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Film Review: Castle in the Sky
In 1986, Hayao Miyazaki released Castle in the Sky, which was dubbed into English by Magnum in 1989 and by Disney in 1998 and 2000. Originally starring Keiko Yokozawa, Mayumi Tanaka, Kotoe Hatsui, Minori Terada, Ichiro Nagai, Fuijo Tokita with Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Jim Cummings, Richard Dysart, Mandy Patinkin, and Andy Dick providing voices in the Disney dub, the film grossed ¥583 million in Japanese rentals. It won the Ofuji Noburo Award, the Mainichi Film Award, First Place at Pai Ten, Japanese Movies; City Road, Japanese Movies; Eiga Geijutsu, and Japanese Films Best 10; Osaka Film Festival, Second Place at Readers’ Choice; Kinema Junpo Best 10, Eighth Place at Japanese Films; Kinema Junpo Best 10 and Best Anime at the 9th Anime Grand Prix.
When sky pirates attack an airship intent on stealing a blue crystal amulet from a girl named Sheeta, she takes the opportunity to escape and falls, causing her pendant to slow her descent. She’s spotted by a miner named Pazu and in their attempt to escape the pirates, they run into the military where Colonel Muska convinces Sheeta to cooperate in his search to find the floating castle Laputa.
Another well done and visually beautiful film by Studio Ghibli, Castle in the Sky furthers the pro-environment and anti-war message so prevalent in films put out by Miyazaki. And they’re presented really well in the film. Take the war machine robots for instance. They were originally made for destruction, but when they’re left to their own devices, their actions are the very opposite of warmongering: taking care of birds and small animals and putting flowers on graves. It’s an interesting way of making the point that something may be made for war, but it just wants peace at its core. There’s also how Pazu and Sheeta are saved after foiling Muska. Laputa falls apart and the two are saved in the roots of the floating island’s tree, which Pazu remarks that the tree saved them because they saved it.
And speaking of Muska, here’s a notable villain for Ghibli, mainly because he’s grossly irredeemable in any aspect. He also embodies the film’s anti-war message by making someone who only wants to use Laputa for destructive purposes in his quest to rule the earth, seen in how the first thing he does is kill his henchmen and uses the island’s robots and weapons to go on a rampage. Said rampage turns into practical insanity where he’s blind to anything rational and he ends up getting a very karmic death where he’s literally blinded and falls while Laputa crumbles. Mark Hamill was a very good choice for the role.
What’s more is that Muska’s leash, General Muoro, wasn’t a stand-up guy either, he at least had his standards, which are seen in how he tries to shoot Muska after firing the superlaser. It’s either that or he was so loyal to his country (whichever one it is) that when Muska announced that he was going to start taking over the world and terrorizing it, which includes Muoro’s nation, that he decided Muska needed to be taken care of. Though it seems he wasn’t the smartest, as he thought shooting a hologram would be a good idea.
Another interesting aspect is the film shows that a balance between good and evil is necessary, shown through the spells in Sheeta’s amulet. There are positive spells, such as the one that shows her the way back to Laputa, and there are negative, such as the one that destroys the island. And they both need each other as they’re useless without a foil. Ironically, it’s the more destructive spell that ends up saving the day, which shows that sometimes, destruction is necessary. It all depends how it goes.
The film also has an overall air of fantastical fantasy to it. It mixes technology that was the norm around the early to mid 1920s, such as radios, telegraphs, dirigibles and the rare automobile. But there’s the existence of Laputan technology that made use of robots and energy weapons. It gives the film an atmosphere of Steam Punk mixed with Feudal Punk thrown together with a fairy tale. The best part is it works surprisingly well.
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