LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY
CASTLE IN THE SKY; ISLAND IN THE SKY
(Tenkû no Shiro Rapyuta)
There is always a great love of flying in Hayao Miyazakis films the numerous airships, bombers, biplanes and novelty flying machines that turn up in in particular Nausicaa, Kiki and Porco Rosso. Most of Miyazakis young heroines seem to like flitting about on highly manoeuverable one-person flying machines Nausicaas flying surfboard, Kikis broomstick. There is also a great liking, at least in Miyazakis earlier films, of slapstick comedy capers. Many of the nutty chases scenes here with the pirates running around a railroad track in a car, the parody of mano-a-mano confrontations between pirates and miners, or the scenes aboard the airship with the pirates joining Sheeta in the kitchen could easily have been transplanted from the manic delirium of The Castle of Cagliostro.
Like several of Hayao Miyazakis films, Laputa: Castle in the Sky gives the impression of taking place in an almost-familiar alternate world. In this case, it feels that Miyazaki has constructed an alternate world out of Victorian airship fantasies, in particular the illustrations of Albert Robida the fabulous array of airship sketches that take place over the opening credits are pure Robida. (The title of the film is incidentally taken from the third book of Jonathan Swifts Gullivers Travels (1726) where Laputa was a flying island of mad scientists that Gulliver travels to). This world is conjured with an extraordinary sense of detail from the workings of the mine machinery to Pazus quaint brickwork house. There is a wonderful array of vehicles and inventions from the ramshackle Model Ts that the pirates steal to the soldiers in their heavily armoured train to the fort, all designed in retro technology and with German uniforms circa World War I. Most wonderful of all are the scenes aboard the pirates airship, which looks so realistic in detail that one is sure the ship could actually fly with clamps to accept the arriving ornithopters, steam-powered machinery, seeing people climbing the side of the ship to the crows nest, even tiny details like Pazu winching down the side of the balloon to work or the washing hanging on the deck, and especially the image of the tiny glider being tossed about in the storm as it trails behind the ship on a rope.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky has a breathtaking opening the fabulous image of the giant airship gracefully cruising through the clouds, followed by the arrival of the pirates on their buzzing dragonfly-like ornithopters, their boarding amid a series of shootouts and then Sheeta escaping by hitting Muska over the head with a bottle and climbing out a window onto the epidermis of the airship, only to fall straight down into the clouds. It is a dazzling opening that leaves one gape-jawed. There are a number of similarly stunning sequences, like where Sheeta manages to awaken the damaged robot in the castle and it goes on a rampage of destruction, smashing up the castle and blasting in all directions with the heat ray from its eye. Here Hayao Miyazaki manages to prefigure some of the fabulous scenes of mass destruction that became all the thing in anime following Katsuhiro Otomos Akira (1988) soon after this. Although, Miyazaki also manages to contrast all this mass destruction with scenes of great tenderness, not unakin to The Iron Giant (1999), as we see the giant robot tending the girl.
We also see here for the first time the emergence of Hayao Miyazakis contemplative, almost painterly, pastoral backgrounds. The film is filled with exquisite landscapes and shots of the airship drifting through the clouds, which part to show valleys and tiny patterned fields below. There is a stunningly lovely shot early on in the piece where Pazu gets up in the morning and releases his pigeons, letting them fly down into the valley as the sunrise comes through the canyon walls, lighting up the houses arrayed about, while he stands on his rooftop playing the trumpet. The most beautiful vistas of all come when the film arrives at the land in the clouds, which is filled with fallen and overgrown colonnades, giant windows open to the sky, ruined walkways and columns that abruptly end in mid-air, entire cities lying buried beneath pools of water, strange dragonflies and bunny creatures flitting through the background, images of the giant robots overgrown with moss and tiny creatures frolicking across them. There is a genuinely melancholy beauty to these scenes. Here Laputa touches the same sense of awe that the journey through the remnants of the Krell machinery held in Forbidden Planet (1956).
Eventually, one realises that another Hayao Miyazaki theme has come into play the heroines realisation that she must reject the wondrous technology and military might of her birthright and accept a return to a harmony between Earth and nature. An almost identical variation on the theme played out in Nausicaa. In the end, what we have falls in the story patterns of the lost world film where explorers discover a lost city filled with the technological marvels of a forgotten civilisation, before it is naturally blown up. In this case though, the journey there and the loveliness and splendour of the scenery that Hayao Miyazaki arrays around the film makes Laputa stunning.
Subtitled Japanese trailer here:-
English-dubbed trailer here:-