Castle in the Sky

Don't forget that phase two of the Bow. James Bow election pool closes when the polls close in Atlantic Canada. There's still time for you to post your second round choices or decide to let it ride.


Taking a break from politics, writing and cleaning up the house, Dan and I settled down to watch the anime movie Castle in the Sky. I didn't know what to expect from this film, and I'm pleased to say that it turned into a comfortable evening bathing in the glow of a good story.

Some of you may have seen my review of the anime movie Spirited Away. If you haven't seen this film yet, you must. It and Castle in the Sky are the brainchildren of one Hayao Miyazaki. If you are looking for a good anime movie and you don't know the genre, look for his name; it's obvious he's one of Japan's premiere storytellers in the art. In both Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky, he tells imaginative tales of young heroes and heroines getting swept up in fantastical events.

Some people may even prefer Castle in the Sky to Spirited Away as the storyline is less complex and easier to follow. For those who don't know Japanese and who don't want to struggle through the English subtitles, they can thank the work of Walt Disney Studios who, as with Spirited Away, have taken this 1986 film and redubbed it using the vocal talents of Anna Paquin, James Van der Beek, Cloris Leachman and Mark Hamill. It's Hayao Miyazaki's story that's at the foundation of this work of art, however.

In Castle in the Sky, Miyazaki builds an elaborate world where giant airships patrol the skies, and most people don't seem to be very well connected to the ground. This is no Earth we would recognize, with sky pirates and planes that look like tiger moths. In the opening minutes we are introduced to an orphan girl named Sheeta (voiced by Anna Paquin), who is being taken away by government officials for unknown reasons. When pirates attack, after the crystal pendant on her neck, she brains her guards with a bottle and climbs outside her airship to try and hide. Slipping, she falls through the clouds and possibly to her death.

Fortunately, the magic crystal around her neck saves her as she faints, floating her down to the ground, literally into the arms of a hard-working orphan boy named Pazu (voiced by James Van der Beek). He takes a liking to her and swears to protect her and find the secret of her magic crystal (which could be a gigantic castle floating in the sky), even as the pirates and the military come after her for their own nefarious reasons.

Miyazaki's world of clouds, bird-like planes and uber-Zeppelin airships is a joy to behold, and it aptly complements the loveable characters of Sheeta and Pazu and their strong and growing friendship. There are moments of over-the-top humour amongst the sweetness and the visuals but nothing overwhelms. I find the characterization of the sky pirates to be slightly inconsistent, but Miyazaki takes some time to flesh these cartoon characters into real people, and so some significant changes of heart can be forgiven. I think the best complement I can pay this movie is that the ending leaves me feeling a little sad -- not because we don't get a happy ending, we do (this is Disney, after all; it's not like they'd accept a downer), but because I'm sorry that the movie has to end.

In my earlier review, I gave Spirited Away four stars out of five. Castle in the Sky deserves at least that much, if not more. Anybody in the slightest way moved by fiction featuring young heroes, beautiful visuals and wildly imaginative storytelling cannot afford to give this tale a miss. It is beautiful enough that I will tie you to your chairs and make you watch this film if that's what it takes.

Go rent this film. Now.

Other Hayao Miyazaki / Disney Co-Operation

Spirited Away and Castles in the Sky are just two examples of Disney selecting some of the best films of Miyazaki and redubbing them for American audiences. Kiki's Delivery Service appears to be another such film. I hope more of Miyazaki's work gets the attention it deserves on this side of the Pacific ocean. He seems as good a bet for good entertainment as a Pixar film -- better even.

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