Analyzing Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky

Plot

Image from Wikipedia

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Castle in the Sky, the first movie produced by Studio Ghibli, was originally released in Japan on August 2, 1986. The story begins with a military airship being assaulted by pirates. Their aim is to capture a girl named Sheeta. Apparently fearful of both groups, Sheeta uses this distraction to make an escape.

After fleeing, she meets a boy named Pazu. Both orphans, the two exchange stories of their parents. Pazu reveals his father’s dream of finding Laputa, the castle in the sky. The two are constantly being sought by both the government and the pirates who believe Sheeta is the link to finding Laputa.

They do eventually find Laputa, which has Atlantis-like legends. The castle in the sky was said to be where a race of technologically advanced people live. Now gone, the castle is a floating ruin. Both Sheeta and Pazu fight to make sure the power of this ancient race is not acquired by evil hands.

The Bechdel Test

Castle in the Sky is the first movie I’ve analyzed that passes the Bechdel Test. There are two main female characters, Sheeta and the pirate, Captain Dola. These two speak to each other and they discuss topics other than their love interests. In fact, I don’t believe they ever once discuss the men they are interested in. Once, Dola speaks to Pazu about his feelings for Sheeta. That is the only mention of any kind of romance during the movie.

There was also a handful of minor female characters who have no name. This makes me just as happy because it adds some diversity. Sheeta and Dola do not exist in a world of men.

Analysis

Non-sexualization

This is one of those elements you don’t see when you’re younger. So many movies – even animated and children’s movies – insist on having some kind of romantic relationship. Someone has to like someone and someone has to kiss. While there were plenty of chances to play on romance in this movie, none of them were taken.

The scene that sticks out most to me is one in which (spoiler) Sheeta has joined the pirates. She busies herself making their dinner. We see one pirate peak in a window who seems infatuated with her. Being a total creeper, he walks in the kitchen, apparently trying to be sneaking. Sheeta’s not having any of his shit and promptly tells him that nothing is ready. She hardly takes her eyes off her work. He could have stared at her, or kissed her, or tried anything in the world to show his infatuation with the girl. Instead, he asked if she needed any help. She puts him to work just as another man walks in. Eventually all the pirates are helping her make dinner, still infatuated.

No one makes a comment about how she looks. No one even gives much weight to her being a girl. The only real mention is when Sheeta and Pazu happen to be on look out during a military attack. Dola tells Sheeta to come down. This is man’s work, she says. Sheeta never even considers retreat. You’re a woman too, she tells Pirate Capitan Dola. She quickly let’s Dola know she can handle anything Pazu can and they go off on their mission.

There is no sexual tension or over-the-top romance. Frankly, I think it would have ruined the movie if there were. It’s very refreshing to watch a movie that is all kinds of wonderful without needing those elements.

Respect for the Earth

The first example of honoring nature comes to us in a cave with glowing crystals. The rocks contain a powerful ore which humankind has forgotten how to mine. Turns out, Sheeta has a necklace made with that crystal. An old man in the caves tells her to be careful, saying the crystal holds power that right fully belongs to the Earth. It should remind us that, as we came from the Earth, so we shall return.

Laputa itself is a wonder of nature. Overgrown with flowers, trees and wildlife, it is a haven floating in the sky. The man who emerges as the main villain shows extreme disrespect for this beauty, tearing down roots and promising to burn it all. In contrast, Sheeta is very concerned about protecting the gardens. Even as they loot jewels from the castle, her only thought is to prevent them from destroying the wild life.

Her respect for the earth is strong. She understands “a king without compassion does not deserve a kingdom.” While this was said the the villain who proclaimed himself king over Laputa, it is also a good analogy for the human race on the Earth. We must have compassion for the Earth over which we rule, or we will bring ourselves to ruin. In a final effort to save Laputa and the rest of the world from the villain’s intentions, Sheeta unleashes a destruction spell that causes all of Laputa to fall. All but the largest tree and the stones caught in it’s roots fall into the ocean. Sheeta and Pazu both survive. As she protected tree, so the tree protected her.

Isn’t that just how Mother Nature is? If we use and abuse her, she has a way of striking us down. If we instead treat her with respect and compassion, we live in harmony with her.

Maturity in Childhood

Sheeta and Pazu are both children. Although an age is never given, I’d guess they might be around 12 years in age – give or take a few years. Despite this, both of them talk like everyone else in the movie. They don’t use slang or treat each other like children. Pazu even has the common courtesy to offer Sheeta breakfast and a place to wash after her escape. You could say their orphaned state has caused them to mature beyond their years.

As opposed to being goofy or irresponsible, both Sheeta and Pazu posses strong wills. They work and they have goals. They are kind and respectful to all around them. There is never any one thing that points out these two as children other than their appearance. Ir reminded me of a class I took in college about children and human rights. We frequently discussed a child’s ability to advocate for themselves.They have opinions and dreams. They understand when someone has wronged them and they have just as much potential to organize. Sheeta and Pazu are great examples of this. Not only do they frequently advocate for themselves, but they do so with compassion.  They are great role models.

Lessons Learned:

  • Being a good person can be more important than survival
  • The government can be just as power hungry ad criminals
  • Respect nature and you will live in harmony with it
  • “A king without compassion deserves no kingdom”
  • All the firepower in the world cannot overcome love (used as general love for people in the case of this movie)
  • Follow your dreams, but respect others
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