Castle in the Sky, the early animated masterpiece by writer-director Hayao Miyazaki, has the double role of being an absolute smash hit and a classic of Japanese animation in its home country, while simultaneously being overlooked, even forgotten in much of the West.
It shouldn’t be so, and I’m here to help restore its rightful top place in the Ghibli canon, with a podcast miniseries dedicated to this one film.
Castle in the Sky — or Laputa: Castle in the Sky to use the full title — is an outstanding work of animation that combines high adventure and a raw and fresh mixture of genres, with deep mythological storytelling and even political commentary.
With all of its many hidden layers that not a lot of people pick up on, also happens to be one of my favourite early Miyazaki films.
Released in 1986, Laputa is technically the first Studio Ghibli film, as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, now sporting the Ghibli logo, was made as a one-time collaboration of the people who would then go on to create Ghibli after Nausicaä’s success.
A generation later, Castle in the Sky one of the most influential pieces of Japanese animation ever produced. It has sparked inspiration in a younger generation of creators that would go on to make their own Laputa-inspired works, including Hideaki Anno with his Nadia series, or Hironobu Sakaguchi, who created the Final Fantasy video game series. Miyazaki himself would keep using going back to concepts first explored in Laputa, especially in Howl’s Moving Castle.
On this page, I’ve collected all the content I’ve published in English on the film, in order of relevance.
‘Castle in the Sky explained’ series
Part 1. Castle in the Sky: Story Origins
In this introductory episode we dig deep into the origins of the film’s story. We go behind the scenes of the scouting trip to Wales and the South of England to see how they affected the landscape and the characters that appear in the film. We also look at how the film adapts the perspective of its children protagonists, and why that’s important not just for the style but for the message of the story.
Part 2. Sheeta’s Disney Princess Subversion
In this second episode of the series, we focus on Sheeta and how she flips the script when it comes to how princesses are portrayed in animation.
Looking closely at how Disney usually establishes its princesses, Miyazaki incorporates elements not often seen in children’s animation: a struggle with the meaning of power and privilege, and the weight of having to make life-altering decisions.
Later in this episode I go into how Sheeta connects to the Hindu goddess Sita from the epic Ramayana. Finally, we look at all the different groups of men in the film — how their different masculinities and portrayed and how that all adds up with the film’s message.
Part 3. Pazu’s Quest and the Mystery of the Island
Pazu’s father quest is one of the film’s cornerstone plotlines, but it’s not at all handled like your standard Hollywood father quest. We’ll see why that is, and then we tackle the film’s complex ending sequence, including what happens there and what it all means.
Other Castle in the Sky resources
We also mention Castle in the Sky as part of our Studio Ghibli Landscapes episode, so if you’re interested in the landscape art perspective on the film, do check that out.
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If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to sign up for my Studio Ghibli Secrets Guide for a deep look into the storytelling and the mythologies behind the Ghibli films.