Castle in the Sky (TenkŻ No Shiro Rapyuta) Review
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Veteran animated film writer/director/producer Hayao Miyazaki may well be one of Japanís most beloved national treasures, producing some of their greatest cultural exports. His animation studio, Studio Ghibli, has created some of the greatest animated feature films ever made. Each has its own tone and sense of being, but theyíre united in some basic themes and the overall quality of execution.

Castle in the Sky, released in Japan in 1986, is a grand adventure in classic Miyazaki style. The film opens as a band of pirates attack a giant airship in flight. During the altercation, a young girl named Sheeta is knocked overboard. Instead of falling, she gently floats down to the surface, buoyed by a glowing pendant she wears on a necklace, until she comes to rest in the arms of Pazu, a young orphaned boy whoís working in the silver mine that sustains his run-down industrial town.

As the plot moves, we discover that the pirates, a family operation run by the rough-and-tumble matron Dola and crewed by her comical sons, are after Sheeta and the pendant she carries. The girl is heir to the lost floating city of Laputa, one of the last relics of a long-vanished civilization that ruled the skies. Pazu is no stranger to Laputa himself, as his father had been a pilot whose obsession with finding the floating city cost him his life. Together, Sheeta and Pazu must find a way to unlock the secrets of Laputa and prevent its awesome power from falling into the wrong hands.

As with most of Miyazakiís work, Castle in the Sky succeeds on the depth of feeling it evokes, both in regards to the plight of two children caught up in the machinations and desires of powerful adults and in the richly detailed environments that they inhabit. As in the best children-centered adventure stories, Sheeta and Pazu are compelling because their innocence is challenged but itís never truly lost, providing them with the courage to make the right decisions when called on.

The film also touches on a topic near and dear to Miyazakiís heart: the despoiling of the natural world by human industry. Pazuís city is based on Victorian-era Wales, largely inspired by a trip Miyazaki took there while doing research. Its many factories lie in shambles, and the population barely holds on, having traded nature for industry. Itís also suggested, though never stated outright, that a similar hubris led to the disappearance of the floating cities.

The new Special Edition DVD release is a reissuing of the Disney-produced 2003 version. It includes that editionís English language track (featuring actors James Van Der Beek, Anna Paquin, and Cloris Leachman) as well as the original Japanese language track and subtitles. New to this series of re-releases is the World of Ghibli bonus featurette, included on a second disc, featuring short interviews with the production staff as well as interactive introductions to several other Studio Ghibli titles.

Castle in the Sky is perhaps the Miyazaki film that most directly leans into sci-fi and serial adventure, but it retains every bit of the magical spirit that has defined his body of work. Itís a personal favorite of mineóand one that I simply cannot recommend highly enough.

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