Have you ever wished that you could escape your dull and stressful life at school or work and go on a magical adventure of your own, with one of your closest friends at your side, facing all sorts of dangers and villains, and unraveling the mystery of a lost civilization that's just waiting for someone to discover all its secrets? Even if you're not quite that much of a fantasy-lover, have you ever wished you could simply experience what it's like to be a kid again, and not have a care in the world, for just a couple of hours?
This is exactly what Miyazaki's "Castle in the Sky" is all about. Pazu, a young but very brave and ambitious engineer, lives a rustic life in a mining town until one day, a girl named Sheeta falls down from the sky like an angel and takes him on a journey to a place far beyond the clouds, while all the while they have pirates and military units hot on their trail. Simply put, it is just the incredible adventure that every kid dreams of at one point or another, and I can't help but feel my worries melt away every time I see it.
As it is one of Miyazaki's older works and takes much place in the everyday world, the film is not as visually spectacular or deep in its storyline as Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, or even Princess Mononoke. Still, I find it difficult to say that any of these films are superior over the other, because all three of those films are, at some point or another, mystical to the point of being enigmatic, if not perplexing, especially for the youngest of viewers.
"Castle in the Sky", on the other hand, doesn't try so much to be an allegory of any kind, and it's not a coming-of-age story either; it is instead quite possibly one of the best depictions of the inside of a child's mind I've ever seen. Not only is the artwork beautiful, but the use of perspective from the kids' eyes is just amazing; whether it's the panning up of the "camera" to see the enormous trees or clouds overhead, or the incredible sense of height from looking down at the ground or ocean while hundreds of feet in the air, I just can't help but FEEL like I'm there with Pazu and Sheeta, just a kid in another world, far far away from reality.
Even the kids themselves don't have a complex relationship that suggests a need for hope like Ashitaka/San or Chihiro/Haku; Sheeta is Pazu's angel, having literally fallen into his life from the sky one day, the absolutely perfect person for him right from the very start. As the film progresses, more and more of their true adventurous childhood spirit comes out through their kind words and beautifully realistic facial expressions. Not only are they an adorable reminder of who I used to be, but their endearing friendship never lets up throughout the whole film, only growing stronger all the way to the last frame. For that reason, I've fallen in love with the two of them more than I have with any other Miyazaki couple.
At the same time, "Castle in the Sky" is such an easily accessible film because no matter what kind of casual moviegoer you may be, you'll be sure to find your fix here. Mystery, action, drama, comedy, suspense, sci-fi, romance, even some western...it's all here, just about everything people go to the movies for (except maybe horror). This why I can easily recommend it as a first Miyazaki film; it's perfect for those who have no expectations from having already seen the incredible otherworldliness of some of his more recent works.
Even the ending song of the film, when translated into English, conveys the sense of longing for the discovery of some kind of lost civilization, and some kind of soul-mate, that could not be found in our mundane lives. "The reason I long for the many lights is that you are there in one of them...The earth spins, carrying you, carrying us both who'll surely meet." Miyazaki has always provided poetic lyrics to make ending songs out of Joe Hiasashi's gorgeous scores, but this is the only one I've seen that's both a touching love song and an inspirational dream. I have found myself near tears just listening to it.
"Castle in the Sky" may not be Miyazaki's most developed, spectacular, or meaningful work, but it's absolutely perfect for what it really was meant to be: a true vision of childhood fantasy, and a wonderful escape from reality for any adults who wish they could have the same wonderful sense of imagination they had when they were just carefree little kids. Sit back, relax, and love it for what it is.