympathetic to working class people and Castle in the Sky is no exception. Pazu's Boss and Boss's wife are descent and hardworking people. With only a brief explanation from Pazu, they cover Sheeta and Pazu's escape. When the pirates eventually catch up to Sheeta, they prove to be foolish, comic dandies rather than a serious threat. They wear white suits and top hats as if they were on a vacation, and instead of giving chase to Pazu and Sheeta they stand around outside Boss's house showing off their enormous muscles to the townspeople and get involved in a comic fight scene that was in some ways reminiscent of something out of Popeye, complete with characters bursting their shirts and popping their buttons to show off enormous muscles.

Show More When the pirates, goaded on by Mama, finally do give chase, the following wild chase scene showcases the advantage that animation has over live action. Miyazaki thrusts his young protagonists into a thrill ride involving antique cars, trains, and even a berserk steam powered troop transport. Certainly movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark have included similar thrilling chases but only at great expense and threat to life and limb. In animation such chases are only limited by the animators' imaginations and skill as draugthsmen. And not even the computer graphic augmented epics such as Star Wars Episode III have had as impossibly designed settings as the mining town depicted in Castle in the Sky. Buildings are built right on cliffs and in cliff walls and the railroad tracks extend for miles in all directions. When the crash ends with Sheeta and Pazu falling from the railroad they are saved when Sheeta's amulet again reveals its power. What secrets does it hold?

As amazing as the background and effects animation are the character animation is even better. In too many anime films the characters are wooden or only express exaggerated or simplistic emotions. Although Miyazaki's characters often look like anime archetypes they usually display complex and natural emotions. Sheeta and Pazu's exhilaration and fear during the chase scene are palpable but so are Pazu's pride in his father and Sheeta's curiosity about Laputa. Besides being well animated and designed, the characters are well written. The majority of characters are well-rounded human beings with realistic behavior and motivations. For instance when Sheeta and Pazu are briefly captured by the military, Sheeta acquiesces to the wishes of the oily government agent Muska and wishing to protect Pazu sends him away by behaving cold towards him. And later when the children join forces with Dora and the pirates, in a dramatic reversal Dola proves to be a rather sympathetic and even kind hearted character. Like Lady Eboshi in Princess Mononoke, Dola has adopted a gruff exterior out of necessity after all occupations such as Feudal Lord and Pirate are fields dominated by men – more "traditional" women might not survive in such environments.

When Pazu returns home the government prison where he and Sheeta were held, he finds the pirates there, waiting for him. Mama Dola berates Pazu for letting government agents keep Sheeta. In a clever scene, Dora goads Pazu into joining her attack against the government prison where Sheeta is being held. Meanwhile in an intense sequence, Sheeta suddenly remembers the secret words that activate the amulet. The crystal emits a blinding "Holy Light" and the giant robot warrior stored in the prison's basement suddenly activates. Apparently designed to respond to members of Laputa's Royal family who wield the amulet, the robot wreaks havoc attempting to get to Sheeta. The prison burns and perhaps hundreds of soldiers are wounded or killed. The robot's design is inspired by robots appearing in Superman cartoons made by Fleischer Bros. Studios in the 1940s but is also reminiscent of the God Warriors depicted in Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. One wonders if Castle in the Sky might be considered an unofficial prequel to Nausicaa. They share themes in common at least including pacifism, the danger of acquiring power, and the importance of ecology.

Show More
Some motifs found in other Miyazaki films make their earliest appearances in Castle in the Sky. After rescuing Sheeta during a battle sequence involving the Laputan robot, an airship, insect-like ornithopters, and giant "Big Bertha" style canons, Pazu wheedles Dora into letting him and Sheeta join her pirate crew. The pirates live onboard their ramshackle, jury-rigged airship similar to Howl's Moving Castle and held together by Dora's husband who is also the ship's chief engineer. He could be the human cousin to the spider like entity who runs the bathhouse depicted in Spirited Away, they even have the same glasses and mustache. Pazu becomes the engineer's assistant and Dora takes Sheeta under her wing much as the innkeeper takes in Chihiro in Spirited Away— much like Sophie in Howl's Moving Castle, Sheeta takes on the pirates cooking and other kitchen chores. Whether or not Dola and her crew are blood relatives they are organized and behave like family. Besides calling Dola, Mama, the pirates are affectionate towards her and treat her like a mother. Dola in turn gives the pirates motherly advice (at least when she isn't ordering them around). The pirates aren't evil just greedy. They use violence only when necessary and seem remorseful when they are forced to kill.

Life onboard ship is full of danger and hard work. However there are still moments of levity such as when the pirates crowd the kitchen and take on chores in a vain attempt to flirt with Sheeta – Dola is the only other woman on board. As in other Miyazaki films there is also a moment of contemplation. Unable to sleep, Sheeta joins Pazu in the watchtower. As Dora eaves drops through the speaking-tube, Sheeta admits that she is scared beyond words to search for Laputa and hopes that Pazu won't become a pirate on her account. In a touching moment, Pazu says he won't become a pirate – he believes Dora understands that because under her gruff exterior is a kind woman.

Following co-ordinates extrapolated from a guiding light emitted from Sheeta's necklace both the pirates and the government agents discover Laputa. Sheeta and Pazu are onboard a small scout ship keying on eye out for the government warship Goliath when in one of the most beautiful sequences of the entire film, they are caught in a fierce wind and separated from Dora's ship. They crash and the Castle in the Sky emerges from the clouds. Laputa is a city of wonders. Filled with exotic treasures and beautiful architecture; its gardens and wildlife are looked after by a single functioning robot.

The remaining portion of the movie consists of the battle for control of Laputa. Castle in the Sky is a fable about power and its abuses. It is reminiscent of Plato's parable of the lost city of Atlantis: according to the legend the people of Atlantis developed a powerful and sophisticated culture but they used their power for conquest and were destroyed when those they subjugated rose against them. Likewise the culture of Laputa used their weapons to destroy the civilizations of those who dwelled on the surface of the Earth including Sodom and Gomorrah and civilizations mentioned in the ancient Indian epic the Ramayana. Will those who want to control Laputa and use its power fro conquest prevail or will compassion and love win the day?

Conclusion

Castle in the Sky With each successive film Hayao Miyazaki took another step towards artistic genius. Castle in the Sky is better animated than Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, its story is tighter, and Miyazaki's themes are better developed. It is sprinkled with many literary references. Laputa is mentioned in Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, in one scene Muzka refers to Laputa as a "treasure island" and the symbol on Sheeta's necklace is reminiscent of the silver tree symbol of the Kingdom of Gondor from the Lord of the Rings. Children will enjoy the adventures of heroes their age while adults will appreciate the thought provoking themes.

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