Tag Archives: Studio Ghibli

Castle In The Sky

From: Castle in the Sky (1986, Studio Ghibli), directed by Hayao Miyazaki

On a weekend visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, I was in their renowned Asian art gallery when I noticed it: an ancient Chinese painting of paradise. I stared at it for quite a while. It showed a floating landscape with hills and mountains. A spacious cave or hollow space at the center of this landscape contained what appeared to be a palace or city. There were symbolic elements in the picture, as well, but I won’t belabor all of the details. This painting influenced my own concept of paradise for a story I was writing at the time and which I am in the midst of slowly revising. When I went back to the museum on a subsequent visit, the painting was no longer on display. I have been unable to find it since.

Examples of floating cities or islands can be found in religion, art, literature, and animation. The book of Revelation mentions the new Jerusalem descending from heaven.  I doubt that this is what the artist of the following painting had in mind, but I couldn’t help but notice the similarity of concept. Since it shows a restored Temple of Herod along with the current mosques (not to mention the ruins and human figures in the foreground), this painting raises questions and draws the eye. Click on the image to see it in more detail.

Floating Jerusalem by Howard Fox
Floating Jerusalem by Howard Fox

The floating island of Laputa appears in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.

From: Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (illustrated by J. J. Grandville)
From: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (illustrated by J. J. Grandville)

 Everything I’ve said so far is background. Castle in the Sky from Studio Ghibli incorporates this idea and even borrows the name, Laputa, for its floating city. Without going into too many details, the story is centered around Sheeta, a descendant of a royal line with supernatural insight, and Pazu, the boy who befriends and helps her when he finds her floating down from the sky, as they try to foil the plans of the sinister Muska, another descendant of the royal line.

Sheeta and Pazu
Sheeta and Muska

The point of contention on which the characters are focused is a stone of mysterious power which is released by an incantation that only Sheeta and Muska know.

Sheeta wearing the Laputa stone

The city of Laputa, the apparent source of the stone,  is a supernaturally wonderful place corrupted in the past by the use of its power to develop destructive technology. Added construction has converted it into a fortress of cataclysmic capability. Their is an interesting scene in which all of the wrong-minded embellishments are stripped away to reveal the righteous and beautiful core of Laputa.

Laputa purified
Laputa purified

The animation is, as usual for a feature directed by Hayao Miyazaki, wonderful, and the story is an imaginative blending of mythology, science fiction, and social commentary on war and environmentalism. Also typical for Miyazaki is the refreshing portrayal of self-sacrificing friendship between children of opposite sexes.


If you haven’t seen this one yet, I definitely recommend it.

Anime And Life

I moved to the small town in which I am currently living and working right out of graduate school over 25 years ago. Imagine going from a Big 10 university town to hearing a rooster crow somewhere outside your property in the morning. I could sometimes hear the clip-clop of a horse’s hooves on the street out front. How you regard that says a lot about attitude and expectations, and that brings me to the point of this post.

From: My Neighbor Totoro (1988, Studio Ghibli), directed by Hayao Miyazaki
From: My Neighbor Totoro (1988, Studio Ghibli), directed by Hayao Miyazaki

During Christmas at our home a few years ago, I was speaking with my son-in-law, Michael Greenholt. He is an animator who has worked for Disney/Toon Studios and is recently employed by Warner Brothers. I told him that I did not care for the general quality of anime, and he informed me that I needed to watch features directed by Hayao Miyazaki. As proof, he showed me My Neighbor Totoro.

From: My Neighbor Totoro (1988, Studio Ghibli), directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
From: My Neighbor Totoro (1988, Studio Ghibli), directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

My attitude toward where I was living was, to say the least, under-appreciative. During this charming animation, I was struck by its sense of peace, pastoral simplicity, community, and appreciation of the simple features of relationships and rural life. I remember thinking, “I want that,” and then realizing, “Wait – I already have that.” It was all around me, and I had been disregarding it.


The story is a wonderful application of mythology to the mundane aspects of human life. Some benevolent spirits of various sizes help two sisters whose mother is ill and whose father is a university professor. There were images of the father grading papers in the quiet of their rural home, and I identified with what I was seeing. That might be the sequence which really got the wheels turning in my mind.


I have said before that good fantasy can give us a perspective from which to consider reality. The subject of this week’s offering is but one good example of how this has worked for me. Happily, I can say that I am much better acclimated to my surroundings as I write this some years later. Just this last Christmas, we were at Mike and my daughter’s house out in Los Angeles, and the family watched this movie again. In another conversation during that visit, my daughter zeroed in on a statement I made about the influence of expectations on our enjoyment. If we are expecting something else, we are less likely to enjoy what is in front of us, regardless of its quality. If we can expand our thinking, we can enjoy a wider variety of things in this life.


Additionally, I can say that slowing down and taking more time to enjoy less has the effect of expanding our sense of time. I believe that we live more fully and more deeply when we can achieve this relaxed state of mind. If I were to make a suggestion, it would be to turn down the cultural noise, slow down, and get about the business of real living.


Animated Mythology (Part 4)

Still shot from The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, directed by Isao Takahata, 2013.
Still shot from The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, directed by Isao Takahata, 2013.

Another animation from Studio Ghibli that I would like to feature is The Tale of the Princess Kaguya by Isao Takahata. This is a reasonably faithful adaptation a real Japanese folktale titled The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The artwork is wonderfully impressionistic and very emotional in tone. Okay, my wife didn’t like it that much because of its bittersweet ending, but there were a number of qualities that impressed me. These included insightful implications about how women are treated, the insincerity of high society, and the happiness and virtue associated with a simpler life spent close to nature and community.

Still shot from The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, directed by Isao Takahata, 2013.
Still shot from The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, directed by Isao Takahata, 2013.

But what particularly grabbed me was the scene with the “moon people” near the end. These eerily beautiful beings represent an inexorable supernatural force which is unaffected by the schemes of the human race. The imagery of this scene was adapted from actual Japanese folk art and was indeed striking, with the effect being magnified by the subtle yet powerful soundtrack music. For those who have been following my blog, it is by now obvious that I have a particular interest in artistic depictions of the spiritual. It is what fills the shells of factual knowledge, giving it warmth and depth. Without this perspective and this sense of life, the universe can feel hollow.