Laputa: Castle in the Sky (天空の城ラピュタ) was the first official film created by the newly formed company called Studio Ghibli after their success with Nausicaa, and it is an adventure story in every sense of the term. It is lighter in tone than Nausicaa, and while it may not approach the complexity of some of his greatest works, the imagination contained in the story is captivating enough, and the pure charm of the tale is hard to dislike. Even though Miyazaki is still refining his directorial techniques with Laputa, we can still see the creative genius and penchant for fantasy in him.
The film begins with a young boy, Pazu, finding a girl floating down from the sky. A strange crystal on her neck appears to have a strange power which slows her fall. He soon learns that she is being chased by multiple groups with different motives, all of whom are after her connection to the legendary floating isle called Laputa, and the powers and treasures held within. The two main characters, Pazu and Sheeta, are both very likable and appealing leads, as are several supporting characters. Dola, an elderly and grumpy space pirate who eventually befriends the pair, was one of the more memorable ones. I must say, though, that Sheeta’s character is a bit of a divergence from most of Miyazaki’s female leads. I also must admit that many of the villain characters were somewhat forgettable.
Miyazaki has a real knack for creating those short scenes with images or ideas which leave a large impact on you. In Totoro, for example, who doesn’t fondly think of that iconic scene with Totoro and the Catbus under the rain? Similarly, in Laputa, there are a few scenes which really define the film for me. An early scene where we catch a small glimpse of Laputa, fading into the clouds, was particularly effective and established a wonderful sense of mystery. Later on in the film, as we learn more about this forgotten kingdom, we meet one of the robots which originated there, which initially looks and acts like a monster. The moment where the robot helps Sheeta, and she looks back into its empty eyes as it is fired on by the humans above is similarly effective.
With that being said, there are certain points where the film borders on cartoonish in the typical sense. Some of the action sequences felt this way, though many aerial sequences were quite impressive. There are also one or two comedy sequences which, while quite amusing, weren’t really the sort of thing you’d expect from a Ghibli film. Nevertheless, the film manages to sustain interest for the near-2-hour length that it occupies despite a great deal of the film being occupied by action pieces. The plot isn’t necessarily thick or confusing, but the mystery associated with this floating castle and the investment in the fates of the characters is enough to carry it. Though later films were more polished and had better execution, the ideas contained in Laputa are still some of my favourites out of the Ghibli canon.
The art is wonderful, as one would expect from a Ghibli film. The floating island of Laputa is a great sight to behold, and Miyazaki’s portrayal of the skies is a delight. The voice acting is functional and well-done. The music, as with Nausicaa is more of a mixed bag, though decidedly an improvement. Hisaishi gives us a beautiful, bittersweet main melody to the film, which is repeated in vocal form in the breathtaking credits song, Kimi wo Nosete. However, the music sometimes regresses to more basic synth tones (for example, the scene where Pazu finds Sheeta floating from the sky) which can be somewhat jarring. It should be noted, however, that for the American release, Hisaishi rerecorded the entire score and added nearly half an hour of music. This decision will probably be controversial to some, as the silence throughout much of Laputa gives it a rather distinctive quality. My review refers to the original Japanese track, as I haven’t watched the American dub.
Many Ghibli fans consider Laputa to be Miyazaki’s most accessible work, and I can understand why. The pure adventure contained within will be familiar and welcoming to anyone with an imagination, and it doesn’t have nearly as many cultural overtones as something like Spirited Away or Mononoke-hime. The way these later films break even further from animation conventions place them a bit higher on my list, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of the younger Miyazaki’s uplifting and wondrous fantasy.
2 responses so far