Hey, what do you know, another masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki!
Screenplay By: Hayao Miyazaki
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki
Different countries have different themes that they fall back on in their movies, not in every movie but in enough so that you notice the presence of the theme. One theme in Japanese cinema, and especially animation, is that mystical age when steam powered the world. Animators love to take that bygone era and apply fantasy to it, creating a mishmash of technology, feudalism, ideology and industrialization. That fantasy age is where Miyazaki chose to tread with Tenkû No Shiro Rapyuta. Steam doesn’t play a factor in the film, but it is clear by the look and feel of the landscape and the technology on display that Tenkû No Shiro Rapyuta exists in that same magical world.
Hayao Miyazaki always touches on some grander theme in his films, in Tenkû No Shiro Rapyuta I believe he is once again touching on the idea of appearances and the human condition. Humanity likes to believe that we are the masters of the world, that we and we alone are in charge of all we purvey. Miyazaki likes to challenge that notion, this time he is challenging our false bravado with the castle in the sky known as Laputa. Heaven and our inability to reach it while in our current state of warfare and pettiness has never been as clearly imagined as with Laputa. It avoids humanity for the course of the film and when it is finally found it shrugs off humanity and ascends beyond our reach. Heaven has remained barred to us until we become better than what we are.
Appearances are another theme in Tenkû No Shiro Rapyuta, and Miyazaki loves to play with our idea of outward appearances. Because of what society has taught us, the pirates are the bad guys, they must be, while the armed forces are clearly the good guys. Miyazaki switches that around on us, showing once again that what we perceive is not always the truth and that people love to hide their true selves beneath a fake outer shell. This is where Laputa comes in yet again, because this supposedly dead castle in the sky comes alive in the end and shows that its outward appearance wasn’t its true, core shape.
A great movie is many things, and Tenkû No Shiro Rapyuta is a multitude of genres. It is a coming of age story, an action/adventure film, a comedy, a message movie, a whimsical fantasy and it seamlessly blends all of those genres into one cohesive picture. There are moments of great suspense and thrills as supplied by the action scenes. There are times when you find yourself laughing out loud because of how funny the material is. Then, you’ll be pulled in by the message and feel sorrow for Pazu and Sheeta as they desperately try to find each other again or deal with being separated. The sorrow is balanced out by moments of pure joy in the visuals and in the growing relationship between Pazu and Sheeta. Throughout the film you are inundated with terrific visuals and awe inspiring ideas that play upon your love of the whimsical tale.
It goes without saying, but the animation in Tenkû No Shiro Rapyuta is top notch. Whether it is a floating castle, a giant airship, a fall through a cave or an overdone comedic fight, the animation shines in every way possible. The voice acting also brought a lot to the film, the relationship between Pazu and Sheeta feels real because of the amount of emotion that Mayumi Tanaka and Keiko Yokozawa pour into their characters. Last, but certainly not least, the score supplied by Joe Hisiashi is a perfect complement to what is happening on screen. It matches the emotion of the characters and the viewer at every turn, whether it is a sad moment or one of exhilaration.
With Tenkû No Shiro Rapyuta Hayao Miyazaki has hit another one out of the park. The total sum of this film is why I view Miyazaki as the greatest director the business has ever seen. I love whimsical tales, I love beautifully rendered animation and I love tales that envelop me in their grand vision. Tenkû No Shiro Rapyuta is a vision of the grandest order, a sight to behold and a movie everyone needs to experience. There’s no reason any fan of film or animation shouldn’t see Tenkû No Shiro Rapyuta, so if you haven’t seen Tenkû No Shiro Rapyuta yet, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Oh, I do slay myself!