{Film Review} Castle of the Sky aka Tenko no Shiro Rapyuta (1986)

Putting the Japanese poster because it looks cooler if you can't understand a thing (unless you read Japanese, but it's still cool)

This is the third Hayao Miyazaki film I’ve watched, the rest being Whisper of the Heart aka (1995) and Spirited Away aka Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (2001 – oh, and this won an Academy Award, by the way). By then I’ve become a fan because of the wonderful quality of the films. I know I’ve given nothing but positive reviews since the beginning of this blog, but I really have to say, this movie is quality. I don’t remember enjoying an animated adventure film this much, because for some reason, I felt like a kid again when I watched it. Watching old movies does have that effect, but now I felt it more so, probably because of the anime that used to show up in television when I was a kid.

Castle in the Sky begins with a battle onboard an airship. Sheeta is just a little girl, probably just before the double digits in age, but she knew what was going on immediately. She protected a blue crystal that seemed to be of utter importance to the people running about by wearing it in a chain around her neck, but before she could escape, she falls down, down, down to the earth below. Midway through her fall, the crystal glowed and made the unconscious Sheeta float down gently, where she was caught by a boy about her age named Pazu. Pazu was an orphan boy who grew up working at the mines, and proved to be the perfect little gentleman. He made Sheeta sleep on his bed while he slept on the floor! Chivalry still exists! Sheeta awakens the next morning to the sound of Pazu playing the trumpet. He walks her around and shows her a photograph of Laputa – a large and powerful kingdom hidden in the clouds. He explained that his father had discovered it and taken the photograph, but despite the evidence and the sketches he made afterwards, no one believed him until his death. Pazu, probably very young then, resolved to find Laputa and prove its existence. By this time, Pazu had become distracted at the sight of an automobile rolling outside the tiny house he lived in. He was fascinated, but Sheeta immediately knew that they were pirates. What follows is a wild goose chase that ended miles away from Pazu’s humble abode, with the pair hidden in an underground cave, safe from pirates and armies (you have to watch it to see what I mean). There they meed Uncle Pom, who tells them the reason why he lives underground; It’s because the rocks whisper to him. It sounds like a crackpot thing, but Pazu and Sheeta understand him once all the light are extinguished and they suddenly glow. They soon realize that it’s because of the blue gem around Sheeta’s neck. According to Uncle Pom, it was called a Volucite crystal, and only the Laputans, people of Laputa, can make them. They were very powerful stones, which was probably the reason why the rocks in the cave glowed. This affirms Pazu’s belief that Laputa did exist, but this surprise was followed up with a stunning revelation from Sheeta: her real name was Lucita Toelle Ur Laputa. She was a Laputan. It was brave of her to tell him the truth, but it was about time she really started trusting him, because what follows is a whirlwind of an adventure that takes them even farther away. They meet a lot of new people, but in the end, the burden becomes heavier as it becomes apparent that the fate of Laputa lies in their hands.

Since this is the third Miyazaki film I’ve watched, I thought I could get ahold of my emotions and amazement, since the Miyazaki formula, simply put, would be a boy and girl lead with great rapport off to complete a quest (even in Whisper of the Heart, except it was an inner type of struggle). Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see it), this is the only simple thing. I thought I knew what to expect, but somehow this film still managed to amaze me. Laputa just seems so REAL. It’s like a sci-fi movie in animated form. It’s a very advanced city in terms of technology, and it’s certainly very wealthy. Despite that, Laputa still maintains its flora and fauna with its robots. It has been deserted for hundreds of years, but it still manages to look majestic. Later on, we see that Laputa is actually built around a huge, huge, HUGE tree, a foundation strong enough to support the whole kingdom.

I suppose what made me really love this story was because of the parallels I spotted to our own planet. When the army landed on Laputa, they went crazy with all the jewelry and precious metals they could find. They didn’t hesitate to destroy the natural environment by bombing tree roots and rocks just so they could get what they wanted. It reminded me of several other movies with a similar theme: Avatar, Blood Diamond, Pocahontas, etc. where people’s greed resulted in more harm than good. Castle in the Sky is definitely a movie with a message. More people should watch this.

The animation and art were amazing. Even though technology moves at a very fast pace, this movie is still watchable even now. Another truly notable thing is the music. The score, oh my god. I love it. It’s usually the first thing I notice when watching a film, and I really, truly love Castle in the Sky’s score. Joe Hisaishi is wonderful. It fits very well into each scene, and though most of the soundtrack is mainly a variation of the theme, it works. I replayed the credits several times despite my nonexistent knowledge of Japanese just to hear the song. I have half a mind to download it, as a matter of fact.

One thing that I really couldn’t stop thinking about it how strong Pazu is. Of course, the movie doesn’t really market itself as realistic, but how could a kid manage to hold on to something thousands of feet above the ground without falling off?! And he manages to climb anything, and survive any number of falls, no matter how high. Sheeta took about three bullets and she didn’t even look nonplussed. I know, I have to accept that this is a family movie but I really find it hard to accept. The villain, Muska, manages to massacre a whole army, after all. Hey, I don’t even know what happened to him in the end. Oh well. 

Edit: I left this as a draft and fell asleep. When I woke up this morning, I realized I was perfectly fine with Pazu and Sheeta being invincible. They were animated, after all, and you don’t see Tom dying after a huge piano falls on him (which happens fairly often). I thought to mention it in case you’re picky about that sort of thing. Also, when I did a bit of research, it apparently was ranked second-highest animation film and third-highest animation overall in the list of films considered the greatest ever. If that won’t get you to watch, I don’t know what would. 

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4.5/5

Runtime: 126 mins.
Released: 1986
Directors: Hayao Miyazaki
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Isao Takahata
Co-Producer: Alan Burnett
Music: Christopher Drake
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Spoken languages: Japanese, English (dubbed)
Country of origin: Japan
Genre: Animation, Family, Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Cast (voice) in this order: Japanese; English (JLA/Streamlined); English (Disney)
Sheeta: Keiko Yokozawa; Lara Cody; Anna Paquin, Debi Derryberry (young Sheeta)
Pazu: Mayumi Tanaka; Barbara Goodson; James Van Der Beek
Dola: Kotoe Hatsui; Rachel Vanowen; Cloris Leachman
Muska: Minori Terada; Jeff Winkless; Mark Hamill
Uncle Pom: Fujio Tukita; Ed Mannix; Richard Dysart
Source: Wikipedia
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