Keeping with the unconventional castle theme we’ll have a look at Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky for Miyazaki March (all other posts HERE), in which we will discuss why pirates love the color pink, why mining cities are awesome and how robots will save all our asses. Take a seat, enjoy the ride.
To me at first it seemed that Castle in the Sky was a rather new Miyazaki/Ghibli feature because it was released to theaters in Germany after Howl’s Moving Castle. However, it is the first ‘official’ Ghibli feature and was released in Japan in 1986. It was released to German theaters twenty years later. You are probably not surprised by this, but Castle in the Sky is one of the lesser financial successes of Studio Ghibli. It made enough, but wasn’t a massive smash and in the US it was a straight to DVD release.
So, right away: the beginning felt too long. I missed being thrown into the whole narrative, even though the movie tried to do just that. We get main characters and pirates and falling from the sky within the first few minutes. But then the whole introduction of Pazu and where he works and where he lives and how he and Sheeta get to know each other and how they are chased and how they escape… It just seems to never end. I want them to get to the damn castle already, but it takes soooooo long. And while I usually really appreciate movies taking their time I am especially frustrated, because I know that the whole Laputa bit is pretty exciting and brings up some relevant points and plot developments. So I get super-impatient if I have to sit through the third chasing scene where they just barely escape when I know that so much more interesting stuff is going to happen. And on top of that I believe that some of that time could have been used way better in giving us some more so see in Laputa itself. Some more time for wonder, some more time for the movie’s eco-friendly message, for example. Grah!
Having bitched and moaned about the too long intro in the mining city: the mining city is an awesome place. Sure, it probably sucks to live and have to work there, but the way the city nestles itself into the crevices of the cliffs and rocks just looks really amazing. Oh, and the railroad-tracks are ridiculous! In the best way imaginable, of course. There is so much steampunk going on, it’s even going to hurt modern reinterpretation Sherlock Holmes’ head. While I am actually a proponent of shortening the time the narrative spends in the city, at the same time I want more time to just have to look at it. Maybe this is really my critique: we get to see those incredible and incredibly beautiful places, but spend too little time there to appreciate their full beauty and wonder.
But let us move on to the characters.
The pirates are a lovely lot. Castle in the Sky is an exception to an otherwise pretty accurate Miyazaki rule in that we have a clearly identified villain who remains a villain until the very end. And since he sucks and is rather lame cause his motivation is a little movie-villain-esque I am just going to omit any discussion of him as a character. However, we also witness the occurrence of another basic rule: introduction of villains that turn out to be good guys actually, which in this case is of course Dola and her pirate gang. And holla, are they hilarious or what? From Dola herself and the pink color palette chosen for their vehicles and uniforms alike (most probably due to Dola’s hair color), these pirates are very reminiscent of the Porco Rosso air pirates and as such they are both sweet and adorable (although they also heavily play into the stereotype of men thinking with their dicks, which is something that the movie will not outright state, but which is certainly what’s going on). And Dola is just one heck of a character. If I ever wanted to encounter a pirate, it would most certainly be her. Also, what is going on with the family ties? She clearly isn’t everyone’s mom, and the dad clearly isn’t everyone’s dad (and the two of them might never even ever had any sort of romantic or sexual involvement), yet they all consider each other close family. How utterly endearing. I’m all pro-choice (so much for controversial statements today), especially when it comes to choosing your family ties.
Castle in the Sky, together with Nausicaä and Princess Mononoke is Miyazaki’s strongest and most overt message for the conservation and preservation of nature, coupled with the graphic damnation of the brutality of humankind (and certain forms of technological ‘progress’). Which is really interesting in this case, because it is an unlikely setting and actually not something the movie seems to be about in the beginning. Does it work as the eco-friendly tale it tries to be? I am actually not sure. I think the robots taking care of trees and animals on Laputa are powerful imagery, but as I’ve stated before, I think we spend too little time with them. I think the impact could be much stronger if only we got to witness their commitment a little more.
And are those robots iconic characters? Well, I know there is a replica of one in the Studio Ghibli museum in Japan, but then again, there are other rather similar robots in other animation features. But that should not distract us from the fact that these robots here in Castle in the Sky are sickening in the most positive sense of the word (drag-references, ahoi!), because those dude_ttes care and do so with a (electronic) passion. Besides them being really super-cute as animal shelters and tree-huggers I am also fascinated by how efficiently the movie presents the various sides of them. We first encounter one as a relict from ancient times just to see it become this machine on a killing spree, and honeys, a killing spree this is. Make not mistake about Laputa being pretty and cozy and alla that, these robots are crazy weapons. They blast through anything and make it burst, which looks (aesthetically) amazing but also really scary. But then there are those who ran out of power, and my oh my, am I the only one who is so thoroughly touched by the imagery used here? Them sitting down on the roots of the tree to slowly be enshrined and absorbed by it? Because when we talk about choosing your family ties, this is what we need to address as well: These robots are beings we think of as unrelated to or even existing in opposition to nature, but here in the floating castle of Laputa they choose to “return” to nature and lie down in the embrace of a ginormous tree. This conception alone is so freaking fantastic, it makes me shed some tears of joy (at least theoretically).
All in all, this is not my favorite Miyazaki film, but it certainly is a good movie with a powerful message that could be a tad shorter than it is. Indeed, I consider it to be one of Miyazaki’s weakest, but that is really just a testament as to how amazingly superior these films are to other material in general, so a strong movie like this can be ranked that low on a list.