Review of Castle in the Sky (1986)

Moving picture, 125 minutes

Miyazaki Hayao (writer-director).

Though black lightning cleared the skies centuries ago, flying machines outnumber cars. It’s because the terrain is so brutal. At high altitude, a man sees a floating castle, the legendary Laputa, but no one believes him when he escapes the storm that surrounds it. He dies mistrusted, leaving a son. Far to the north, a girl, she too an orphan, is contacted by agents of the authorities. They say they seek Laputa, whose miraculous technologies still threaten the peace of the world. A band of pirates looking for the castle’s gold lay plans to interfere.

A “pure” adventure, effectively Miyazaki’s answer to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and far richer in imagination. The bare bones of Castle in the Sky is 19th-century-style SF, with Miyazaki’s brightest treatment of boyhood fantasy and masculinity, mixed in with wartime atomic horror. The script alludes to Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by naming Swift and Laputa, but the story is original and vastly richer than Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon (1965). It’s similar to Conan, the Boy in Future (1978), but with experience, a budget and a stronger concept.

Slapstick, moral dichotomy, simple characters, fear of on-screen death, and a romance that might as well have been predestined: This swerves dangerously close to a Disney formula, but I’d marry one of those robots if I could. They, too, are more sanitary and salutary than the green “god men” of The Journey of Shuna (1983), who are also caretakers of a forbidden place, with similar proportions. The music is brilliant—the lyrics to the ending theme knock me out—and for once, the soft anarchist message is not undermined. Rule from afar corrupts. Benevolent concentration of power is the pipe dream, the castle in the sky.

Compare this to trash like “Patterns of Force” (1968) where the same message is stated more openly but never taken seriously. Sincerity is the reason why Sheeta throws away half the things that would traditionally make her live “happily ever after”: The castle, the military power, and thereby the wealth and political power associated with her heritage. She doesn’t just give them to someone else or leave them to be rediscovered later: She destroys them at the cost of their beauty and their scientific value, with great danger to herself. They cannot be salvaged. Disney has never done that.

References here: Ghibli movie titles, Schrödinger’s 君, The title of Princess Mononoke, Introduktion till Kerberos Club 2011-2014, “Aloha, Lupin” (1980), “Chronopolis” (1982), “Explorer Woman Ray” (1989), Nadia of the Mysterious Seas (1990), DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990), Magic User’s Club! (1996), Blue Gender (1999), Now and Then, Here and There (1999), Princess Arete (2001), Last Exile (2003), Planetes (2003), Xam’d: Lost Memories (2008), Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017).

animation fiction Ghibli Japanese production mecha moving picture