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Castle in the Sky(1986)
An orphan named Sheeta eludes the clutches of a secret agent named Muska while trying to discern her family's history. After her first escape from Muska, Sheeta meets up with a young boy named Pazu, whose father, a photographer, was disgraced after he took a picture of the legendary flying island of Laputa and had it dismissed as a hoax. When the two realize that a family heirloom Sheeta carries allows them to levitate, the two begin a search for the lost island, trailed by Muska, who is also searching for Laputa.
For more about Castle in the Sky and the Castle in the Sky Blu-ray release, see Castle in the Sky Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on May 21, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Jim Cummings, Richard Dysart
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
» See full cast & crew
Castle in the Sky Blu-ray Review
"Boss! Boss! A girl just fell from the sky, boss!"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, May 21, 2012
As Disney Feature Animation languished throughout the 1970s and '80s, animators and risk-takers the world over grabbed hold of the late Walt Disney's torch and began making bold strides in animation. One of those risk-takers was Studio Ghibli co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki, the Toei Animation upstart whose early works weren't exactly the overnight critical and commercial successes some might assume. While Disney's best and brightest struggled with the changing of the guard in the decades following Walt's death, though, Miyazaki set his mind to creating fantasy worlds teeming with iron airships and floating islands, young protagonists embarking on extraordinary adventures, and stirring stories that would capture the imagination of children of all ages. Could Miyazaki have foreseen that his fledgling studio would one day forge a partnership with The Walt Disney Company? That Castle in the Sky, the first film produced under the Studio Ghibli banner, would defy expectation and help validate both Miyazaki and his new studio? That twenty-six years later Castle in the Sky would remain a beloved film and treasured classic?
In any other story, Sheeta (Keiko Yokozawa in the original Japanese language version of the film, Anna Paquin in the 2003 U.S. dub) would be a normal little girl with normal, little girl dreams and normal, little girl aspirations. But the strange blue crystal that hangs around her neck -- a magical crystal that not only hints at her mysterious heritage, but springs to life and saves her whenever she's in mortal danger -- makes her a very special little girl; one who draws the attention of a gang of ruthless pirates and a group of sinister government agents with the army in their back pocket. The pirates, led by a feisty old woman named Captain Dola (Kotoe Hatsui, Cloris Leachman), and the military, led by the heartless Colonel Muska (Minori Terada, Mark Hamill), aren't in league, though, which only makes Sheeta's attempts to escape their clutches that much more dangerous. Luckily, Sheeta meets a brave young boy named Pazu (Mayumi Tanaka, James Van Der Beek) who swears to protect her, whatever the cost. As the two new friends set out to discover the secrets of Sheeta's blue crystal, they soon find themselves on a search for the ancient city of Laputa; a floating castle most consider little more than a myth.
The wonder that fills my son's face every time he gets swept up in a Miyazaki adventure, even one released in 1986, never ceases to amaze me. More than a testament to the timeless quality of Studio Ghibli's finest films, it speaks to Miyazaki's fascination with the things that would have struck all of us as nothing less than magical when we were young -- soaring high above the clouds, fighting pirates in the belly of an airship, hopping aboard a train bound for some distant town, befriending a robot that looks as if it stepped out of a storybook, stumbling upon a flying city -- before cynicism took root and robbed us of simpler joys. And yet Miyazaki cultivates these fantasies with such profound sincerity and sophistication that they cease to be childish whims and become that much more dazzling and meaningful. Almost anyone could dream up a tale involving two kids and a floating castle. But it takes a true artist and visionary to draw upon themes of abandonment, entitlement, validation, isolation, selflessness, corruption, and ecological strife while telling that tale, not to mention a truly talented storyteller to deliver it all within a film that appeals to children as readily as it does their parents.
Although its story is lighter and more straightforward, Castle in the Sky shares strands of DNA with Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind and, in many ways, continues where Miyazaki's 1984 cautionary fantasy left off. On their own, neither Pazu nor Sheeta is a more intriguing character than Nausicaš. Their adversaries aren't as deadly, their obstacles don't seem as insurmountable, and the stakes of their quest aren't quite as high. Together, though, Pazu and Sheeta's ever-developing relationship and unspoken bond (as orphans, as children, and as truth-seekers) is every bit as compelling and nearly as engrossing. (Yes, Anna Paquin's delivery is so bland and sing-songy, her quasi-Welsh accent so stilted and unreliable, that it almost brings the U.S. dub of Castle crashing down to Earth. Thankfully, the rest of the English voice cast rallies around her and makes up for her shortcomings as best they can.) Miyazaki once again explores the idea of a child's innate wisdom, this time pitting two innocents against an entire armada of adults blinded by greed, selfishness and power. The suggestion is clear: we would do well as a society to reacquaint ourselves with a child's innocence and perception, particularly as industry and technology continue to drive us toward an uncertain future.
Like most Miyazaki films, Castle in the Sky is ripe for dissection and deconstruction. And yet, by some indescribable miracle of animation, its utter simplicity cloaks its complexities and makes it more accessible than most. Children will feel an immediate connection with Pazu and Sheeta, laughing, cheering, and rooting for the inseparable duo to stay one step ahead of Muska and his lackeys. Families will be perched on the edge of their seats as the orphans make surprising new alliances and near their final destination. And everyone, no matter how young or old, will feel their jaws slackening as Laputa emerges from the clouds. Castle in the Sky remains one of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli's best. If you haven't had the pleasure of Pazu and Sheeta's company, if you haven't stormed an airship with Dola and her pirates, if you haven't walked the grounds of Laputa, don't hesitate any longer. Especially considering just how good it all looks and sounds on Blu-ray...
Castle in the Sky Blu-ray, Video Quality
Rather than re-color, de-noise, or alter the image to suit modern tastes, Disney has honored Miyazaki's vision and created a new digital master from the original film elements. The resulting 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation is nothing less than extraordinary; lovingly restored, unmistakably filmic, and faithful to a fault. While I'm sure someone will complain about the presence of grain, it's clean, natural and unobtrusive. And while I'm sure someone will gripe about the occasional soft shot or Castle's delicate storybook palette, this is a terrific representation of the film Miyazaki made, the film audiences have fallen in love with over the years, and the film exactly as it was intended. And it's, hands down, the best Castle in the Sky has ever looked. Primaries are restrained but lovely, black levels are nice and inky, and contrast is consistent from beginning to end. Detail is exceptionally well-resolved too, with crisp line art, untainted swaths of color, and beautifully textured background brush strokes. Every last nuance has been preserved too: the faint shadows that sometimes separate the characters and the animation cels, the small "mistakes" the animators made in the original animation frames, and the many other personal touches unique to hand-drawn animated productions. Better still, the encode is a knockout. There's no significant print damage or blemishes (save a speck here and there), artifacting and banding are nowhere to be found, and aliasing and other oddities never make an appearance. Cinephiles, animation aficionados and Miyazaki fans will be on cloud nine.
Castle in the Sky Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Disney has included two lossless audio options -- an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 ES surround track (Matrix 6.1) and an original Japanese-language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo mix -- the quality of which will delight anyone with even a passing affection for Castle in the Sky. There are two things worth mentioning at the outset, though: the English audio track and subtitles still feature the translation differences and discrepancies that have long bothered purists, and there isn't a 5.1 remix of the Japanese-language version of the film. However, neither of these potential sticking points should be considered when evaluating the technical quality of either mix, and I see little reason to factor in either one here. Dialogue is bright, clear and perfectly intelligible, in English and Japanese, and sound effects follow suit. The Japanese stereo track doesn't feel crowded or overburdened at all, and deftly balances Joe Hisaishi's score with the rest of the soundscape. To its credit, the English 5.1 ES track stays true to the tone of the original audio elements, which is precisely the way 5.1 remixes should be handled. The rear speakers are used smartly but sparingly, subtly wrapping Hisaishi's score and Miyazaki's swirling clouds, thundering airships and explosions around the listener without undermining the integrity of the sound design. LFE output is steady and firm as well -- not too light, not too heavy -- and the various battles, shootouts and airship skirmishes have more kick than ever before. Ultimately, the Japanese-language track provides a slightly purer listening experience; the English track provides a slightly fuller alternative. The best of both worlds would have been more ideal, I'll admit, but it would take far more effort to be disappointed with either option than to simply sit back and enjoy what Disney has on tap.
Castle in the Sky Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Castle in the Sky Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Fans will forever debate which Miyazaki film is the greatest. For some, that honor belongs to Castle in the Sky, Studio Ghibli's first official production. Regardless of where it falls on your personal list, though, the awe and wonder that awaits those who accompany Pazu and Sheeta on their adventure is a given. More than a classic, Castle in the Sky is a timeless classic and deserves to be discovered, watched and savored, again and again and again; a process that's all the easier now thanks to Disney's must-own Blu-ray release. Blessed with a stunning new master, a fantastic video presentation, a pair of excellent DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, and a small but welcome selection of extras, there's little reason to leave this one wasting away on store shelves. So pick up a copy today. You'll be glad you did.
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Castle in the Sky Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Three Studio Ghibli Films on Blu-ray - April 13, 2012
In May, Walt Disney Home Entertainment will bring the Studio Ghibli animated features Castle in the Sky, Whisper of the Heart, and The Secret World of Arrietty to Blu-ray. These highly imaginative fantasies span more than twenty years in the Studio Ghibli team's ...
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