For the longest time, I had films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away as my safe bets for favorite Miyazaki films. They were accessible, fun, and certainly evoked plenty of emotions. But then, Disney sent us a package full of their Miyazaki releases, and I grabbed Castle in the Sky for myself, eager to finally get around to seeing another one of his films.
I didn't know what I was getting into when I claimed this film.
What I ended up sitting through was a film more stark and emotionally charged than I really ever expected from the folks at Studio Ghibli, and something that has taken the top honor for my favorite film from this legendary team. Follow me after the jump to see why.
Set in a rural 19th century steampunk world, Castle in the Sky debuted in 1986, telling the story of a girl who fell from the sky, bringing with her a gaggle of pirates and the military into the life of a little boy with big dreams to find the mythical city of Laputa -- the Castle in the Sky his father always talked about seeing.
The film's story progresses as a series of chases, running from the military, getting captured by the military, trying to beat them to Laputa, and so on. Throughout the film's locations, such as the small mining towns, the castle in the sky itself and the military forts, we see a jaw-dropping array of scenery and machines with all these vast sceneries and fantastic art.
The film is all about the destruction of a civilization, as many of the studio's films have been (Mononoke, for example), but I have to say that this struck me as particularly visceral -- the only word I can really use to describe the animation. It reminded me of Akira, in the way buildings would crumble and people would move -- which is neither good nor bad, just something that struck me as one of the beauties of theatrical animation in the 80's.
Paired with this visceral beauty was something that struck me as a radical departure from my admittedly incomplete knowledge of Miyazaki and Ghibli, in that the film was much more violent than anything I had encountered before -- and to an extent, it reveled in said violence. Guys were grinning as they punched each other square in the jaw. Guns were fired with abandon and little care for life. Destruction was everywhere.
By the end of the film, I felt emotionally drained. The climax filled me with such emotion that the doors supporting everything fell out, and I was left with all these strong feelings and no real resolution to them. Sure, the film had an ending that wrapped up the plot, but the images and feelings from the climax were burned so strongly into me that I couldn't forget them.
Simply put: Castle in the Sky was a masterpiece.
And when I was done with the film, I wasn't fully done with the package. Disney was kind enough to collect a number of interviews with the crew on making the film, as well as the full sketches for the film, giving you a cool look into how everything was made. This is going to be the version of the film to buy, because until Ghibli puts out a Blu-ray version of the film, you're not going to get anything better.
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