Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Mayumi Tanaka, Keiko Yokozawa, Kotoe Hatsui
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: Sheeta, a young orphan girl held prisoner on a military airship, finds herself in further danger when the ship is attacked by sky pirates. Sheeta accidentally plummets from the aircraft escaping the clutches of these pirates. As she descends unconsciously towards the earth, a mysterious medallion around her neck illuminates breaking her fall. As she slowly levitates down towards a small mining town, Pazu, a fellow orphan and local from the town, spots her and brings her to the safety of his home. Sheeta’s medallion proves to be most valuable as both find themselves pursued by both the military and pirates.
This month’s selection for a Hayao Miyazaki film to review is Studio Ghibli’s debut feature, the beautiful Castle in the Sky. As mentioned in our Nausicaä review, we aim to write up a review each month from the legendary Japanese director’s filmography as a means for me to experience most of them for the first time and build up a sense of hype for Miyazaki’s next film How Do You Live? To date, I’ve watched 3 Miyazaki films in their entirety and my initial reaction is of awe and wonder at such an imagination. While Castle in The Sky was chosen at random, it feels almost like a spiritual sequel to Miyazaki’s previous film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind due to the fantasy/cyberpunk aesthetic, anti-military stance, and strong female lead.
The world of Castle in the Sky is so intricately realized, a sort of reflection of Europe during the industrial revolution but filled full of fantastical elements with a heavy dose of steampunk. Miyazaki creates this wonderful blend of old science and myth in this stunning recreation of our own world that harkens back to biblical stories and the works of Leonardo da Vinci. Inspired by stories such as Gulliver’s Travels, The Old Testament, and Hindu mythology, Miyazaki crafts a stunning world both familiar and yet full of wonder. An interesting inspiration is the mining town is based on Miyazaki’s experience in Wales during the Miner’s strike, a particular event where he related with the beauty of their countryside and sense of community but their strength of character rising against an oppressive government.
The narrative has a wonderful flexibility throughout that allows each central character to develop beyond their typical typecasts. Sheeta becomes far more empowered both emotionally and in action as the story progresses and this relies massively on Pazu. Pazu is a conduit, an emphasis on bravery, compassion and trust that we pick up in the first 5 minutes of meeting his character. Pazu becomes the means to allow Sheeta to come out of her shell and embrace her true role. While the villainous characters certainly seem one note, we see a more morally positive aspect to certain characters from a rough introduction, and it’s these redeeming moments that heightens the film in its more sombre moments.
As to be expected from one of the most highly regarded animations studios in the world, Castle in the Sky is an absolute wonder to behold visually. Filled with vibrant colours, stunningly drawn backdrops, and astoundingly fluid motion throughout that is especially impressive for its time of release. The animation is second to none during the film’s multiple action scenes that carry a weight and gravitas that simply could not be captured in live action without today’s CGI technology; Which still wouldn’t render half as impressive or believable without spilling into uncanny valley territory! Miyazaki always championed animation as the ultimate art form for both scale and emotion, and Castle in the Sky perfectly exemplifies this train of thought.
Less thematically rich compared to Miyazaki’s previous film Nausicaa; Castle in the Sky is a swashbuckling adventure, more geared towards children but still more epic and thoughtful than its Disney counterparts. The resentment against warfare and authoritarian figures is evident throughout, but the world building and character development are where the film truly shines. Brightly animated with an inspired fluidity throughout, the visuals are truly incredible taking slices of inspiration from all corners of the earth. Composer Joe Hisaishi produces an engrossing score that sucks the viewer into every moment, be it little or grand.
Shots of Mugi Shochu