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Castle in the Sky

Year: 1986
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Richard Dysart, Mandy Patinkin, Andy Dick

Another gem (no pun intended) from Studio Ghibli in a fascinating, tactile otherworld that's not too dissimilar to our own but has a strong vein of cyberpunk technology which is so delightfully lived-in and taken for granted by the characters and so effortlessly explained to the audience through visual plotting, you immediately want to live there.

Sheeta (Anna Paquin in the English dub) lives on a huge airship, essentially the prisoner of a sinister government agent for some reason that's not explained. But when pirates attack the ship she's tossed overboard, destined to fall to her death. Instead, she lands softly, unconscious, in a steamy mining town where a young boy, Pazu (James Van Der Beek) finds her, takes her back to his shack home and tends her back to health.

When Sheeta wakes up she finds a friend in the excitable Pazu, who can't wait to tell her about his life and his thirst for adventure – particularly the search his father once embarked on for the mythical city of Laputa, an air-going fortress in the clouds far above.

Pazu takes Sheeta to visit an old seer he knows down in the mines, and the old man is fascinated by Sheeta's amulet, the necklace that glowed brightly and apparently set her safely on the ground. He tells Pazu and Sheeta it's made of a magical material that's used to keep Laputa and other technologies like the floating city aloft.

But the pair don't have much time to dream about going there when both the pirates and the government spook who was holding Sheeta prisoner descend, the former for the amulet as loot, the latter apparently knowing what powers it has. But Sheeta knows more about her own heritage than she's letting on, and when the pair escape a city-wide battle she sends Pazu away, telling him he'll only be in more danger if she hangs around her.

The pirates swoop in and capture him in order to lead them to Sheeta and the valuable necklace, but Pazu convinces them to take him on and help them find and rescue her, delivering them directly to the amulet they're after. The race is on to secure Sheeta's future, stay a step ahead of the government spy and ultimately find Laputa.

The story is as charming as all Ghibli's output and the visuals are rich. But the most beautiful aspect – maybe more so than any other Studio Ghibli movies I've seen – is the design of the world. The giant Laputian robot, the township with the raised railway, the airship weapons technology and the titular floating castle are all beautifully evocative locations, and the animation that's as lush as it is simple breathes them to vibrant life in every frame.

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