Castle in the Sky is probably the Miyazaki film I knew the least about going in. If you guessed it’s about a floating castle, then you’re correct! Castle in the Sky further demonstrates Miyazaki’s passion for aviation in a light-hearted adventure flick. While Miyazaki’s tendency to base stories around fantastical creatures takes a backseat, his same proclivity for fantastical flying machines is in full force. Castle in the Sky is a dazzling flurry of dog fights over the blue sky. Though it may not be one of Miyazaki’s more iconic works, it is still a work with a great deal of artistic merit.
In the film’s opening, an airship carrying a young girl prisoner named Sheeta is attacked by a band of rowdy sky pirates in pursuit of the amulet Sheeta wears around her neck. In the struggle, Sheeta falls from the sky but due to her amulet, floats safely to the ground. Sheeta is discovered in a small mining town by Pazu, a spunky, engineer’s apprentice. The two characters bond and Pazu reveals he is building a personal aeroplane with hopes of finding “Laputa”, a lost city floating in the sky. Sheeta soon reveals that she is in fact a descendant of Luputa and that her initial abductor, Muska (also a descendant of Luputa), wants to harness the power of Sheeta and her amulet to harness the mighty powers within Luputa.
Castle in the Sky feels like a much more straightforward adventure flick than most Miyazaki works I’ve seen. There are few ambiguities to a storyline that primarily focuses on a blossoming friendship challenged by evil forces. This is probably why Castle in the Sky did not resonate with me nearly as much as something like Nausicaa. The whole idea of the “traditional villain” is something that Miyazaki usually seems to avoid. Films like Nausicaa or Princess Mononoke (which I’ll talk about a few posts later) present morally ambiguous opposition, meaning the “villains” don’t intend to be bad, rather they are blinded by ignorance. In that respect, Castle in the Sky feels far too safe. I want a Miyazaki film to take conceptual risks. When I watched Nausicaa, it gave me a lot to think about regarding nature and how some choose to protect it or destroy in order to continue humanity. When I watched Castle in the Sky all I thought was, “Woah, those were some sweet dog fights.”
Story aside, Castle in the Sky looks great. I don’t think there’s a single Miyazaki film where I won’t say that about the film. The characters are a little more one-dimensional but they’re easy to get behind. I particularly liked the lead, Pazu, and the fact that he wants to find Laputa because his deceased father was branded a fool after claiming he saw it years before. Pazu’s motivations are admirable and his innocence makes him an easy protagonist to root for. Sheeta on the other hand is more or less your typical damsel in distress, which seems odd for a Miyazaki film but she’s fine. Perhaps the best characters are the sky pirates who later band together with the good guys. The pirates are led by an old woman captain named Dola who provides plenty of laughs. And who could forget the robot guards of Laputa? They are perhaps the most “Ghibli-like” creations in the whole film, they’re a delight to watch.
Castle in the Sky is definitely on the lower-end of my Miyazaki experience thus far but it was by no means bad. I’m not sure that Miyazaki has ever gone forth with a project that he didn’t believe in. Though at the end of the day, this film feels like it’s more for the diehards. Or maybe James Van Der Beek fans, the voice of Pazu in the U.S. version. Which reminds me, “Why does James Van Der Beek have such a nerdy voice?” I swear it’s like someone took Jay Baruchel and continually banged his head against a chalkboard. This is probably the only Miyazaki film where I’d recommend seeing the Japanese language version as opposed to the English language version. Sorry Dawson.