Monday, November 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Tonight I continued my exploration of the films of Hayao Miyazaki, seeing CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986).

CASTLE IN THE SKY, which was written and directed by Miyazaki, was shown in an English-subtitled version as part of Cinemark's Studio Ghibli Fest. It's a good thing I ordered my ticket back in August, when I noticed on the Cinemark site that seats were already filling; it was a packed house, with the audience mostly consisting of young adults.

As the film opens, a young girl named Sheeta (Keiko Yokozawa) has been kidnapped and is traveling on a dirigible with Muska (Minori Terada) and his associates. The ship is invaded by sky pirates headed by Dola (Kotoe Hatsui). Sheeta escapes but falls through the sky...only to be saved from certain death as her crystal necklace lights up and she mysteriously floats gently down, landing in a mining town.

Sheeta is befriend by Pazu (Mayumi Tanaka), a boy who helps her escape the pursuing Muska and Dola, who are each after her necklace. Pazu and Sheeta discover that Sheeta is somehow connected to a mysterious "island in the sky" which was once seen by Pazu's late father. The pirates want to find this hidden civilization for treasure, while Muska has more nefarious plans.

It's a scary adventure, but the orphaned Pazu and Sheeta now have each other, and they transcend their previously lonely lives as they find purpose in their quest to escape the villains and find the castle in the sky.

CASTLE IN THE SKY is a longish kids vs. villains tale, running 125 minutes. I didn't connect with it emotionally as I did Miyazaki's THE WIND RISES (2013) or especially MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988); the latter film was a very special discovery for me this year, which I liked so much I saw it twice! TOTORO's gentle fantasy was captivating and touched my heart; I still get teary when I think of the Cat Bus changing its destination near the end of the film to "Mei."

While I didn't find CASTLE IN THE SKY's rather violent story anywhere near as special as TOTORO, it was still compelling and held my attention for over two hours. There was a good deal to admire, starting with the art design. The film has a Victorian setting -- in fact, I was intrigued the characters weren't Japanese -- and the film's impressive look included creative "steampunk" elements such as various types of flying ships. I was also particularly wowed by the mining village which seemed to be a mashup of Wales and cliffside Indian dwellings.

The musical score by Joe Hisaishi was also excellent, perfectly accenting the film's more emotional moments.

Viewers looking for a strong heroine will appreciate finding one here; Sheeta and Pazu are equally plucky and resourceful. The villains are fairly stock characters, although as Sheeta and Pazu realize that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" and befriend the pirates, those characters become more interesting and amusing.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. There are some scary moments; I was particularly struck by the sequence late in the film when Sheeta tries to run away but can't seem to get anywhere, as it's a child's nightmare come to life! That said, the hero and heroine never give up; their admirable traits include bravery and loyalty.

CASTLE IN THE SKY is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

CASTLE IN THE SKY was preceded by an amusing five-minute short, CHOIR TOUR (2012), which is currently available on Vimeo.


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