C – Castle in the Sky (and MIYAZAKI’s early works)

This post is for the letter C in the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge.

I’ll start off with two disclaimers. First, the original Japanese title for this movie is Laputa: Castle in the Sky which is fine. The English-language title, however, is simply Castle in the Sky, and that is the version I will be using for this post. So you gotta deal with it. Secondly, this post contains spoilers. If you don’t want anything spoiled for either Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, or Little Norse Prince, please disregard this post. Thank you. (I also mention Princess Mononoke quite a few times, but only because it’s my favorite.)

Anyway, I’d like to talk about similarities between Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky and his earlier works, which, by the time Castle in the Sky was made, consisted of Little Norse Prince, a Lupin III movie, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I’m going to focus on Little Norse Prince and Nausicaa because those are the ones with which I’m most familiar. Most of my ideas come from The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation by Thomas Lamarre (published by the University of Minnesota in 2009).

Pazu (left) and Sheeta (right)

The first similarity is between the Sheeta/Pazu (Castle) and Hilda/Hols (LNP) duos. In both pairs, the male is more active and the female has the special power. Such a power dynamic equalizes the roles of the two characters. Instead of having all the weight on one character, the weight is on both. In The Castle in the Sky, Pazu is the one who makes the decision to follow the pirates to Laputa. He is also the one who suggests using the spell of destruction in the end. However, he does not control everything. He needs Sheeta if he wants to work the necklace, as shown by his attempt to float with it when he and Sheeta introduce themselves. Pazu, wearing Sheeta’s necklace, jumps off the roof of his house thinking he would float safely to the ground and the opposite happens. When Pazu and Sheeta are flung from the railroad track in the canyon minutes later, the necklace, recognizing Sheeta is in danger, activates and gently lowers both children to safety. This dynamic is similar to Hols/Hilda. Hols is extremely active — he is always doing something throughout the entire movie. Meanwhile, Hilda does a lot of standing around and singing. The only difference between these duos are their interactions. Sheeta and Pazu spend almost the entire movie together, but Hols and Hilda only have a handful of scenes together.

What does this mean in terms of Miyazaki films? Seeing as Castle in the Sky is very early in his career, he’s playing with the power dynamic of different characters. Miyazaki is notorious for being feminist, especially in his movies (Porco Rosso and Princess Mononoke anyone?) so his female characters often have strong personalities and character traits. According to Thomas Lamarre, Castle in the Sky is an anti-adventure story, which I interpret as Miyazaki taking an already existing genre (adventure) and subverting a few tropes (such as the role of the heroine). The recurrence of the Hols/Hilda dynamic suggests that Miyazaki liked the pairing enough to use it again. (Or simply borrowed it because he was simply the lead animator in that movie, not the director). However, since I’m unable to find a similar pairing after Castle in the Sky, I presume he has moved onto other character dynamics.

An example of the flying machines in Castle in the Sky

Secondly, the similarity between Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind lies in the use of flight and flying machine technology. Miyazaki loves flying. That statement can’t be said enough times. Up until Ponyo, each of his movies has had at least one flight scene (I’m counting Ashitaka’s jumping down the cliff face with a wolf in Princess Mononoke because free-fall is kind of like flying). It’s fitting that his career takes off with two movies that revolve around flight. These aren’t the only two. Flight is also a central theme in Kiki’s Delivery Service and Porco Rosso. Although his later films don’t feature flight as often as his earlier works, it still plays a role in My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Movie Castle, and even a bit in Spirited Away.

A lot of Miyazaki works deal with the same or similar themes. From the top of my head, his favorites are flight, environmentalism, and humanity’s relationship with technology. He is also a fan of the strong female character, who doesn’t have to be the main heroine (Dola, I’m looking at you). These themes are EVERYWHERE. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky only launch the themes Miyazaki will tackle throughout the rest of his career. His exploration of them means that he cares about these things, and their prominence only suggests that we the viewers should start paying attention to them too. The next time you watch a Miyazaki movie, I encourage you to look at how the characters interact with their environment and what you think Miyazaki is suggesting with this interaction.

~

Discussion Question: What’s your favorite film by Hayao Miyazaki? If you don’t have one, what’s your favorite animated film (doesn’t have to be anime)?

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2 thoughts on “C – Castle in the Sky (and MIYAZAKI’s early works)

  1. I saw Castle in the Sky… I didn’t really like it at the time, but it’s been so long maybe I’d understand it better if I watched it again.

    I thought Howl’s Moving Castle was a well done movie, even if it wasn’t a very faithful adaptation of the book (which I loved).

    And I thought Ponyo was sweet. I liked the evil/misunderstood tall red head father.

  2. my grandsons are so into anime—i guess if i was to pick one, maybe a recent animated film it would be “despicable me”—had to sit through it twice with different sets of grand-kids and still enjoyed it!

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