Valencia College, Lake Nona Campus

Miyazaki’s Tales of Wonder

What is it that makes a film good? Film critics, directors, and audiences alike have been working on finding an answer to that question with every work they view or make. One of the most important factors in making a good film is in the execution. A movie with grand plans that gets executed poorly will end up a bad film, and a film with basic ideas, if executed well, can rise up to be a better movie than it would have been otherwise. This is true of the characters, the writing, the story, the cinematography–every piece that goes into making a film. No director does well-executed like Hayao Miyazaki, and Castle in the Sky is one of his prime examples of it. Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky uses its varied art style and thematic symbolism to support its interesting and well-executed story and characters.

The aesthetics are one of the key factors in creating a framework for a film’s story, as the visuals and audio are how the audience will interact with the film. The art direction in Castle in the Sky crafts the world and creates a sense of wonder and exploration. From the pastel welsh mining town and the battle worn military base to the aged and overgrown castle, the locations create the world that the story exists in and makes the viewer long for more. The art style  allows us to understand the characters with just a glance. We can tell that Pazu is a strong-willed person because of his bright smile and his posture; Muska is a guiling and enigmatic character because of his reserved walk and his attire; Uncle Pom is calm and sage-like because of his caring eyes. The score is the other aesthetic portion and was arranged by Joe Hisaishi, a master at what he does. His score sets the tone for each scene, from a slow piece for a house in the country, an exciting daring piece for a heroic rescue, or a tune of distress during a storm. He knows when to highlight certain instruments or sounds in order to create an emotional reaction in the listener. One could experience the film blind and still know where the characters were and what they were doing.

The use of symbolism and metaphor in the story allow it to be more grounded in reality and teach the viewer more than just the narrative. The use of color, for example, creates immediate emotional connections to the characters and world. Pazu’s blue eyes indicate that he is a hero in the same way that Luke Skywalker’s blue eyes in Star Wars does. The castle itself becomes more green and overgrown as the story progresses to indicate the progression of good over evil. There is also the overall theme of nature and technology being in conflict, with nature ultimately winning here. As the militaristic and industrial Muska tries to control the power of the floating castle, nature rejects him and destroys the castle itself, attempting to teach the audience that they cannot control nature, and doing so will end up in their own destruction. Nature is to be respected and protected, not a force to be dominated, and the end the film, admittedly heavy-handedly, talks directly about the way that compassion is worth more than authority. These symbols and deeper meanings leave something in the audience beyond the story; it shapes how they view the world and people around them.

The characters are the centerpiece though, and they tie all of the other factors of the movie together. Most of the characters are simple in their background and motives. While this may seem like a drawback, it actually enables the film to spend less time trying to fill in backstory and devote more time to character development. Muska is a man in search of power, true power, not distracted with wealth or fame. His goals are clear and explain why he acts as the villain. Pazu is strong willed and wants to fly away to find the castle that his father saw years ago. As a character, his goals are simple but well defined. In doing so the writers were able to spend more time developing him as he interacts with Sheeta and the crew of the Tigermoth. Just because he’s simple doesn’t mean he’s not interesting. Pazu has clear weaknesses as well. He has doubts about his plans; he can only able do so much in a world much larger than him. Watching him deal with these obstacles is what makes him a character the audience can get invested in. In addition, having these well developed characters building relationships and interacting is what makes the world feel real and grounded.

When the world and the story are properly enhanced by the background parts of a film, it leads to an interesting and good film, as it does in Castle in the Sky. This can be seen in any of Hayao Miyazaki’s works. As a director, he knows what to properly focus on and highlight in order to make a work of art. He shows how deep complexity isn’t needed to make a good film. A simple linear story can be leaps and bounds better than a film that does a poor job of telling a grandiose story. Consequently he is able to make better films on a lower budget, films that more capture the imagination of the viewer and captivates them in the world. He can make the audience dream and wonder about the marvelous worlds he creates like no other director can. If more directors focused on executing on the goal of the film and avoid the trappings and pitfalls of common directing, then the quality of films would be much greater than it is today.


Written and submitted by Paul Geiger.