The first Studio Ghibli film, “Castle in the Sky” is full of director Hayao Miyazaki mainstays – iconic and imaginative imagery, fascination with flight, worldbuilding backed by a sense of wonder that feels more sprung from a child’s infinite imagination than a grown man’s, and so on.
The film is so bursting with inventiveness drawn from so many sources (Miyazaki’s visit to a Welsh mining town, Victorian elements in the pirate ship, Hindu elements, Biblical inspirations, Gothic architecture, steampunk design, etc.) and in turn influenced a vast array of sources coming after it (Pixar films, The Iron Giant, Team Ico’s video games, etc.). The old robot in the film so harmoniously in tune with nature is such a striking visual and idea that it’s no wonder it stuck in so many storyteller’s minds when they were making their own stories.
The plot, with all its exposition and antagonistic contortions, isn’t half as fun as the world dreamt up for the film, so evocative and gorgeously-designed. The characters come across best in their frequent moments of downtime – relaxing when they can, discussing their hopes and dreams, performing mundane tasks, in contrast to when they’re serving the more active needs of the plot.
It’s a splendidly-realised adventure, not quite as imaginative and breathtaking as its proto-Ghibli predecessors “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind”, but certainly as iconic. Three crystals and a flower.