Saturday, February 11, 2012

Studio Ghibli on Film, Week Two: Laputa: Castle in the Sky

It looks like I won't get to any more of the Ghibli series unless I decided to head to the MFA for an English-language screening of The Cat Returns at 10:30am tomorrow morning (this is extremely unlikely), as I bought a pass for the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival months ago and there's not really any repeat room in the schedule to fit both together.

One thing I pondered writing about with the last batch but didn't was how Hayao Miyazaki's often-overt environmental concerns clash with his clear love of flight, but since Laputa is rather explicitly at the intersection of those two recurring threads, I may as well get those disorganized thoughts down here.

Miyazaki has intimated that his next picture will be an anti-nuke piece, and while it's certainly difficult to fault anyone in Japan for being skeptical about nuclear power these days (saying the fault lies not in the technology but in corporations and regulatory agencies who didn't do their jobs is not convincing), I still find environmentalism and opposition to nuclear power to be opposites, especially in a place like Japan. They just don't have the geography for the more obviously "green" alternative energy sources like solar, hydroelectric, and wind power, and though one would think a country which loves its hot springs as much as Japan does would have done more with geothermal power, it's not as easy for them to tap into that source as it is for Iceland. I doubt Japanese environmentalists want more fossil fuel use, especially considering that they're already hit with China's pollution. As dangerous as it can be, nuclear is currently the best option for a country with such high per-capita energy use.

Flight, however, uses a lot of energy. Miyazaki's films often acknowledge this implicitly, although they also use somewhat less-than-honest work-arounds on occasion; you see a lot of airships alongside the planes, and he tends to set his stories in times before jets (and in alternate timelines to boot). In Kiki's Delivery Service, Kiki's ability to fly is powered by pure faith, and Tombo's under-construction plane is built to be pedal-powered. We don't really know what the fuel sources for the dragonflies and airships in Laputa are - the crystals that allow Sheeta to fall gently to earth or keep the title city in the air are basically magical, but the Goliath, Tiger Moth, and smaller craft tend to have lovingly crafted control systems and no fuel source at all.

I think, to a certain extent, Miyazaki has come to recognize and acknowledge this conflict. His most recent feature, Ponyo, featured the sea rather than the sky, and flight is a much darker thing in Howl's Moving Castle: Most of the planes we see are smoke-belching military vehicles, ugly in form and function. Even the magical methods of flight are costly; Howl's half-bird form takes a lot out of him, and other wizards forget how to be human after spending long enough like that. Even in fantasies, it seems, doing amazing things takes resources that are perhaps too precious to spend.

Tenk├╗ no shiro Rapyuta (Laputa: Castle in the Sky)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 February 2012 in the Museum of Fine Arts Alfond Auditorium (Castles in the Sky, 35mm)

Castle in the Sky is the sort of adventure movie that just keeps giving: It starts out with a great big action sequence that amazes with its creativity and execution, and then keeps adding one more cool thing and then another without ever going overboard. And then over two hours have passed and the audience feels like the characters, who also get a whole lot more than they expected.

That opening scene has a family of air pirates attacking a flying dreadnought, hoping to steal a stone possessed by Sheeta (voice of Keiko Yokozawa), who is guarded by Muska (voice of Minori Terada) and his bodyguards. The girl momentarily escapes, only to fall off the side of the airship. We're then introduced to Pazu (voice of Mayumi Tanaka), an orphan boy about the same age who lives next to a mine and serves as an apprentice to its mechanic; his late father, he claims, took the only picture of the mythical floating city "Laputa". That night, he sees Sheeta fall from the sky, only to slow down and land relatively gently in his arms. The stone, it seems, has some sort of strange power, and it's no surprise that both Muska and pirate matriarch Dola (voice of Kotoe Hatsui) will stop at nothing to possess it.

There is just so much fun stuff in this movie. It has grand action high in the air and deep underground, and at every altitude in between. It's got cars that chase trains, secret tunnels, good friends who stand up for kids and eventually pull the whole town into the melee, impossible airships that feel real by the sheer amount of care poured into each on-screen detail, and firefights where a massive army is stunned by just how much one extraordinary opponent can do. Among Hayao Miyazaki's movies, it is probably the most like the popular image of anime in the West at the time when it first arrived: Young protagonists, evil villains with the look of businessmen about them, big guns, and heroes who scream their defiance.

Full review at EFC.

1 comment:

Jimmy said...

I have to say, I was confused by the love shown by the pirates towards the children. I felt it got inappropriate at times, but that's probably just my filthy mind at work.