An early animated feature from Japan’s legendary Hayao Miyazaki, Castle in the Sky is as buoyant as you’d expect from a movie largely set amidst the clouds. The film boasts impressive airships and skittering mini-planes, not to mention the title location: a gigantic castle and its surrounding gardens, all boldly hanging above the earth as if it would be ridiculous to be located anywhere else.
And so Miyazaki’s eye for landscape gets somewhat inverted here. The sky itself becomes his canvas. Onto it he casts not only the aforementioned objects, but also his usual blend of fascinating characters: Sheeta, a young girl who possesses a mysterious crystal that enables her to float; Pazu, a boy and apprentice miner who comes to Sheeta’s aid when government officials try to kidnap her; and Dola, a maniacal air pirate who also seeks the jewel.
Miyazaki’s eye for landscape gets somewhat inverted here.
With her orange, upright braids, bulging jumpsuit and general air of heedlessness, Dola is a bit like Pippi Longstocking – if she grew up, added quite a few pounds and turned to a life of crime. Although, true to Miyazaki form, this isn’t a story about obvious heroes and villains. Instead, it’s a consideration of familiar tensions: progress versus tradition; technology versus nature; individuality versus community. And sometimes even these conflicts aren’t clear-cut. After all, the castle’s verdant, untouched gardens are watched over by giant robots with the ability to destroy.
There’s a bit of The Iron Giant there, to say nothing of the figures who would come to populate Miyazaki’s future films – Totoro and Ponyo in particular. For all the wonder on display in Castle in the Sky, the director was just getting started.