Castle in the Sky (Japan, 1986)

March 21, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Castle in the Sky Poster

Castle in the Sky is the third feature film by the Japanese grandmaster of animation, Hayao Miyazaki, and the first movie released by Studio Ghibli. Despite being successful in Japan and cementing Miyazaki’s reputation in the worldwide animation community, Castle in the Sky never received a widespread theatrical U.S. release. The movie played in some North American festivals during the late 1980s but it was unavailable until 2003 when, after several delays, Disney made it available on DVD. A new Blu-Ray version, distributed by GKids, includes the original Japanese soundtrack (with subtitles) and the English-language dub.

Castle in the Sky may be the most straightforward action/adventure movie Miyazaki has made (and that’s saying something). It’s also the least thematically dense. Although there are echoes of anti-war and pro-environment messages, they are in the subtext. This is in contrast with many of Miyazaki’s later, better-known films (like Princess Mononoke). The director stated that his intention with Castle in the Sky was to make a film that children would enjoy. In that, he succeeded. To steal a phrase from a Christmas song, it works for “kids from one to 92” (although it might be considered a little scary for those on the lower end).

The story, which takes place on a cyberpunk-influenced alternate Earth, focuses on a girl named Sheeta (voice in the English dub provided by Anna Paquin), who has been kidnapped by a government agent named Muska (Mark Hamill) and is being transported via airship when it comes under attack by a group of pirates led by the cranky Captain Dola (Cloris Leachman). Their goal: a crystal amulet Sheeta wears around her neck. Attempting to escape from Captain Dola and her sons, Sheeta loses her balance and falls. The power of the amulet allows her float light as a feather to land, where she is rescued by the boy Pazu (James Van Der Beek), who brings her to his home.

Later, chased by the pirates and the government, they hide out in an abandoned mine. There they meet a bizarre old man who tells them tales of the floating island Laputa and the crystal that keeps it aloft (it happens to be the same kind of crystal in Sheeta’s amulet). After exiting the mine, the children are captured by Muska. He informs Sheeta of her destiny and demands that she send Pazu home (for his own safety) and accompany him on his quest for Laputa – a goal he expects to fulfill now that he has the amulet.