Castle in the Sky Review

Castle in the Sky

Castle in the Sky holds a very important role in the history of Japanese animation. Though it wasn’t the first film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, it was the first feature released under Studio Ghibli. Though the then-new studio was gambling with Castle in the Sky (an animated film not based on an existing comic was considered unpopular in Japan at the time), the film ended up being successful enough for Studio Ghibli to flourish for nearly three decades, thus setting in motion the most legendary catalogue of films in animation.

In many ways, Castle in the Sky is a much simpler film than other Miyazaki features. Whereas most of Miyazaki’s later works would be famous for their character depth and their more character-based stories, Castle in the Sky is a tried and true adventure film. But due to its staggering imagination, and the excellence of its execution, it easily ranks as one of the greatest adventure films of all time, animated or otherwise.

Castle in the SkyThough it was released in 1986 and was Studio Ghibli’s first feature, Castle in the Sky remains  a timelessly beautiful animated film. Though it can’t match the sheer visual splendor of Ghibli’s later movies, the memorable character designs, fluid movements, and attention to detail the studio is famous for are all still present. It’s a joy to look at from the very first frame.

The film takes place in a world of pure fantasy, with magic crystals, robots, and flying machines galore. The story sees a young boy named Pazu, a miner’s apprentice, meet a mysterious girl named Sheeta as she falls from the sky, wearing a glowing crystal on her necklace.

Pazu dreams of seeing the legendary flying castle of Laputa, long-believed to be a myth by all but his father, who took a single photograph of the castle before the world called him a liar (as Pazu cryptically states, “being called a liar is what killed him.”). Sheeta and her crystal hold secrets connected to Laputa, and together, the two orphans set out to find the legendary kingdom.

Castle in the SkyTheir quest won’t be easy, however, as a gang of notorious air pirates, lead by the elderly Dola and her sons, are after Sheeta and her crystal to find Laputa and its countless treasures. An even bigger threat looms in the form of the military, who are under the command of the mysterious Colonel Muska, who has even darker desires for finding Laputa.

From the get-go, Castle in the Sky is captivating entertainment. It’s a real testament to Miyazaki’s versatility as a director that he’s most famous for creating more calm features like My Neighbor Totoro, yet films like Castle in the Sky show that he can create action as well as any filmmaker. There’s not a single action scene in Castle in the Sky that disappoints.

The sheer imagination that Miyazaki crafted into the world of Castle in the Sky is a thing of beauty. It’s a combination of fantasy, science fiction and European inspirations that feels entirely unique. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that countless anime and video games have been inspired by the world found in Castle in the Sky.

Castle in the SkyThough the characters are simple when compared to many of Miyazaki’s later casts, they are just as memorable: Pazu and Sheeta are likable and cute, but more importantly, there’s a sense of believability to them that makes them more relatable and sympathetic than most characters in adventure films. Colonel Muska, though a far more blatantly evil villain than most Miyazaki antagonists, is one of the most effectively evil foes in animation. By the film’s third act, he’s genuinely terrifying. It’s Dola who probably leaves the biggest impression though, with her eccentric, hard-nosed personality and boisterous energy, she can be seen as the forerunner of Miyazaki’s unique archetype for elderly characters.

The English language version was provided by Disney, and like most of Disney’s dubs of the Ghibli films, it’s a top-notch translation. Admittedly, the English voices for Pazu and Sheeta (James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin, respectively) sound a bit older than the characters should, but the voice work is still solid. On the stronger side of things, Cloris Leachman and Mark Hamill are perfectly cast as Dola and Muska, and rank as some of the best dubbed voices in a Japanese animation. Cloris Leachman fits into the role so well it almost seems like it was written for her, and Mark Hamill’s vocals have seldom been so sinister (he might even outdo his iconic take on the Joker here).

As is the case with all but one of Hayao Miyazaki’s features, the film was scored by Joe Hisaishi, and it is another magical soundtrack by Hisaishi that perfectly compliments the sense of wonder from the world Miyazaki created.

Castle in the SkyAll of the film’s elements come together beautifully. Although you could argue that many of its individual elements were bettered by some of the Ghibli films that would follow, as a whole Castle in the Sky remains one of the Studio’s finest works. It’s an immaculate adventure that would feel right at home in an Indiana Jones or Star Wars feature, and it combines that sense of adventure with the impeccable Ghibli spirit.

It’s exhilarating, magical and highly entertaining. And it was one hell of a start for Studio Ghibli.

 

9

Howl’s Moving Castle Memories

Howl's Moving Castle

It’s time to feel old! Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle was released in North American theaters ten years ago today. I certainly feel old now.

I was going to celebrate this milestone with a full on review of Howl’s Moving Castle, but I think I’ll get to that another time. I figured I’d just detail some of my personal experience with the film for now.

It’s important to note that Hayao Miyazaki is my favorite filmmaker. I’ve loved My Neighbor Totoro ever since I was a little kid, and have only grown to love it more through the years. It was with Spirited Away though, that I actually found out who Miyazaki was. While Spirited Away and Totoro sit at the peak of my list of Miyazaki films, Spirited Away introduced me to the director’s other work, and I’ve fallen in love with all of them (some more than others of course, but the man never made a movie that wasn’t great).

Leading up to Howl’s June 10, 2005 release, I couldn’t have been more excited. It was the first Miyazaki film to be released theatrically since Spirited Away, and I was counting down the days like a kid and Christmas.

Howl's Moving CastleI remember it was the first movie I saw at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles, and it was awesome! I’ve seen a number of movies there since, and have tried to see every major Disney animation, Pixar film and Studio Ghibli production there when possible. The theater gave a nice, classic movie atmosphere, and the crowd was pretty enthusiastic as well, so that always helps. Then there was the organ player playing classic Disney songs, so that made it all that much cooler. The build up itself was so great that I can forgive the poor assortment of trailers that included the likes of Chicken Little and Valiant (it was a CG movie about pigeons or something).

Then the movie started, with the big Studio Ghibli logo of Totoro’s mug engulfing the entire theater, and it was glorious. I absolutely loved the movie, from its striking imagination, beautiful animation, fun characters and everything in between, it was a great time. I also think that Disney’s dubs of the Ghibli movies are excellent (particularly the theatrically released ones), and Howl was no exception.

Of course, as time has passed I now see Howl’s Moving Castle as one of Miyazaki’s “weakest” films, since Sophie is probably the least interesting Miyazaki heroine by some margin, and the subplot with the whole war thing seems to overtake the main story during the third act. But using the term “weakest” when referring to an unparalleled canon of films like Miyazaki’s is a very relative thing. Despite not being up to par with most of Miyazaki’s other works (I feel it’s on par with Nausicaa, but that’s just me), Howl’s Moving Castle is still a great animated film.

But that’s beside the point. Like I said, I’ll review it another day. The fact of the matter is that that initial screening I had of Howl’s Moving Castle remains one of the most fondly remembered moviegoing experiences of my life. I had a great seat, the place had a great atmosphere, the crowd was great, and most importantly, so was the movie. It’s experiences like that why I love movies so much.

Howl's Moving CastleMiyazaki made two more films after Howl’s Moving Castle and has since retired (though never say never, it’s not the first time Miyazaki has called it a career), and Studio Ghibli itself seems to be on the brink of closure. Whether or not Ghibli has come to an end though, the studio has a peerless legacy in the world of animation. My experience watching Howl’s Moving Castle on that June day ten years ago is but just one of the reasons why they’ve made such an impact on me.

Here’s to Howl’s Moving Castle! Keep on making me feel old.