Some people consider Studio Ghibli’s first film to have been Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind but technically speaking—and when talking animé, we must always speak technically—that movie was produced before the Studio itself was actually founded. Their first official release, then, was this very animé tale, Castle in the Sky. Of course, all of Studio Ghibli’s films are animé by definition, but I would say Castle shows a lot more “having been influenced” than “influencing”—compared to other Ghibli films because, of course, this film has also been highly influential.
But it has a more traditional feel to it than, say, Grave of the Fireflies (or, as the Flower calls it, “the saddest movie ever”) or Only Yesterday, for example. The story is about a girl who is on a dirigible (natch) when pirates board, to save herself she climbs out her cabin window and in the ensuing chaos, falls. But rather than splattering on the ground, as one might expect in a children’s movie, her necklace begins to glow and she floats—almost right down into a nigh-bottomless pit before she’s rescued by a miner boy of approximately the same age.
No way you could guess where that is gonna go.
I kid. I’m a big fan of Miyazki’s romantic stories, and the odder the better perhaps (Ponyo). Anyway, boy and girl flee greedy pirates, a greeedier army, and an especially greedy and evil intelligence agent in their quest to discover the origin of the stone while fleeing across the impossibly vertical world of…wherever they are. In the third act, this, rather satisfyingly, leads them to the eponymous castle where the whole story comes together in a very Miyazaki way with technology at war with nature, with somewhat contradictory results.
The Boy noted that there were no deaths early on the film, which is true in that cartoon way of “Yeah, they show people running away from explosions and bullets” while the end has a lot of people plummeting from an unrecoverably high height. I didn’t find that to be remarkable since you still don’t see them die, but it’s certainly a far cry from, say, Princess Mononoke, where a guy gets his arms shot off (by an arrow!) in the first scene.
There’s still a ton of Miyazaki/Ghibli tradmearks, like eating fried eggs, dirigibles, flying machines based off of neat aesthetic (but dubious engineering) principles and, as mentioned, the very, very common theme of man struggling to separate from/coexist with nature. It also turns out that, between the pirates, the army and the intelligence officer, the pirates are the good guys.
It’s long! Over two hours! But it’s not padded, and there’s a fair amount of action.
The dub features Anna Paquin, Mandy Patinkin, Mark Hamill and many other famous names so we were sort of surprised to discover that the theater showed the subtitled version, just as they had with Kiki’s Delivery Service—though not with Akira. (The world of dubs vs subs is a dark and mysterious one, my friends.) In the original, the boy (Pazu) is played by Mayuma Tanaka, a woman who does a lot of boy’s voices (in a thankfully not-too-annoying fashion), and of course I have no idea whether the voice acting is actually any good or not.
We all enjoyed it, of course.