The first time I watched Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky I was twelve and sitting in my basement alone. I had been watching Miyazaki movies since I was nine, when I had that—I’m sure, all too familiar—realization courtesy of Princess Mononoke that “cartoons”, too, could be violent. At the time I ran an anime club out of my middle school’s English class, I collected Shonen Jump, and I could hold a five-hour conversation on the intricacies of InuYasha (yes, I was that kid). But even then, deep in the thralls of my anime obsession and willing to watch anything that came out of Japan (anything), I could feel that magical something that makes Miyazaki films almost perfect.
I’ve grown up with that sense of magic. Ten years later, going to see Castle in the Sky at TIFF Bell Lightbox was a completely different experience. First of all, I most certainly wasn’t alone; by the time I got to the theatre (accompanied by my always-charming SO) there was only room in Cinema 1 for pairs to sit together on the balcony. It was a comforting balance between the aloneness of my once-childhood home and the insanity of the anime convention video rooms I frequented in High School.
Second of all, I most certainly wasn’t the only person in that room who could hold a five-hour conversation about anime.
With a sense of prideful glee, TIFF Artistic Director Noah Cowan announced their guest as, “Guillermo del Totoro!”—the introduction was marred only by the fact that del Toro was too focused on autographs and handshakes downstairs to be able to make it to the show on time. It took two more enthusiastic introductions and, assumedly, a handful of intimidated young TIFF staff to get del Toro onto the stage.
Castle in the Sky tells the story of Sheeta, a young girl in possession of a mysterious magical stone. When the airship
Sheeta is on is attacked by pirates after the stone, she falls from the ship and lands, unconscious, in a small mining community. Pazu, a young engineer/miner-in-training with dreams of finding the mythical floating castle Laputa, takes the girl home and nurses her back to health—at least, until the pirates and the army show up, both trying to steal the stone from Sheeta. Throughout the film, these three factions battle for possession of the stone that will lead them back to Laputa, and all of the power it possesses (If it sounds familiar, watch Miyazaki’s film and then watch Disney’s Atlantis. Yes, that’s right, Disney did it again—remember Kimba?).
Del Toro launched immediately into his love of Miyazaki films, explaining how My Neighbour Totoro changed his life (and that, later on, it was one of the only things that would keep his daughter from crying). He discussed his love of the futile gestures in Miyazaki, small character traits like the father in Totoro not being able to put his shoe on immediately or like Pazu not being able to cut the rope between himself and Sheeta when they first land on Laputa. Del Toro honoured the power of the female characters in Miyazaki films, so different from the repetitive and stereotypical character sketches of Hollywood. When asked by Cowan if Miyazaki had ever failed, del Toro had one question: would you ever ask whether Picasso had gotten the perspective wrong?
He then criticized Western film, discussing how much he hated adding plot summary or historical information to scripts; with great exasperation, he exclaimed that he just “wanted the fucking movie!”. Miyazaki gives you the movie. He gives you the world, the characters—notably, del Toro discussed the lovely simplicity of the features of Miyazaki’s characters—, and the beautiful settings. He respects his audience enough to assume that they will follow something intelligent. His films are experiences; every time you watch them, there’s something new. Films like Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro, and Castle in the Sky (among others) carry with them the weight of a beautifully crafted novel; Miyazaki is a master of producing genre works worthy of critical acclaim.
This, perhaps, is the magic of Miyazaki; del Toro says that there are hints of Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki in everything, bread crumbs of influence left all throughout today’s animation styles. You had a sense, watching him speak, that if he had had complete creative control over Pacific Rim it would have resembled a Miyazaki film significantly more than a mecha film in the canon of Cameron’s Avatar (white, expressionless male with a sad past saves all in genre setting). Miyazaki’s films pervade contemporary culture, engaging children and adults alike, winning Academy Awards while remaining heartwarming classics, and using genre in a way that makes it accessible across so many critical platforms.
The magic of Miyazaki is that everyone notices the magic.