Castle in the Sky (1986)

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

The next in the series of Studio Ghibli films, Castle in the Sky, starts off with a bang and continues as a fun adventure all the way through. After the superb world-building exercise of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Hayao Miyazaki continues down this path with another fully realized, unique, but slightly more grounded alter-reality in the world of Castle in the Sky. I know that there are entries down the road in the Studio Ghibli canon which feature more real world stories, such as The Wind Rises which is one of the few films from Ghibli I have seen. But for my money, after the first two entries in the series/marathon, I would love to sit back and have Miyazaki et al. whisk me away to fantasy worlds to their hearts content. The dedication to a world is profound and so evident in this film and with Nausicaa that there is nothing else you can call Miyazaki but visionary.

Castle in the Sky opens with an exciting action scene, with pirates from the Dolo gang descending upon an airship carrying precious cargo in the form of a mythical crystal necklace, currently being protected by a girl named Sheeta and Colonel Muska. After falling from the airship during the fighting, Sheeta is magically saved by her necklace as she floats to earth, where a boy named Pazu, who helps the local miners, finds her and helps her recover. There is no time to waste, however, once Pazu reveals he is in search of the forgotten city of Laputa, the magical floating city both Sheeta and her crystal are from, Sheeta and Pazu must evade both the Dolo gang and Colonel Muska and his men, who are after Sheeta’s crystal for sinister purposes.

While I mention above how great the world building is once again, Castle in the Sky almost immediately felt like something new and different from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, while also feeling familiar, which is a strong accomplishment which reflects the confidence and polish of the filmmakers involved in both. Castle in the Sky crosses over into a different genre than Naussica by being more than a fantasy adventure and by becoming more of an action movie. There are some really strong set pieces included in this action, including the opening scene, which thrusts the viewer into the story and pace of the film right from the start. It is not a non-stop thrill ride for the whole run time, but as Sheeta and Pazu are pursued the better part of the film, the stops are few and far between, making them precious moments we get to spend with the characters.

It is these moments which really elevate Castle in the Sky above a standard action/adventure film, for as strong as the action and world building is around these characters, Miyazaki really uses the time we have with the main characters wisely, building likable, relateable characters who are easy to cheer for. The villains of the film are also more layered than perhaps initially thought to be. Captain Dolo and her men in particular, who add not just a layer of depth to their intentions, but also provide great comedic relief, making Castle in the Sky a pretty funny film in addition to being adventurous, setting it apart from the more serious, albeit fun, adventure of Nausicaa. For this reason, Castle in the Sky feels lighter than Nausicaa, which is likely also why I seemed to be slightly more impressed by the latter.

Castle in the Sky is a heck of a fun ride though, and one which I would love to take in again at some point. Perhaps the single best thing I have noticed from the Ghibli films thus far (only two films in), after of course the supreme confidence of the filmmakers in their world building endeavors, is how easily these films seem to come, which is to say I can see them being the type I seek out again and again, craving to spend more time with these characters, more time in these worlds, and more time in awe of the great, imaginative animation. Consider myself impressed thus far in the Studio Ghibli experience. I just felt so drawn into this experience with Castle in the Sky. I am sure having the unmatched opportunity to see it on the big screen helps immensely.

***1/2 – Great

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