Studio Ghibli: Important Themes in ‘Castle in the Sky’

Screenshot of Pazu, Sheeta, and a Laputian robot from ‘Castle in the Sky’. Copyright goes to Studio Ghibli.

Hey! Hallie here!

A while back I did a post like this for my favorite Ghibli film, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. And I realized I could probably talk about Studio Ghibli films for the rest of my life without getting bored. So today I’m tackling my favorite underrated Studio Ghibli film, ‘Castle in the Sky’. ‘Castle in the Sky’ is the first Studio Ghibli film that was officially created under the Studio Ghibli company and is also, therefore, one of their first dives into environmentalism. Aside from that huge theme there are other themes that are prevalent in this film that we saw pop up in other Ghibli movies, as well as general aspects of the film that are worth appreciating over thirty years after it was released. We have a lot to talk about so let’s get into this!

Environmentalism:

As one of the largest reoccurring themes in Ghibli movies, environmentalism is always a good place to start. From the beginning of the movie we hear about the castle floating in the sky on an island known as Laputa. Our heroes, Pazu and Sheeta, badly want to reach Laputa, but for entirely innocent reasons. Pazu wishes to find it and prove that it’s real because his father was ridiculed for his interest in Laputa and died before he had evidence to show other people. Sheeta is descended from the royal family of Laputa and is drawn to the island because of her ancestry. On the other hand, our main villain Muska knows the island holds the technology to become the most powerful weapon on Earth and wants that power for himself. By the time we get to Laputa in the film, these opposing ideologies come together pretty clearly. While those who know about Laputa remember it to be a technological wonder, the absence of humans has made it clear that its true beauty lies in the nature on the island. Huge trees and gorgeous flowers have thrived on Laputa since it was left abandoned, as have species of animals not normally seen on Earth. This change is made even more striking when we consider the setting of the rest of the film, which is a Steampunk wasteland made up of mostly mining towns. Laputa is the first setting we see that’s full of lush, gorgeous greenery. But perhaps the most interesting part of it all is the fact that Miyazaki isn’t proposing that the technology others expect from Laputa is the opposing force to Laputa’s nature. In fact, we get to see the Laputian robots living harmoniously with the wildlife on Laputa. It’s humans like Muska, who wish to use that technology as a weapon and care very little for what Laputa became, that threatens the nature on Laputa. It’s both humanities lust for power and war that threaten the nature of both Laputa and Earth, making the message not just a dig at uncaring humans but a classic Ghibli dig at war.

Is Anyone Truly Evil?:

Here we have yet another theme that comes up a lot in Ghibli movies. While Studio Ghibli has its fair share of villains, most have at least a touch of redeemable qualities and many have a complete turn around where their beliefs align with the heroes beliefs by the end of the film. Here we’re going to have to mostly look past the character of Muska. While Muska does turn out to have a deeper and more understandable connection to Laputa than just his desire to own a powerful weapon, that being that he is also a descendant of Laputian royalty, he remains very much evil and unredeemable all the way up until his death. But he isn’t the only villain in the movie. The first villains Pazu and Sheeta run into together are instead a group of pirates led by an older woman named Dola. Dola and her pirates, or her sons, want to reach Laputa because of the rumors that there’s a large amount of treasure in the floating castle. Their greed drives them to try to kidnap Sheeta multiple times through the movie’s runtime because of her ability to find Laputa. But when Sheeta gets captured by Muska instead, Dola and her pirates team up with Pazu to help him get her back. As Pazu and later Sheeta travel with them, the two parties come to an understanding. Dola comes to care for Sheeta and decides that she would much rather work with her and gain her trust than force her to do anything against her will. Meanwhile, the pirates interest in gold is understood to overall be pretty harmless considering Laputa’s been abandoned for many years and the treasure in the castle doesn’t really belong to anyone. The bonds between Pazu, Sheeta, and the pirates becomes so strong by the end of the film, that the final scene is the group reuniting and hugging one another. Miyazaki really likes characters that prove that humans have the capacity for good and evil regardless of the path they’ve chosen, and the pirates are ‘Castle in the Sky”s example.

The Gentle Male Lead:

Pazu is one of my favorite characters in any ‘Studio Ghibli’ movie and it’s entirely because he breaks so many gender stereotypes in favor of just being a good dude. Pazu is almost naive in his earnestness. Meeting Sheeta is extremely exciting for him and he never attempts to hide it, instead immediately inviting Sheeta to join him in his daily activities and, on a few occasions, embarrassing himself with his excitement. His bright personality and passion right from the off doesn’t just make you want to know him, but it also makes you connect to him in a way you don’t connect to more stoic male leads. There are other male leads like this, but we don’t see them nearly as often as we should. As the events of ‘Castle in the Sky’ continue to unfold, we also see Pazu not just rescue Sheeta as most action heroes do, but also offer emotional support. He understands that the fate of Laputa isn’t up to him, an explorer who just wants to find Laputa, but is instead up to Sheeta, whose ancestors came from there. So he offers advice and comfort whenever Sheeta becomes conflicted about her search for Laputa. And none of it is romantically driven. While there are some scenes that may suggest that the two have romantic feelings for one another, they aren’t ever confirmed as a couple during the movie. Miyazaki has done this in a few movies, partly because many of his protagonists are children, but also because he feels the greatest relationships are the ones where those involved learn to grow by being with one another and romance isn’t always necessary there. I really like this line of thinking, especially after growing up with so many stories where male and female leads could never be friends. I also love this thinking because it makes Pazu’s intentions feel pure. He’s just a really nice guy who would do anything for his friends. I love that about him.

And that’s it! ‘Castle in the Sky’ isn’t the perfect film. While Sheeta does have moments where she stands up for herself, Sheeta does take up the role of damsel in distress a few times during the film. And I think it’s obvious that some of the themes in this movie were perfected on in later Studio Ghibli movies rather than in this one. But ‘Castle in the Sky’ still sticks the landing on every one of these important themes and brings with it a charm that makes it stick out amongst other Ghibli films. It’s even gained a reputation as a staple in Steampunk movies. I love this movie and I love how many deep themes Studio Ghibli tackles in their animated films. It’s clear why they’re so beloved amongst people of all ages.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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