Double Review: Laputa - Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind

In final preparation for going to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo yesterday, I loaded my iPhone up with these two films to view in the bullet train to/from various points in Japan, hoping to get them viewed in time.  And I did!

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.


Double Review: Kiki's Delivery Service / Howl's Moving Castle

Kiki's Delivery Service

Another one of Indi's favorites. I sat down prepared for a cute animated film and was not disappointed. I don't think it carried near the heft that Totoro did as far as the story is concerned, as it felt like a more traditional fish-out-of-water coming-of-age story, just in a slightly fantastical reality. It was thoroughly enjoyable, though, if nothing terrifically specially. I enjoyed the cat quite a bit.  Not a lot more I can say here, though, except that I felt the adults were well written and I always relish a slightly alternate near-modern universe.

Howl's Moving Castle

This one sits at the top of the pile so far; absolutely mesmerizing! At the beginning of the movie, when the titular moving castle literally walks into the frame, I stared at the screen open mouthed. Is that really animated? It was so intricate and complex! It was so ugly, yet beautiful. Once the world started to materialize and I was introduced to characters, I was immediately drawn in.  Steampunk for the win!

It became obvious to be here that Miyazaki prefers female leads. Sophie is a fine addition to the roster but oh man. She is cursed early on in the film into being an old woman. It was inexplicably SHATTERINGLY SAD to me and I had to laugh at verbal tics and mannerisms of the Old Sophie in order to not cry. She was not just like, 'WTF I'm old!' it was like she woke up and had GROWN old, i.e. her mind worked like an old person, she had the ailments and seeming familiarity one would have if they'd lived a much longer life...as if she'd woken up from a dream in which she had been young. And mid-way through the movie, when she storms out of the castle...I can't handle old folks crying. It's too much!

Howl is dubbed by Christian Bale, while his fire demon companion is dubbed by the brilliant Billy Crystal. It definitely helped the film for my ears and endeared me to the characters instantly. The story arc of maturity, patience, and endurance were well done. My favorite character, by FAR, is the scarecrow Turnip Head. Much like Wall-E, he says a lot without saying anything at all.