I will do my best to refrain from gushing during this write-up. Castle in the Sky was one of the first Miyazaki movies that I ever saw (although, not the first, but that is a story for a later write-up in this Miyazaki series) and to this day remains one of my favorites. The sheer volume of fun contained in this film’s two hour running time is incredible. Miyazaki cartwheels from one stunning action set piece to another, all the while maintaining a careful balance between the characterization and plot.
Unlike Miyazaki’s previous effort, Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, there is no meddling or flopping around on who the villain is supposed to be: the evil Muska is one of my favorite villains in any movie, and he has such wonderful screen presence (which is odd to say since he is a cartoon character, but this is likely do to Mark Hamill’s wonderful performance in the role). Meanwhile, the entire cast of characters help fill in the various dramatic forms (hero, humor, hubris). The lead characters, Patsu and Shiita, make for a wonderful pair, and the band of pirates led by Captain Dola make for a wonderful source of comedic relief and wonderful action set pieces in their own right.
The plot, which is about the hunt for Laputa, a sort of Atlantis-type island floating high above the earth (obscured by a giant wall of clouds), reeks of the Hero’s Journey story formula made popular in the work of Joseph Campbell. Wether Miyazaki is totally aware of the Hero’s Journey structure or not, however, is beside the point, as Castle in the Sky transcends its mythological and structural underpinnings (as any good story should) and simply transforms into a wide-eyed romp of an adventure movie.
This film truly displays the convergence of Miyazaki’s previous two films (Castle of Cagliostro and Nausicaa) into a complete whole. The fun and humor of Cagliostro shines through, but is here harmoniously combined with the thematic weight and philosophical underpinnings found in Nausicaa. This harmonizing of the two distinct styles present in his first films helps Castle in the Sky shine through as an incredible growth in creative maturity in the work of the master Japanese animator.
Castle in the Sky, in a lot of ways, reminds me a great deal of Star Wars. The wide-eyed fun and adventure really wake up my inner twelve year old, but at the same time the film has enough of the typical Miyazaki themes (flight, gluttony, nature, and anti-violence) to keep it from feeling old-hat and tired. Instead it simply is a shining light of fun and thrill. Ironically, just the other day I had a conversation with my wife and father-in-law about the bleak state of movies.
“Everything in Hollywood movies is just so glum and depressing. I think that’s why Star Wars is performing so well at the box-office right now: it’s just a lot of fun.”
Well, Castle in the Sky is a lot of fun, too, and I wish people would move passed whatever misconceptions they have toward animation in general or Japanese animation in particular, because this movie is simply a blast and alleviates the spirit in you. We live in days that can be somewhat saddening, and we need more movies like this one because they offer a positive emotional output that is simply good for the heart.
Catharsis. I believe the term is catharsis.