Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta) (1986)

Laputa-Castle-in-the-SkyI think one of the reasons why I respond so well to a Hayao Miyazaki film is that he aspires purposely to create a simple work of art, but his simplicity becomes a truly grand piece of work whether he’s aware of it or not, he makes films that resemble the golden serials of the film age, what George Lucas should have done with his “Star Wars” prequels. He relishes in opportunities to be simple providing simple plots. A humble hero, a wondrous heroine, a main villain, pirates, the amazing monster/robot, and the open sky.

Miyazaki makes a point to force the sky to dwarf the Earth below imploring us to want to look up rather than focus on the ground below us. He often displays the ground as confining and utterly cramped, while the sky is always empty, and simply amazing. A pre-requisite with Miyazaki is that you’re bound to be in for some utterly fantastic animation and imagery. He captures the wonder and awe that’s missing from films today. His films have an innocence that doesn’t talk down to its audience, and a nuance that doesn’t condescend. There’s never anything manufactured to his work, which is why he’s such an appreciated legend. A man who knows how to tell a damn good story. If you ever get the chance to watch a Miyazaki film, sit down and don’t you dare look away, because Miyazaki’s films are a feast for the eyes and imagination. You turn away for a second, and you’re bound to miss something special, and that’s a damn crime.

Miyazaki is much like JRR Tolkien in that his stories have the universal theme of appreciating the environment and life, and acknowledging that the Earth below us and the sky above us are not things to be toyed with or destroyed, but then his films also have action, exciting chase sequences, amazing machinery, and characters that you can’t help but like. His heroes are always forthright, and his villains always ruthless. Pazu is an orphan who works for a mining corporation. One night while delivering dinner for his boss, he discovers an object in the sky, and is shocked to learn the object is the body of a young girl. He helps her as she floats to him and discovers that she’s being pursued by pirates. Now, the two must help her escape while looking for the mythical castle in the sky, the legendary Laputa. There’s never a time in “Castle in the Sky” that you don’t get a sense of what Miyazaki is all about: wonder, awe, excitement, and his utter love for aeronautics. “Castle in the Sky” is Miyazaki in a nutshell: whimsy, vision… castles in the sky, if you will.

It’s an exciting action adventure that you can watch with your kids and not enjoy, it’s what Disney aspires to be. “Castle in the Sky” is a high seas swashbuckling adventure set in the sky, and I just love how Miyazaki paints the clouds like water. In one scene, the pirate ship catches a spy plane, and the plane splashes in to the clouds like the ocean. It’s such an excellent paradox Miyazaki relishes in conveying with utter duplicitous degrees. “Castle in the Sky” is a rollicking action adventure with the romance and nuance of an Errol Flynn film and enough of a fantastic energy to keep toddlers watching. There is also some great voice work from James Van Der Beek who plays the scratchy voiced but intelligent hero Pazu who is awkward in every sense of the word, yet never hesitates to fight what he believes in, while Anna Paquin is great as Sheeta, the young woman who has no idea what’s waiting for her beyond the clouds.

Mark Hamill is great as the evil Col. Muska who wants to discover Laputa, while the incomparable Cloris Leachman is fun as Mother the pirate queen. What lies within the land of Laputa is a mystery from the opening to the climax, but what is ultimately discovered is Miyazaki’s wide-eyed values, and ability to display entertainment through riveting imagination and creativity. I’m not sure if there’s anything else to be said about “Castle in the Sky” except it’s a shame that I discovered Miyazaki just now. I’ve yet to see a Miyazaki film that I truly disliked, because Miyazaki never gives an argument for disliking him. He’s an artist, and his canvas is film. He shows that animation can be stimulating and thought provoking art and substance, and not just franchising opportunities, product tie-ins, and cheap sequels made to squeeze dollars from inept parents.