Laputa - Castle in the Sky
I'll start this off by saying this is my favorite Miyazaki so far. Yep, even better than Howl's Moving Castle. This film is also set in a steampunk universe but flows MUCH smoother than Howl's. The basic premise revolves around a girl (surprise!) with a mysterious and powerful crystal. She escapes pirates and military captors before being befriended by a young mining boy and what soon follows is a fun-tastic chase film and one that harnesses Miyazaki's environmental message quite well.
There are many characters to like/dislike in the movie and overall it gave me a bit of a 'Goonies' vibe. This is one of Miyazaki's earlier films and the vibrant colors he used were really refreshing. The kids weren't dumbed down, and the adults acted appropriately...sometimes overly so, as I audibly gasped when a henchman shot a gun at one of the kids. Whatever it takes to harness all-powerful technology, eh? I loved the last robot in the garden of Laputa, and equally enjoyed the enormous statue at the Museum.
I liked the synthesized score, the animation style, the story, the characters...really, a wonderful film that I WILL own when I get home.
Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind
This is based on a manga work that Miyazaki is involved in, and I had high expectations coming in. Would it trump Laputa as that film had trumped Howl's? Nikki had also let me know that she'd seen this film and enjoyed it...not only that, but it was one of Brad's favorites as well. Who knew? I settled in for a great film. And while it WAS great, it wasn't as good for me as Laputa was.
As most of Miyazaki's films do, this film has a strong environmental message and features a strong/central female personality. It tells the story of a long distant future, where technology increased to the point of humanity's annihilation. The few surviving rebuilt kingdoms dedicated to the Earth, but as time passed a poisonous forest threatens to strangle those who remain. Not only that, but several of the kingdoms have tried to re-harness the old buried technologies in order to achieve domination. It was a good story, and had quite the English dub cast (Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as a swordsman? Sweet!) but I felt it was REALLY similar to Princess Mononoke. Admittedly, this movie had a much clearer beginning-middle-end structure. Things actually got resolved! And I enjoyed the fate of the Giant Machine.
So, thus ends my lightning tour of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli animation. There are a few films I missed, but I think I'll take a break for now. I am a big fan and ALL of these films would be a welcome revisit in the future.