Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: Castle in the Sky

If you are not aware of who Hayao Miyazaki is then I feel bad for you.  You’ve heard of his work, most likely.  He won an Oscar for his film Spirited Away and had much critical acclaim for his films Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle (Which was nominated for an Academy Award but ultimately lost).   Long time readers will recall I named one of his films, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, as a good place to start for newcomers to anime; you know I’m a fan.  I’ve been completely in love with his style ever since I saw Princess Mononoke and for years I would use that as my go to evidence for what’s great about animation.  I haven’t loved everything he’s done but I usually give him the benefit of the doubt.  Interestingly I haven’t seen about half of his films, mainly because I just haven’t had a chance to, but it’s something I may want to change the older I get.  To my horror I found out my father was about to throw away not only a copy my beloved Mononoke but also one of those movies I hadn’t gotten around to seeing but my parents somehow owned.  Naturally I rescued them both and added them to my own personal DVD collection.
Sheeta is a solid example of my preferred female hero
The film in question was Castle in the Sky, better known around the world as Luputa: Castle in the Sky.  Released in Japan in 1986 this is Miyazaki’s third film and the first movie created by the legendary Studio Ghibli.   It is loosely based on and inspired by a chapter form Gulliver’s Travels making it one of the few “adaptations” that remember the entire book wasn’t about tiny people.   An official and proper English language wide-release of the film by Disney was not created until 1998 but still didn’t become available until 2003 due to concerns following the financial flop of Princess Mononoke (Unenlightened bastards).  For the record the version I’m watching is the 2003 version which was reportedly mildly edited; adding lines of dialogue where there weren’t any in the original, changing dialogue portraying the two protagonists as being older, adding music and sound effects, etc.  Luckily I watched the Japanese version rather than the English dub which seems to be considerably less messed with.
Pazu is an orphan boy living alone in a small mining town whose life is utterly changed when he happens across a girl floating down from the sky.  Her name is Sheeta and she has escaped the clutches of pirates and shady men after her for her mysterious pendent and its equally mysterious power.  After becoming acquainted with each other the two youngsters soon find themselves on the run, all signs suggesting that the answers to all their questions lies in the mythical Luputa, a land in the sky thought only to exist in legend.
Remember Kids: Aviation Makes Everything Better
Animation wise you might say that this film looks pretty dated but considering it was made nearly twenty-five years ago it’s actually aged very gracefully.  It doesn’t look nearly as old as it actually is which is most likely a testament to the fantastic job the animators did back in the day.  Still I could see how some people might be turned off by it when they’re used to cutting edge technology.  This is the closest thing I have to a complaint about this movie.
The film is perfect.  Or at least as close to perfection as we mere mortals can achieve.  Seriously.  I hate myself for saying it but I don’t have a single complaint about this movie nor do I have a single thing I’d do differently.  This flick is amazing!
Interestingly having now seen this film it’s easy for me to see what the makers of Last Exile were watching before they get to work.  They were clearly very inspired by the world Miyazaki presents.  It’s a cool fantasy/steam punk setting that involves air ships and robots and magic crystals and sky pirates.  Hell yes; that’s a recipe of badass cinema right there.  Speaking of Last Exile the two protagonists are, for the most part, the dual lead character team I wanted from that show but was cheated out of fairly early in.  Here both Pazu and Sheeta are a great duo to focus the action on.  Pazu may be something of a typical young boy hero in anime, head strong and earnest and brave almost to a fault, but it certainly works here.  Sheeta’s role as a very strong female lead is somewhat played subtly throughout the film but you should realize right away that she is a girl who won’t wait to be rescued if she feels she can escape herself and will make the ultimate sacrifice to protect people if need be.  This isn’t all that surprising; Miyazaki is a feminist and if you’ve seen any of his film you know that he’s not one to write about weak women.
Dola, leader of a gang of sky pirates and a mother
Two things that automatically make her tougher than me
The main characters of this film a very young, pre-teens at best, but the movie never talks down to its audience.  That’s good for kids watching this and good for adults because we don’t’ feel the need to roll our eyes during dumb kiddy moment.   Ultimately this is how a family film should be; something we can all enjoy without sacrificing anything.  Interestingly the English dub apparently plays the two characters older as evident by the casting of James Van Der Beek and Anna “Open for Vampire Business” Paquin.  The plot flows at a good pace that has a clear beginning, middle and end.  The ending it a natural conclusion was so well constructed that I had to pretend there was sand in my eye.  Also I liked the music.  This might annoy some Miyazaki purists as the version Disney released infamously added new music by original composer Joe Hisaishi, albeit with Miyazaki’s blessing.  The fact is that the soundtrack is very beautiful and attention grabbing.  I liked it a lot and as I understand it so did the original creators. 
No way these guys are older than twelve
There are some people who may say that, at the end of the day, this is a very typical fantasy affair; it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before or sense in veracious media.  Maybe so, but I argue here Miyazaki’s does it in a way that feels fresh.  Again this flick is twenty-five years old; it shouldn’t feel fresh and yet it manages it somehow.  There’s a lot of familiar tropes hanging around but the storytelling is so strong and tight that nothing feel cliché here.  At all. 
I can’t really type just how much I enjoyed this film without sounding repetitive. Basically this is a beautiful, beautiful film.  It is higher quality than any other animated film I saw in theaters this past year.  It may be the best animated film I’ve ever seen.  It certainly now ranks in my top ten films of all time list.  It has completely replaced Princess Mononoke as my favorite Miyazaki film by leaps and bounds.  Unlike that film Castle in the Sky is accessible to everyone due to its lack of graphic violence and easy to follow storyline.  This is a great “modern” fairytale and you can really spot the director’s love of such stories in this film.  I desperately wish that I was capable of writing something anywhere near as well written as this movie and it greatly depresses me that I probably never will.  I wholeheartedly recommend it for any and everyone.  If you honestly hate this movie then I actively feel sad for you.  Not anger; just pity.
I give Castle in the Sky 5 Adorable Pandas out of 5.
-Great protagonists (Including strong female lead)
-Great music (Sorry but it is)
-Great storytelling and narrative
-Heartwarming and accessible for everyone
-Not a goddamn one

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