The trailer for Tenchu no Shiro Rapyuta promises swashbuckling action and adventure, and Hayao Miyazaki delivers it in spades. What a terrific movie to usher in the new Studio Ghibli!
Castle in the Sky aims to return to the comic book cliffhanger serials of Miyazaki's youth, and I'm sure he wanted something more colorful and more buoyant after the dark, violent, and personal Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. There certainly is a different agenda at play; whereas Nausicaa was conceived as a last-shot, swing-for-the-fences epic, where it was doubtful he would ever have the chance to direct another film, Castle in the Sky was created as the first great work of a new studio. The new goal would be to build loyal fans, to ease them in more slowly, to indulge their sweet tooth. It will take Ghibli four years to see the payoffs at the box office.
Nausicaa, however, was a seismic shift in the filmmaking style of Miyazaki, and there really was no going back. The troubling doubts of middle age, the somber reflections on human frailty, his violence and greed, and his meditations on the clash of civilization and nature - all of these heavier themes reassert themselves once again. The need to entertain with a thrilling spectacle is paired with deeper need to understand the human condition, to understand our place in the world. Miyazaki's comic book adventures were now fused with a conscience.
It's that balance that I find particularly striking. I'm thinking of that great sequence where the giant robot comes to life and charges out of a castle cellar to pursue Sheeta, the heroine. As action scenes go, it's exhilerating, tense; you sit on the edge of your seat in anticipation of anything. But notice how the mood changes into tragedy and despair, first as the robot smashes the military installation into rubble, then as the robot is brutally murdered after revealing his true, gentler nature. This killing machine with a heart would be revived, years later, as Nausicaa's "child" Ohmu, the God Warrior.
Any day now, I should receive my copy of the Castle in the Sky Blu-Ray. I can't wait. The picture quality is stunning, with a richness of color that leaps off the screen. I hadn't noticed before how much of the color had been drained out of the Studio Ghibli DVDs. What we're used to seeing is far too pale, far too light. You may as well be watching in black-n-white. A movie like this demands lots of color; it's a feast for the eyes - dazzling locales, inventive flying machines, spectacular action set-pieces. I have to admit that I miss the carefree fun of Animal Treasure Island and Lupin and even Conan (despite its surroundings, Conan is pretty light). But there's no denying the maturing brilliance of all this.