by Marty Demarest
The original Japanese title for Castle in the Sky was Laputa. The name was taken from Gulliver's Travels, and Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki used Swift's description of a floating island to launch his own playfully daring adventure tale. Beginning with a pirate raid on a flying airship and climaxing in the roots of an enormous sky-bound tree, Castle in the Sky is an adventure unlike anything you've ever seen. I'll even go so far as to suggest that it's better than films like the Indiana Jones movies because, being an animated film, Castle in the Sky can depict sights that even the largest budget would have trouble with.
This is one of the main advantages that animation has over other media. And Japanese animation -- known as anime -- is even more astonishing than its American or European counterparts. Japanese animators are unafraid to use the flexibility of their medium to intensify not only the onscreen action, but the story's emotional content as well. And so, from the moment the young girl Sheeta falls slowly to the ground near the beginning of this film, every moment, fanciful or not, is treated as though it were magical.
Disney realizes how potent this is, which is why the studio has started distributing director Miyazaki's films -- several of which, including last year's astonishing Spirited Away, have been among the top-grossing Japanese films of all time. And while Castle in the Sky is the type of movie that would make the greatest impact in theaters, the direct-to-DVD version has still received a fair treatment, with English voiceovers provided by Anna Paquin and James Van Der Beek. Fortunately, Disney has also respected the film's origins, and fans can also watch the Japanese version (with English subtitles), where Pazu, the young boy who falls in love with Sheeta, actually sounds like a young boy instead of, well, a dork from Dawson's Creek.
What Castle in the Sky does best, however, is provide an adventure suitable for both adults and older children. There is plenty of violence, including children wielding guns, and some of the situations are tense. But there is a child-like sophistication to this film -- an acknowledgement of the brutality of the world. And Miyazaki always provides beauty. In Castle in the Sky, it is miles above us.
Publication date: 05/22/03