Day 5 of ’12 Days of Anime’ – [See other posts in this series]
Today I watched Laputa: Castle in the Sky, which marks the 17th Ghibli film I’ve seen at the release of this article. It was a mostly enjoyable watch, and conjured up a familiar feeling of nostalgia that I only ever experience with Ghibli’s productions. If you’ve ever watched one of their animated features, you probably understand what I mean when I say that there is something deeply magical to their work.
This magic, or perhaps just sentimentality, is something I’ve chased after for quite awhile now. It is one thing to say that a film embodies that feeling, and an entirely different concern to explain how it makes you feel that way. Normally when I start exploring this thought process, I come to at least some conclusion, however unexpected. Yet after 17 films I still can’t quite explain what makes it all tick.
What I really want to have the right to say is that Ghilbi films are classics. That akin to how we’ve picked out the best artistry from, say, the renaissance era; our inheritors will look at these anime as a markers of our own peaks in craftsmanship. But despite that, or maybe to spite that, Laputa has reminded me that this might not be the case. For while I don’t want to spend what precious few words I have here undermining what the film achieved, I also can’t waste the opportunity it has provided me with to talk about Ghilbi’s legacy.
So, given their prominance within the industry, what was your favourite Ghibli anime? Maybe their most popular works like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away acted as gateways for you. Or it could even be possible that you latched onto their less appreciated films like Only Yesterday or Ocean Waves. We all have clear start and end points. However in my experience, there is no general consensus on what accounts as the crème de la crème of Ghibli. The kind of stuff that you can’t help but picture when you hear the word “timeless”.
You could maybe argue that whatever sits at the top of aggregated anime lists is the answer, but that often ignores how some of the most critically acclaimed films such as Princess Kaguya and When Marnie was There have cronically poor viewership overall. If the aim is to discuss permancy, then something as transient as popularity might not be the ideal signifier.
And if we can return to Laputa for a moment, I think we could at least talk about something that provides a marker not for what promotes a films cultural importance, but what tends to detract from it. You see the thing that stuck out like a sore thumb with Laputa, is that it’s so mired by the social political climate it was made in. Now that isn’t to say that the film is too political for its own good, because art and the sites of its production will always be political. But saying that, the generations who made this film are still very much linked to the generations of today, and it is both a blessing and a curse that society has changed so rapidly over the past 50 years.
While I believe we are undoubtedly in a better position than our predecessors, with our enlightenment in tow, we must now confront the fact that art ages quickly, and that it (in the case of Laputa) might no longer be the best representation of our current values. After all it wasn’t that long ago that countries such as the UK criminalized homosexual acts, and denied women basic social and political rights. Some may struggle to see the relevancy of that, but you must understand that artists do not work in a bubble. The politics of society unquestionably enter an artists work under this reality.
And while I won’t say Laputa is a discriminatory film, it does sends messages that would conflict with the social climate of today. This is never more apparent than in its presentation of masculinity through action and dialogue. There is no shortage of machismo idolization and conflation of character traits with gender constructs. This is encapsulated in comments such as “Act like a man, be rational” and “do it on your own, like a man”. Which is to say that making rationality and sacrificial isolation core tenants of masculinity, while tying emotionality and care-giving to womanhood, perpetuates old myths that have long since been contested. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the social acceptance of adult men fawning over a young girl within the film.
Those are all glaringly political complications, which seriously make me wonder whether we should be that invested in making sure Laputa is permanently ingrained in our history and culture.
And after all that, I’m not quite sure myself. You may have been expecting me to take a hard line stance against it, but I really don’t know. Because when I think about devaluing the film based on the standards of today’s society, it doesn’t take much forethought to understand that when enough time has passed, the same will happen to the anime being made currently. If we are to bar art stained with imbecilically flawed politics, then with apologies for the pomposity, isn’t that practically everything we make? What art will ever be up to the standards of a society that will presumably be far more socially and politically sophisticated than its predecessor?
I don’t believe any singular construct can or will be the arbiter for such abstract matters, but in my quest to understand what makes a Ghilbi film a Ghibli film, I’m only left with this cautionary lesson from Laputa. Perhaps I’m just chasing something that is unattainable; that in the process of imaging a distinct answer, I’ve created my own, Castle in the Sky…
Thanks for reading!