Spotlight on Japan: Laputa – Castle in the Sky

Imagine for a moment that everything you ever dreamed of – or the thing you have dreamed the most of – is called Laputa. Your father saw it, but no one believed him. Laputa is always in the distance, waiting for you. Now, what if in all of a sudden you would meet a mysterious girl by chance. This girl would float down directly to your arms and you would discover that she holds the secret of how to get to Laputa. On top of that, she’s a wonderful person too. The catch is that she is being chased by goofy pirates, but once you get rid of them the national army interferes along with a few well-dressed yet cold men. All of them want Laputa as well. What is the true nature of the these mysterious men and the army? And what about the pirates? Or the girl? All of them yearn for Laputa, but for different reasons – both good and evil.

This is the situation in which Pazu finds himself in Hayao Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky. In Pazu’s case, Laputa is a mythical castle that is supposed to be floating around in the skies – hidden by clouds. Miyazaki peels away layers and layers of the complex story while delivering one of the richest and most entertaining adventure stories ever told on film. It is his impeccable understanding of cinematic storytelling that makes the film more gripping and powerful than pretty much any other adventure movie. And almost as if it wasn’t enough to figure out who is to be trusted and who is not, Miyazaki completely turns the story upside down once the characters reach Laputa. Now the question is: what is the true nature of Laputa? Miyazaki subtly writes in many of his common themes without exploring them as obviously as in his other films.

Technical brilliance in writing wouldn’t be fruitful without passion for the characters and human nature. The relationship between Pazu and the girl (Sheeta) flows as naturally as it could – they make a really heartwarming couple. The silliness of the pirates is guaranteed to make you smile. While Laputa stands out “controversially” as the only Miyazaki film (at least within his Ghibli filmography) that has a clear-cut villain I can say it is because the film requires an antagonist – and Miyazaki makes the most of it. The climax is great in scope and genuine in emotion in part thanks to the simple yet brilliant conflict. The inspiring sense of adventure is not only thanks to the aforementioned notions, but it is only possible because of the wonderfully rich world Miyazaki builds throughout the movie. Uncle Pom’s hideout, Pazu’s home, the railroads, the pirates’ main ship and naturally, Laputa itself leave unforgettable images and memories in one’s mind.

Above all, Laputa’s truly stunning marvel is caused by its visuals. First and foremost, Miyazaki is a visual storyteller who relies more on images than on words. Laputa shows him at the peak of his editing and composition skills and Studio Ghibli’s animation is always guaranteed to be top quality. The chase sequences are both animated and directed with joy. Pazu’s determination is gloriously animated as he pushes through tight spots and protects Sheeta. The sheer amount of detail in background art and character animation always manage to stun me. Laputa, like all Ghibli’s films, needs to be seen in the best possible quality which is offered by the current blu-ray releases of the film. Every tiny detail is valuable.

Laputa is also a feast for the ears as well. Miyazaki’s common collaborator, Joe Hisaishi, has created yet another legendary soundtrack that stays with you for a while. The otherworldly sound of the opening credits music gives a hint of what is to come. The instrumental music sweeps me off my feet every time. The pieces composed for thrilling sequences – such as the grand chase sequences – jolts the atmosphere with a feeling of danger and intensity. But the real gem comes near the end of the film with the film’s ending credits song: Kimi wo Nosete (Carrying You in English). Its nostalgic yet hopeful sentimentality is so perfect for the ending. Miyazaki is wise to not flood the whole film with Hisaishi’s music – he employs silence spectacularly even during the most intense moments to balance the film. And those silent moments hit hard.

After Studio Ghibli was founded along with the release of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Laputa was the next film Miyazaki made.  Even though it doesn’t have concerns as serious as Nausicaä Laputa is more successful in its execution. And it only gets better the more you watch it. While I watch this film I always wish I would find my own Laputa someday.

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About Oz
A Finnish film buff who has taken a huge interest in language and Japanese cinema. Can be contacted via email (johlauri@hotmail.com), Twitter (@OzymandiasJL) and a Private Message on EvaGeeks (Oz).

One Response to Spotlight on Japan: Laputa – Castle in the Sky

  1. Pingback: Spotlight on Japan: My Neighbour Totoro « Forced Perspective

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