(For Miyazaki’s first two films, check out The Castle of Cagliostro & Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind)
After the success of 1984’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Hayao Miyazaki, along with Isao Takahata and Tokuma Shoten chairman Yasuyoshi Tokuma, was able to get funding for a new animation studio called Studio Ghibli. Once established, Miyazaki and Takahata started work on a number of projects, including Castle In the Sky (Miyazaki) and Grave of the Fireflies (Takahata). For this latest installment of Animation Corner, I’ll be taking a look back at Miyazaki’s third and fourth films, Castle In the Sky and My Neighbor Totoro (now celebrating its 25th anniversary).
Written and directed by Miyazaki, 1986’s Castle In the Sky centers on a pair of orphans who attempt to find the lost air city of Laputa while tangling with air pirates and a military colonel who wants to unlock Laputa’s secrets at any cost. Featuring the voices of Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Richard Dysart, Jim Cummings, Mandy Patinkin, and Andy Dick (from the English language dub produced by Disney in 1998), this critically acclaimed film was a box office hit in Japan. Streamline Pictures distributed an English-dubbed print of the film in the late ’80s in the U.S. (one that was originally produced for use as an in-flight movie for Japan Air Lines trans-Pacific flights). With Miyazaki’s approval, Disney redubbed the film in the late ’90s and brought in composer Joe Hisaishi to re-orchestrate and expand his terrific score. Prints of the newer English dub were screened at select children’s film festivals. The film’s original title, Laputa: Castle In the Sky, was shortened to Castle In the Sky for western countries because there is a Spanish word ‘la puta’ (which essentially means “whore”). The name ‘Laputa’ itself was derived from Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels. Among the film’s accolades are the Ofuji Noburo Award from the Mainichi Film Concours.
Written and directed by Miyazaki, 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro centers on two young daughters of a professor and their encounters with rural forest spirits in postwar Japan. Featuring the voices of Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, and Frank Welker (from the English language dub produced by Disney in 2005), this critically acclaimed film was released as part of a double feature with Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies but didn’t do well at the box office in Japan (it would break even a couple of years after its release when Totoro dolls hit store shelves). This film marked Miyazaki’s first collaboration with art director Kazuo Oga, whose work on this film would lead to his continued involvement with Studio Ghibli films (his style would become a trademark style of Studio Ghibli). An English language dub was created by Streamline Pictures for use on Japan Airlines’ trans-Pacific flights, and would later be distributed in the U.S. in 1993 by Troma Films under their 50th St. Films banner (once their rights expired in 2004, Disney created a new one). The title character Totoro has gone on to become one of the most famous and recognizable animated characters of all time (it even became the Studio Ghibli mascot). Among the film’s accolades are the Ofuji Noburo and Best Film Awards from the Mainichi Film Concours.