Monday, June 26, 2017

Audient Anime: Castle in the Sky

This is the third in a bi-monthly 2017 series devoted to catching up with the greats of anime I haven't seen, preferably with one or both of my sons.

As mentioned above, I've been working my hardest to make Audient Anime an experience I can share with at least my older son, preferably both of them. Much if not most of Studio Ghibli's fare is appropriate for them, even if the younger one is only three.

But despite their overwhelmingly positive response to My Neighbor Totoro, neither of the two I've chosen next have been a cinch to get them on board.

As you may recall from my last post, Kiki's Delivery Service would have been a complete failure had not my older son noted I was watching it by myself in the evening of the afternoon where I'd tried to show it to them. Because it fed into my own interests, I allowed him to convince me to stay up and watch it with me.

Castle in the Sky was actually a bit of an easier sell, as it turns out, but there was still a bit of arm-twisting necessary to overcome their initial reluctance. In fact, I think the older one was sold on the back cover of the BluRay, after initially being turned off by its front cover. The younger one was happy enough to go along with it, but he didn't last the whole movie -- at first he was off playing a bit, and then he fell asleep watching it. However, drawing the distinction between the two should tell you that the second one did watch the whole thing -- all two hours of it.

Castle in the Sky was the first film in the series that I had not hand-picked for us to watch. I was actually interested in a different Castle, one of the Howl's Moving variety. But when I encountered Sky at the library a couple weeks before the start of June, the proscribed month for the third bi-monthly installment of this series, I made the mental switch easily enough.

And once again Miyazaki helped in overcoming the kids' potential doubts right from the get-go. (Actually, he didn't really do that with Kiki's Delivery Service -- but that's more of a them thing than a him thing.) Castle in the Sky opens with pirates in flying machines with dragonfly wings, attacking an air ship that's carrying a girl who's in possession of a necklace they want. She climbs out among the clouds, on a thin outer railing. Nothing bad could actually happen, right? Well, it doesn't ... but you wouldn't know that from the girl losing her grip and plummeting toward the ground from several miles up in the air. (Don't worry, the amulet around her neck helps her float to the ground unharmed.)

The action set piece opening brought my older son right in, and really, kept him the whole way. He never really flagged, which I found especially impressive given the film's mammoth (and wholly unexpected) 125-minute running time. In fact, if I had known it would run longer that two hours, I might have never exposed them to it in the first place, considering it too unlikely of a proposition. Glad I did, since my son didn't actually complain. It was I who started squirming in my seat by about the 100-minute mark, when I could tell it still had a decent chunk of time left to go. In fact, a bit of a miscalculation on the running time, which started to wear me down a bit, was the only thing that kept Castle in the Sky from being in the same rarefied air, star ratings-wise, as its two five-star predecessors in this series. Still a wondrous adventure with tons of heart, Castle clocked in at four stars for me on Letterboxd.

One problem with the film, if you want to call it that, is that it has a sort of emotional climax around the 70-minute mark, in one of my favorite sequences. It's a "problem" because you shouldn't hit your emotional high point 50 minutes from the end of the movie. As luck would have it, Castle in the Sky made a good companion to The Iron Giant, which the kids had only recently watched and fallen in love with for the first time. In fact, I almost wonder if Brad Bird wasn't influenced in some way by Miyazaki, as his title character in the film that came 13 years later looks a lot like this:

This robot is one of the artifacts from Laputa, the castle of the title, which comes to life unexpectedly when in range of Sheeta's amulet. It doesn't learn to talk, and certainly not in the voice of Vin Diesel, but the robot does engage in some rather giant-like sacrifices in the interest of protecting its humans, coming under heavy artillery fire. The effect on me was pretty profound.

As I've been watching these with my kids, it's interested me what impact seeing it dubbed, rather than subtitled, would have on my own viewing. I guess we're 3-for-3 in me not caring about this nearly as much as I thought I would. One character in this movie does have a voice that unmistakably belongs to someone I know, namely, Cloris Leachman as the lead pirate, Dola. I suppose this was a "distraction" from time to time, since her voice is so distinctive, but she does a good job with the material so that mitigated some of the ways it took me out of it. One thing I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't seen the opening credits was that the future Dawson Leery, none other than James Van Der Beek, voices the lead male character, Pazu. Of course, that's in the 1998 version, not the 1989 version that first appeared in the U.S.

I'm calling this series Audient Anime, but I might as well have been calling it Audient Miyazaki for how single-mindedly I've focused on just one director so far. In August I think I'll change that, while also using the opportunity to transition to material that's slightly more adult oriented. Can't twist my kids' arms forever, now can I? However, I'll be sure to circle back around for one final Miyazaki movie for before this is all said and done.

No comments: