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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Laputa: Castle in the Sky


Starring (voice): Keiko Yokozawa, Mayumi Tanaka and Minori Terada
Optimum Home Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: PG
Available 09 May 2011

Whilst travelling by plane, Sheeta’s vehicle is attacked by pirates. In the ensuing conflagration Sheeta falls from the plane. Looking up into the sky Puza sees something very strange as an unconscious girl slowly drifts out of the clouds and into his arms. Having rescued Sheeta, Puza soon discovers that both the pirates and the military are hunting Sheeta for the stone medallion she wears, the one which had glowed so brightly the night she arrived. Making their escape the two young people soon discover that only with the pirates will they find refuge, they also discover that both the pirates and the military are searching for the fabled floating city of Laputa...

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta - 1986 - 2 hr, 04 min, 31 sec) is a fantasy anime from the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, who worked as both writer and director. The film's staff won the Ofuji Noburo Award at the 1987 Mainichi Film Concours, for their work on the picture.

Laputa is important for a number of reasons, not least because it was the first time Miyazaki was given free rein on a feature. We can therefore see many of the tropes, motifs and characterisations which would feature in most of his future work.

More than any other, moving visual media animation is completely constructed. Whereas his contemporary anime directors would invariably set their stories in Japan, presumably to appeal to their greatest audience, Miyazaki has always set his in mythical lands and many of these lands are idealised versions of a particular European past.

Here Miyazaki has drawn inspiration from a romanticised version of a Welsh mining town to depict where Puza lives and works. It is romanticised not only because of the addition of steam-punk technology, but also because the depiction of the building constructions have been deliberately changed to create an image which has more impact. Many of the structures would, in real life, be at least impractical and in the case of the rail tracks positively suicidal, if they were built.

The same can be said for Laputa, the floating city which the director has borrowed from Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift, 1726). Although it is less likely that when he decided to use the name he was aware that it translated as "the whore". Laputa represents another kind of past, a potential paradise which has been tainted by humanity. The original inhabitants of Laputa gained a very high level of technology and in the past the floating cities controlled those who lived on the ground, partially through their advanced robots, but especially through a weapon whose effects are not unlike a nuclear bomb. The effects of the real ones continue to resonate in Japanese culture. Laputa also allows the director to indulge in another of his famous delights, that of flying. There are a number of vehicles in the film, from the gigantic military flying destroyer to the more playful planes used by the pirates.

Sheeta would not be out of place as a central Shōjo character were it not for Miyazaki’s subversion of the type, another motif through his films. Although, at first glance, she may indeed appear to fit the type (feminine clothing, braided hair - the normal depiction of a Shōjo, as being little more than the interest of romantic endeavours by a male lead character) are here reversed, with Sheeta being presented as a capable young woman who needs no rescuing. She is able to hold her own and towards the end of the film stands her ground even when her braids, one of the symbols of her femininity, are being shot off.

That is not to say that Puza comes off as a Stan to her Ollie. Also young, he dreams of finding Laputa, just like his father. Although in his father’s case, even though he had photographic evidence, his claims turned him into a laughing stock, which destroyed him. Puza, like Miyazaki, dreams of flying, partially to redeem his father’s name and partially out of the pure joy of doing so. Having rescued Sheeta in the first place, it is Puza who realises the importance of her necklace and the possibility that it may be a link to Laputa.

What follows is, for a Miyazaki film, quite a straightforward action adventure with the kids teaming up with Dola, the leader of the pirates, against the machinations of the government representative, Muska. It turns out that Muska wants to reach Laputa because, like Sheeta, he is a descendent of the original inhabitants and wants to claim the power of the floating city for himself.

Although the film was originally made in 1986, the current English dub was not produced until 2003, when Disney took an interest in bringing Studio Ghibli films to America. To that end they recruited some well-known names including James Van Der Beek (Puza), Anna Paquin (Sheeta), Cloris Leachman (Dola) and Mark Hamill (Muska). This then provides the disc with two excellent audio tracks, the original Japanese vocal work and the American dub.

Being a Blu-ray, the picture is flawless, although the style of animation is starting to show its age, though this is not to say that it spoils the film's enjoyment, but in the age of 3D and CGI animation there is something almost quaint about the look of the film. This is an observation that could also be levelled at Disney’s Dumbo or Snow White, but it does not make them lesser films.

The disc arrives with a number of extras. Though there is no commentary. What you do get is the complete collection of storyboards, for the film, which can be viewed picture-in-picture. The first piece with Miyazaki is the Promo (12 min, 38 sec) which has a young director discussing his film. Behind the Microphone (4 min, 09 sec) has a piece by the American voice actors, nice but it doesn’t really tell you much.

Behind the Studio is actually a collection of four small features, The World of Laputa (2 min, 18 sec) has a much older version of the director discussing the genesis of the film. Creating Castles in the Sky (3 min, 40 sec) and Character Sketches (2 min, 39 sec) sees him discuss these aspects of the film. The last piece is with producer Toshio Suzuki about how he met Miyazaki, with an odd tale about having to camp out next to his desk, day after day, as Miyazaki refused to talk to him because he worked for an anime magazine. I’m not really sure what that says about either man.

The extras are wrapped up with textless opening and closing sequences, plus three original trailers (4 min, 05 sec) and a bunch of trailers (9 min, 50 sec) for other Studio Ghibli films.

Although the structure of Laputa is not as complex as his later films, nor is the art as intricate, it is still a delight of a film and thematically dense as any or his other work. It remains a film I never get tired of watching.


Charles Packer

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